Fata Morgana (chimerically) wrote,
Fata Morgana

Values in Design

I've spent the last week at a small workshop/institute on values in design at Santa Clara University, which has been a wonderful experience of collaboration, discussion, and fun with a whole room of people doing research like mine. When I'm so used to having to always promote and defend myself academically (especially true for academics at the intersections of fields, and also especially true for women), it's a luxury and an inspiration to be able to spend a whole week with like-minded folks who have been both intelligent and supportive. We started the week with a whole day of socializing -- a hike and then a barbecue dinner at the faculty hosts' house -- which was perfect for breaking the ice and getting us beyond the conference self-promotion practices. During the week we had guest lecturers discuss the value dimension in their work -- Paul Dourish on Monday, game researchers Mary Flanagan and Tracy Fullerton on Tuesday, Suzi Iacono (from NSF, who sponsored the workshop) on Wednesday, and my previous advisor Nancy Van House on Thursday. On Friday we took a field trip to data storage and retrieval company Zantaz, which let us discuss the value implications of an increasingly quantified, surveilled, searchable society. Today we had a day-long mini-conference where we presented projects that we had developed in groups throughout the week (I'll post on those later). At first I wished I could tie the workshop topics to my own research rather than developing a whole new project, but the exercise was actually a perfect way of thinking through the implications of values in design in a very practical, hands-on way, and also a great way of getting to know several of the workshop attendees very well (though I had discussions with almost everyone in the workshop throughout the week).

The discussions we've had have spurred me to reflect on what values drive my own research and shape my outlook on the world. I was surprised at how easily I was able to articulate my own values, and even more surprised at their implications. Even in my high-school activism days, I was committed to exploring, exposing, and publicizing alternatives to fallacious dominant paradigms, particularly ones that involve gender/ethnic inequity, in a way that makes us recognize the fallacies. This thread has been present, to varying degrees, through all of my research, and the more strongly it is there, the more passionate I feel about the issue. It's also surprisingly Marxist (where I mean that in the academic sense of focusing on interactions between the material/economic/political world, or the "base," and the social/ideological world, or the "superstructure") and not so surprisingly feminist (in both the academic sense of attending to power dynamics and silencing, and the popular sense of attending to gender inequalities). In blog posts, you have probably noticed that this often comes out in nature vs. nurture debates, discussions of the societal influence of behaviors we often take for granted, and attempts to summarize social science results that may be well-known in the academic world but haven't spread to the general public. Anyway, all of us come to our research with various agendas, and I think it's vitally important to recognize these agendas in order to understand their implications for our research.

On an unrelated note, my paper on hacker culture, Constructionism, and the One Laptop Per Child project has been accepted for my Major Project requirement! It'll need some revision before submitting it for publication, but I'm so happy about how far it has come, and so grateful to Fred for his help.

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