For nearly two decades, HCI and design have increasingly moved beyond functional issues (e.g., features, performance, usability) to focus on how technologies relate to personal experience and self-fulfillment, sociability and civility, political participation, and cross-cultural differences, among others. Not surprisingly, humanistic scholarship—including philosophy, critical theory, feminist theory, etc.—has increasingly been used to develop these HCI and design research contributions. My research has contributed to this agenda for a decade. Specifically, in one way or another, my work focuses on the theme of IT design for socially inclusive and emancipatory experiences. I am especially interested in leveraging critical and cultural perspectives (e.g., feminism, pragmatism, and material culture theory, among others) and their methodologies to study HCI, interaction design, CSCW, tangible interaction, and computing in use. This includes investigating the following:
- How we can improve our understanding of people’s subjective and social responses to experiences with technology by applying and reworking critical and cultural theory.
- Perceiving the links between design materials and socio-cultural consequences in a way that supports design thinking.
- Reworking of critical and cultural theory to make it more useful to HCI researchers and interaction design practitioners, e.g., by clarifying links between criticality and design, or between material forms and social outcomes.
Methodologically, I leverage cross-disciplinary theories and methods that include social science (especially qualitative research methods such as ethnography and interviewing), feminist social science (e.g., feminist action research, feminist narrative inquiry), and the humanities and the arts, e.g., criticism, critical discourse analysis, close reading, etc.
Active Research Programs
Making Cultures in Asia and American Midwest
(Supported by NSF CHS Medium #1513604)
This study concerns the evolving collection of information technology practices that have been grouped under the umbrella of “making,” which includes end-user experimentation with emerging forms of hardware and software such as open hardware, digital fabrication, Internet of Things, and more. “Making” has been widely envisioned to enable a transition from tinkering to prototyping and entrepreneurship and, finally, to help revive manufacturing industries in the United States. Making in the US remains largely a hobbyist practice, and the transition from making-as-hobby to a new wave of economy-building technology innovation is not easy. Yet it can be done and indeed is already being done in other parts of the world, including the cities of Shenzhen, China and Taipei, Taiwan. Through empirical research, hands-on design workshops and international comparison, this project will examine and document successful pathways from making as hobby to socioeconomic driver, and how they are supported by technological, policy, economic, and pedagogical infrastructures.
(Supported by Intel ISTC-Social Computing)
I am participating in the Intel Science and Technology Center on Social Computing program, the goal of which is to create the new paradigm of social, rather than personal, computing. Research projects include the following: excavating and developing the relationships among pragmatist philosophy, feminist methodology, and design theory to rethink social computing design; reimagine the notion of “user” as “subjectivity of information”; redefining critical design and improving its theoretical and methodological accessibility for researchers and practitioners alike; and developing new analytic strategies for critically interrogating information systems and devices as constituents of meaningful material environments in specific times and places.
Massively Amateur Creativity
(Supported by NSF IIS Creative IT #1002772)
This research program seeks to contribute to our empirical and theoretical understandings of massively amateur creativity. That is, we’re interested in how computer networks support social acts of creativity on a massive scale. We are investigating several case studies in tandem. In one, we are investigating the historical emergence of World of Warcraft machinima, in particular the relationships between the emergent expressive language of this medium and the evolution of software tools used to create it. In the other, we are investigating several creativity practices of craft and DIY communities, with a focus on the technological ecologies in which this creativity unfolds and is evaluated.
Criticality in Design
This research program examines how criticality interfaces with design and technology: (1) Criticality is inscribed in design processes—who we invite to participate, who sets the problem space and chooses the materials by which it will be addressed, who makes design choices, and who evaluates them; (2) It is inscribed in artifacts—what they mean, but also when and where they mean; and (3) Criticality is also inscribed in theories, in the reflections of the reflective practitioner, in the wickedness of wicked problems, in the semantics of the linguistic turn.
The feminist HCI research agenda presently has several components. In bringing feminist theory into HCI, I am seeking to contribute to the theorization of feminist HCI. I am also eager to contribute to feminist HCI methodologies, by introducing feminist social science methodology to HCI methodologies in systematic ways. Finally, I am exploring interaction design projects that are influenced by and/or contribute to the theorization of feminist design and feminist HCI.
Sexuality, Intimacy, and HCI
HCI’s turn towards experience, culture, and domestic and everyday life has largely neglected the role of human sexuality in each of these areas. Though a trickle of sexuality in HCI papers has come out in the past decade, it has been all too intermittent. Along with my colleagues and students, we have been seeking to provide a sustained and ongoing series of studies on sexuality in HCI in the hopes of legitimating human sexuality as an area of HCI research; clarifying and defining what HCI’s sexuality research agenda might look like; and contributing to critical and empirical understandings of technologically mediated forms of intimacy and sexuality in everyday life.