On the Ethnographic Butterfly Effect

December 18th, 2014, by § Leave a Comment

More than three months ago I wanted to write about the ethnographic butterfly effect and a key informant’s book. But there were strange things happening around games and social media at the time coupled with tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri. So I wrote about those things. It is more than three months later and there are still strange things happening in social media around games and everything in Ferguson, Missouri (and other parts of the United States) is somehow impossibly more sad.

So I’m going to write about the ethnographic butterfly effect and a key informant’s book on the game Jagged Alliance 2. « Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections on a Decade of GDC Fieldnotes

March 25th, 2014, by § 2 Comments

Ah, the Game Developers Conference (GDC)… I started my field research in 2004 at a relatively small but growing game studio: Vicarious Visions. Since that time I’ve been researching game development and game developers. That’s a long time to study such an amorphous, variable and shifting thing/community/world/culture. I’ve ranged from AAA developers to hobbyists to serious game development teams. I haven’t made it to every GDC in that time; travel has always been highly subject to the aleatory. But I have been watching, listening and taking notes from afar even when I haven’t been there myself. What follows is a meta-note, on my collection of meta-notes, which will make this pretty meta-meta.

GDC Badges

GDC Badges

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Handbook of Science and Technology Studies CFP

August 6th, 2013, by § Leave a Comment

Call for Chapter Proposals – Due Aug. 15, 2013
Clark A. Miller, Laurel Smith-Doerr, Ulrike Felt, Rayvon Fouche

Reposted from the Society for Social Studies of Science news page.

The editors of the next edition of the Handbook of Science and Technology Studies invite proposals for chapters to be included in the new Handbook. This edition of the Handbook is expected to appear in 2016, some nine years after the last edition. Much has happened during that interval: the advancement of STS theories and methods, the development of new ideas and the evolution of long-important themes, the engagement of STS with other disciplines and with the public sphere. We aim to capture an enduring snapshot of the ongoing creative activity of STS in the new Handbook, representing the core theoretical, methodological, and substantive concerns of the field and situating the field in its intellectual and historical contexts.

The STS Handbook is one of the most important books that the field produces. For STS graduate students, the Handbook offers a substantive and significant introduction to the field as a domain of scholarship, to its core ideas, and to exciting new areas of research. For scholars in the field, the Handbook can provide reviews of the key concepts and approaches across a range of subfields. For scholars in other fields, and for professionals more broadly in society, the Handbook can present a broad, deep, and nuanced view of STS scholarship. Our vision in this volume of the Handbook is to address all of these audiences. Chapter proposals must therefore be written so as to engage new graduate students in the field as well as more experienced researchers and professionals.

We are especially interested in soliciting a broad array of contributions to the Handbook drawing on geographically diverse authors. STS and the challenges that it confronts are global enterprises, and we invite authors from all over the world to submit abstracts. We particularly want to encourage chapter proposals from STS scholars in parts of the world that have historically been underrepresented in prior STS Handbooks, including Asia, Latin America, and Africa—and proposals that offer global and/or comparative perspectives. Strong proposals are likely to include more than one author and, especially, to bring together authors and perspectives from across two or more subfields of STS to offer new, synergistic insights. We expect all chapters to be fully grounded in relevant STS theory and to use empirical evidence to illuminate key ideas.

We currently plan the Handbook to have five major sections, with 5-10 chapters in each:

Section I. Core Ideas in STS
What are the core ideas that motivate and underpin STS as a dynamic field of inquiry? In this first section of the Handbook, we focus on the core lines of thinking that have accompanied and structured the development of STS as a research field. These chapters should reflect the evolution of debates in these areas over time. We regard it as essential for students of STS issues to understand their own field’s history of thinking as one deeply intertwined with societal change. The chapters should show how ways in which people decide to live in the world also tie into ways of questioning and/or reinforcing technoscientific developments, reflect on the impact that scholarship in these areas has had on multiple levels, and explore why, today, these ways of thinking about the world remain at the core of STS thinking. Some chapters that we would like to see include: knowledge as a social phenomenon; socio-technological systems; the transformation of life; the construction of ideas and identities; gender and race in science and technology; expertise and publics; living and working in technoscience; institutional structures of science and technology; classification and standardization; co-production of science and politics.

