Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Robots and the Fallacy of Agency


Cite this article:

2019 EPIC Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918,

PechaKucha Presentation

What if I told you, that humans are not very special? That the very qualities that make us human are not pre-given features but are rather properties generated by our participation in the world at large. In this view, humans are not mere expressions of blueprints. Rather, we are shaped and fashioned in the course of our lives by many different environments. This presentation challenges the notion of agency itself through an exploration of a recent project we conducted on service robots and human interaction. I raise questions on the nature of our humanness and the idea of ‘humanity’ as a special, protected class. If we set aside humans as special and unique, we tend to then dehumanise and downscale everything that is non-human, setting the stage for our current malaise where our environment is objectified as a resource to be used up as quickly as possible. I conclude that a shared and sustainable world is one where the qualities of life are accorded to all things, human and non-human alike.

Stewart Allen is a founding partner of Fuse Foresight – a people-centric strategy consulting firm based in Barcelona, Spain. Stewart holds a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Edinburgh, and is the author of the book ‘An ethnography of NGO practice in India: Utopias of development’ published by Manchester University Press. Email: