KARL MENDONCA Google The ethos and methods of participatory research have been widely embraced as a powerful approach to address systemic inequity in the design of technology. While there have been many gains and developments that merit celebration, an unspoken, prevalent assumption is that inclusive forms of engagement will unequivocally result in a more inclusive product. Using the case study of an ethnographic project, this paper critically examines how the task of producing “better” (more ethical, more participatory, more statistically diverse) representations, had the unintended consequence of displacing structural outcomes to questions of aesthetics and statistical sampling. An investigation into the cause of this displacement reveals the resilience of deeper historical biases that persist from the early years of electronic computing. As a possible remedial framework, this paper introduces the field of infrastructure studies, which makes an explicit connection between the material, historical and semiotic dimensions...
The Ethnography of a ‘Decentralized Autonomous Organization’ (DAO): De-mystifying Algorithmic Systems
Dhanabir Sharma • 0 Comments
KELSIE NABBEN RMIT University, Centre for Automated Decision Making & Society / BlockScience MICHAEL ZARGHAM WU Vienna / BlockScience This paper details ethnographic methods, experiences, and insights from an ethnographer and an industry engaged complex systems engineer in how to study resilience in blockchain-based DAOs as a novel field site. Amidst digitization of numerous elements of government, work, and everyday life, ‘Decentralized Autonomous Organizations’ (DAOs) provide a field site for the generation of ethnographic insights into opportunities and limitations in organizational resilience in human-machine assemblages. As a broad organizational form, DAOs aim to enable people to coordinate and govern themselves through automated rules deployed on a public blockchain (Hassan & Di Filippi, 2021). DAOs are an experiment in ‘computer aided governance’. These adaptive, socio-technical infrastructures are envisioned as capable of restructuring the foundations of governance in human societies (Merkle, 2016;...
Making Change within Complex Systems: Alexandra Mack, a Profile
Jennifer Collier Jennings
EPIC Profiles Series by ELIZABETH KAZIUNAS, University of Michigan What do historical landscapes or tacit knowledge have to do with reimagining the future of shipping or location intelligence services? In linking everyday practices with wider forces of complex organizational systems, Alex Mack argues that thinking anthropologically about infrastructure—as both a technical system and a relational process—can help reveal new directions for design interventions. A Senior Fellow at Pitney Bowes and a member of the EPIC Board, Alex’s work has had significant impact in her organization and far beyond. Alex recently sat down for an interview to share insights from her career. She reflected on how early ethnographic field work studying ancient urban landscapes as a PhD student helped shape her research sensibilities and worldview. In transitioning from academia to industry, this deeply social way of seeing the world continues to influence her work at Pitney Bowes, both for addressing immediate client needs and in developing strategic...
Translating Infrastructure to Technology
Jennifer Collier Jennings
by ALEXANDRA MACK (Pitney Bowes) I spend a lot of time thinking about mail. Actually, I don’t just think about it—I interview and observe people sending things, and it is actually more interesting than watching people lick stamps. As an ethnographer, I look at the overall context of the work and business processes connected to what is sent, as well as the perspectives and values of the various actors involved. These include decision makers who buy postage meters, inserters, or software solutions but may not ever use them, product users, and the people who actually care about what is sent and received. To do something as seemingly mundane as sending documents to a client, for example, a lawyer gives instructions to her assistant, who prints the documents, organizes them and addresses the envelope, then passes to a mail room with instructions on how to send to the end recipient. And this is just a relatively common scenario; more complex interactions and processes of documentation are often involved. On the day-to-day level...
Ethnographies of Future Infrastructures
Jennifer Collier Jennings
by LAURA FORLANO, IIT Institute of Design Article 4 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives On April 1, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced a $317 million federally funded initiative in textile innovation and manufacturing—a national consortium of public and private organizations to be led by MIT. It’s only the most recent project of the Obama administration’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a major effort to re-invigorate the American economy. This ambitious initiative to build manufacturing infrastructure nationwide plans an initial network of 45 Manufacturing Innovation Institutes over 10 years. Led by non-profit organizations, the institutes partner universities, businesses and government agencies with the aim of bridging the gap between basic and applied research in key manufacturing areas such as additive manufacturing (eg, 3D printing), digital manufacturing, lightweight metals, semiconductors, advanced composites, flexible hybrid electronics and integrated photonics. The...