Section II. The Contributions of STS to Enduring Intellectual Problems
What has STS contributed to addressing central questions in the humanities and social sciences? We believe that STS has much to say to its neighbor disciplines, and we aim for this section of the Handbook to help engage scholars more broadly in the humanities and social sciences. We anticipate these chapters will offer a valuable entry point for graduate students entering STS from other disciplines who are looking for ways of connecting STS scholarship to broader intellectual traditions. In this, we are cognizant of the fact that many STS researchers are still trained within other fields of humanistic and social science inquiry. We are looking for authors to explore, through an STS lens, enduring intellectual issues of significance in humanistic and social science scholarship. Our desire is to see authors provide broad and deep reviews that demonstrate the value of STS scholarship to answering critical questions that concern multiple scholarly fields. Some areas where we believe STS has made important contributions: democracy; identity and difference; power and inequality; the body; culture; place; innovation; design; capitalism.

Section III. Advances in STS Theory and Methods
What are the most exciting areas of emerging scholarship in STS today—and what might be the most exciting areas tomorrow? In this section, we are looking explicitly for chapters that describe cutting edge areas of STS theory and methods. We are especially looking for new areas of research that meet two criteria: first, they have achieved sufficient attention as to deserve a thorough review of scholarship and future prospects; and, second, they are broadly relevant to readers in STS and beyond. The chapters will contextualize the intellectual histories of the work under review, explain its core ideas in accessible terms, and offer suggestions for where future research can continue theoretical advances. Some ideas for potential chapters include: globalization, the rise of biology, socio-technical constitutions, imagination; time, temporality, and the future; food and health; social media and information; vulnerability and resilience; and emerging technologies.

Section IV. Key Challenges for STS as a Field and a Profession
What challenges does STS face as a field of scholarship struggling for resources and attention in today’s academic environments? In this section of the Handbook, we focus on key challenges, including both those that have emerged for the field of STS in recent years and those that have endured for decades. For the most part, these challenges are, at once, intellectual and institutional. They may result from tensions within STS or between STS and other fields of scholarship. They may result from the transformation of the university, as the context within which STS scholarship takes place. Or they may result from broader transformations in science, technology, policy, or society. Regardless of their source, we see it as important that students of and in the field understand the kinds of challenges the field confronts moving forward. The list below is admittedly partial, and we expect to fill it in through nominated contributions: disciplinarity and inter-/trans-disciplinarity; the transformation of the university and academic work; the search for normativity and policy impact; responsible and ethical science and engineering; engaging STS in the professions.

Section V. STS and 21st Century Grand Challenges
How can STS contribute to solving the most vexing challenges facing humanity at the outset of the 21st century? STS has had far less impact in many parts of the world in shaping humanity’s responses to these challenges than, arguably, the power of its ideas might suggest. At the same time, STS scholars and ideas have made important contributions to solving societal problems that should not be ignored. This section strives to review, most importantly, where STS has essential contributions to make in helping societies around the world address key social and policy problems. We also seek chapters that highlight where STS is already making significant contributions and where, with new developments in the field, it might be positioned to contribute in the future. Examples include, but are certainly not limited to: energy transformation; global environmental change; health and wellbeing; security and justice; poverty; food and agriculture; finance and markets; technological disasters; the human future/future human.
What to do?

Chapter proposals should include a 1000-1200 words abstract describing the proposed chapter. In addition to the abstract, proposals should also offer a paragraph explaining the importance of including the proposed chapter in the STS Handbook and for which thematic section it would be most appropriate. Proposals should also identify the proposed lead author and contributing authors and describe the relevant qualifications of the team in the chapter’s field of coverage. Please include full contact information (including email addresses) and short bios for all authors.

