Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Friction as Sneaky Power

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“Friction as Sneaky Power,” Ted McCarthy. 2023 EPIC Proceedings p 450, ISSN 1559-8918

Friction frequently presents as a mere by-product of daily life, the innocent outcome of inefficiency or ambivalence. But it can also be employed to powerful ends, and with intent—by individuals, organizations, corporations and governments. The world is rife with expressions of clandestine power masquerading as accidental frictions: designs of technology, bureaucracy and policy that guide behavior without explicitly stating an intent to do so. These “sneaky frictions” allow the individuals or organizations employing them to express power while retaining an air of innocence, and defying critique. We researchers are uniquely equipped to identify and ameliorate these frictions. How might we better do so—or perhaps even employ them ourselves?

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