What Is Our Project?

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At CHI 2006, I had the interesting experience of presenting a paper on ethnography and design that seemed to touch many nerves (Dourish, 2006). Both at the conference, and in virtual settings like the “anthrodesign” email list, a flood of discussion accompanied what were, to my mind, not particularly new observations about the nature of ethnographic work in technological contexts. The topic was clearly more fraught than I had imagined.

In the spirit (loosely) of Tsing’s “Friction” (Tsing, 2005), I am intrigued by the disciplinary frictions by which engagements between ethnographic praxis and other disciplinary approaches gain traction, and intrigued too by the different local forms by which such “global” disciplines such as computer science, anthropology, design, and ethnography are brought together in situated and particular effective hybrids.

In the CHI 2006 paper, this manifested itself with a concern with the ways in which theory and analytic positioning, and particularly the notion of ethnographic data being generated in the encounter between ethnographer and site, had been submerged or elided in the forms of ethnographic reportage that are published in that community. My concern was not with implications for design per se, but rather with the rhetorical strategies by which ethnographic insight was made...

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