Please send proposals electronically as pdfs, to clark.miller@asu.edu. More information can be found at http://stshandbook.com

On Building Social Robustness

November 12th, 2012, by § 3 Comments

by David Hakken, Information Ethnographer, Indiana University Bloomington

As many of you know, I am now directing a Social Informatics (SI) Group in a School of Informatics and Computing (SoIC) at Indiana University Bloomington. The SI group is quite unique in Informatics/Computer Science/Information Studies, it that is has chosen to oriented itself explicitly to the field of Science, Technology, and Society (STS, also referred to as Science and Technology Studies). I am also thinking about retirement in the next 3-5 years. Being in these situations has shaped the research agenda that follows.

My current research is all framed generally within Socially Robust and Enduring Computing. SREC is based on the notion that developing a notion of social robustness, comparable to the technical notion of robustness in Computer Science, is a goal worth pursuing. I have developed SREC with colleagues in Trento, Italy.

My main research time commitment at the moment is to a writing project on Value(s) with Maurizio Teli, a young researcher at the <ahref Foundation in Trento, where I spend a couple months every year. My interest in this area grew out of efforts to identify the forms whereby and the extent to which computing professionals are responsible ethically for the current economic and social crisis set off in finance. Maurizio’s and my value(s) project is a continuation of this work on the crisis and is linked to the project of David Graeber in Debt: The First 5000 Years, itself a work that builds on much of the recent anthropology of value. That is, we want to give a similar account of the ways in which value and values are and should be treated and thought about in the reproduction of current social formations. Such an account is made necessary by the ways in which contemporary reproduction is increasingly detached from the prior industrial dynamics but which has not yet established a new dynamic. In our view, establishing new social formation reproduction dynamics requires identification of new values, new institutions for pursuing those values, and new means to measure especially value relating to the success or failure of establishing these new values and institutions. A major point we wish to make regards the increasingly larger role in these new dynamics we see being played by common pool resources, the focus of Eleanor Ostrom, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in economics, and, until she died last Spring, a valued colleague here in Bloomington.

It is my hope that this writing will be paralleled by a research and demonstration project in Trentino on new systems, including information systems, for supporting the independent living of Seniors. This Suitcaseproject will build on my previous work in disability studies and technology, as well as more general ethnography in this region. Another aspect of the Trento ethnography is an attempt to understand what has made the region relatively hospitable to Participatory Design. PD is the focus of what I hope to and expect will be my last permanent contribution to the curriculum in the SoIC. In addition, I am working on another, related writing project, a text on Organizational Informatics, with Stefano De Paoli, another <ahref researcher. This text will incorporate much of the work behind my 2011 AAA paper in the business anthropology sessions as well as my current teaching, including my course on the Ethnography of Information.

A final areas of research, this time in collaboration with two SoIC graduate students, Nic True and Shad Gross, is on Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). In this work, we engage the current interest in Big Data, intending to show how some of the epistemological shortcomings in its standard approaches can be address when it is triangulated with ethnography. In our case, we argue that a preliminary ethnography of gaming can provide clearer direction regarding what we should be looking for in the automated analysis of large corpora of game play data. This work is directly related to the effort in SoIC to create a professional masters degree in Big Data.

Presented in this way, it should be easy to see, as I said initially, the multiple ways in which this research agenda is a function of my current position. While I have participated in the AAA meetings and CASTAC occasionally since I went to Indiana in 2004, this occasional connection has not been enough to justify systematic orientation of my research toward anthropology. Ironically, when I studied the careers of anthropologists interested in STS in the 1980s, I found a similar phenomenon; there were few if any examples of individuals who developed these interests while sustaining strong connections with academic anthropology. I should mention that my efforts to interest Indiana University Bloomington Department of Anthropology scholars in this type of work has born little fruit.

I mention these things as a warning: Interest in the anthropology of science, technology, and computing is not automatically, or even generally, a good way to build a career in anthropology. Working in and through vehicles like CASTAC should thus be understood as essential to the work of anthropologists who wish to continue to do so.

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