I am a PhD Candidate at the University of Michigan School of Information. I am advised by Silvia Lindtner and Tiffany Veinot, am a member of the Tech. Culture. Matters. Research Collective, and co-convene the Queer Science & Technology Studies Workshop. My research uses ethnographic and participatory design methods to understand how people use information and communication technologies for community and culture in the rural Midwestern United States.
This blog post is crossposted from my ongoing participatory design project – The LGBTQ Futures Project.
The LGBTQ Futures Project uses a research method that is called participatory design. In our case, the words “participatory” and “design” have multiple meanings. In this blog post, we will walk you through a little bit of the history of participatory design and then outline what these words mean to us. If you are looking for a more thorough treatment of participatory design, see Michael Muller’s book chapter on the topic, “Participatory Design: The Third Space in HCI.”
Participatory design is a research movement that got it’s start in the 1970s in Scandinavia. It started out as part of a labor rights movement that sought to further democratize the workplace by involving workers in designing future work processes. It has since grown into a method that is deployed in a variety of settings in and out of the workplace, with many different populations. We especially appreciate Lucy Suchman’s words, which we first read in Muller’s chapter:
“The agenda in the case of [participatory] design becomes working for the presence of multiple voices not only in knowledge production, but in the production of technologies as knowledges objectified in a particular way.”
We take this quote to mean that participatory design is a way for researchers (and designers) to intentionally take into account varied perspectives, and to question and change the way that knowledge produced from design research is created. In building on this history and respecting the work that went into making this research method what it is, our project looks at both “participatory” and “design” in a few different ways.
First, participatory for us comes through both in the ways that the workshops operate and how our research team and project is constructed. Our workshops are structured in a way so that all participants have opportunities to share, in a safe environment, their experiences and thoughts about the future of technology for LGBTQ people. Participatory for us also comes through in our desire to shine a light on perspectives of people that are rarely, if ever, intentionally heard in the process of creating new and adapting current social technology. Our research team is participatory in that we are made up of people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences in LGBTQ community. We also intentionally are made up of people who either have lived or currently live in the region in which we perform our research.
Second, when most people think of design they think of a designer sitting at a desk in front of a computer working on some advanced software or with a drawing utensil in hand. What we mean when we talk about the word design, is that we are interested in what the future of technology does. Another way to think about this is through “design as inquiry.” Design as inquiry is a way that we as researchers can leverage design to leverage other people’s perspectives (i.e. participatory) and create new knowledge about future perceptions of technology. In other words, we use design as a process through which we ask our workshop participants questions and get them to create mock-ups of future technology that is designed explicitly for their identities.
Participatory design workshops, for us, are the process of intentionally creating space to elicit our participants’ own knowledge of their experiences in order to collectively think about what the future of technology looks like and does for rural LGBTQ people.
I am happy to announce that our paper, “User Acceptance of Location-Tracking Technologies in Health Research: Implications for Study Design and Data Quality,” was accepted to the Journal of Biomedical Informatics. This paper was a pretty big undertaking with a lot of background work and I’d like to thank my co-authors for their wherewithal: Tiffany Veinot, Jacob Yan, Veronica Berrocal, Philippa Clarke, Robert Goodspeed, Iris Gomez-Lopez, Daniel Romero, and VG Vinod Vydiswaran. The abstract is below and you can download and read a pre-print PDF of the paper.
Research regarding place and health has undergone a revolution due to the availability of consumer-focused location-tracking devices that reveal fine-grained details of human mobility. Such research requires that participants accept such devices enough to use them in their daily lives. There is a need for a theoretically grounded understanding of acceptance of different location-tracking technology options, and its research implications. Guided by an extended Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT), we conducted a 28-day field study comparing 21 chronically ill people’s acceptance of two leading, consumer-focused location-tracking technologies deployed for research purposes: 1) a location-enabled smartphone, and 2) a GPS watch/activity tracker. Participants used both, and completed two surveys and qualitative interviews. Findings revealed that all participants exerted effort to facilitate data capture, such as by incorporating devices into daily routines and developing workarounds to keep devices functioning. Nevertheless, the smartphone was perceived to be significantly easier and posed fewer usability challenges for participants than the watch. Older participants found the watch significantly more difficult to use. For both devices, effort expectancy was significantly associated with future willingness to participate in research although prosocial motivations overcame some concerns. Social influence, performance expectancy and use behavior were significantly associated with intentions to use the devices in participants’ personal lives. Data gathered via the smartphone was significantly more complete than data gathered via the watch, primarily due to usability challenges. To make longer-term participation in location tracking research a reality, and to achieve complete data capture, researchers must minimize the effort involved in participation; this requires usable devices. For long-term location-tracking studies using similar devices, findings indicate that only smartphone-based tracking is up to the challenge.
Stephen Molldrem (UMich), Roderic Crooks (UC Irvine), and I are organizing an open panel for the 2018 meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science, happening in Sydney August 29-September 1. The panel seeks to bring people together doing research in the realms of computing, biomedicine, and/or queer studies to have big picture conversations about how biomedicine and computing shape contemporary queer society and subjectivity. Abstracts are due on the 4S website by February 1 – email me if you have any questions (jkhardy at umich dot edu). Full call below!
64. Digital sexualities, biomedical practice, and queer realities
Stephen Molldrem, University of Michigan; Jean Hardy, University of Michigan; Roderic Crooks, University of California-Irvine
There is now a rich body of literature dedicated to exploring how sexualities are experienced in digital spaces and how digital technologies affect the formation of queer identities and the sexual lives of individuals, groups and communities. Further, sexuality studies and queer studies have generated a great deal of knowledge about how sexual categories generated in biomedical contexts are historically produced and internalized through biomedical discourse and clinical practice. However, scholars are just starting to bring these areas of inquiry together to describe how technoscientific practices (e.g. interface design), biomedical advances such as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV/AIDS, and digital technologies (from commercial physical activity trackers to clinical electronic health records) are productive of new queer realities and conditions of sexual possibility.
In this open panel, we ask: how can we think about queer sexualities as both a product of digital technologies and technoscientific practices, and as phenomena that recursively influence shifts in biomedicine, digital design trends, and uses of clinical and non-clinical digital technologies to represent or shape queer life? How do digital technologies and biomedical discourses produce novel sexual minority identities or subjectivities, queer subcultures and counterpublics, modes of punishing sexual deviance, or relations between sexual pleasure and risk? We invite submissions that address any of these topics, but encourage papers that place studies of digital technology and biomedicine in conversation with sexuality/queer studies. We particularly encourage papers that situate themselves within the emergent field of Queer STS.
This post is a recap and reflection on attending the 2nd Queer Internet Studies Workshop in Philadelphia on Friday, February 17. See their website for more information. The travel to attend this even was supported by the Diversity Committee Travel Grant from the University of Michigan School of Information.
I am happy to announce that my submission to the 20th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing has been accepted for publication! This piece wouldn’t have been possible without the co-authorship and support from my advisor, Dr. Silvia Lindtner. The paper is titled “Constructing a Desiring User: Discourse, Rurality, and Design in Location-Based Social Networks” and is based off research I have been doing since 2014 on the use of location-based social networks by rural gay men in the Upper Midwest. The abstract is below and you can download and read (and cite :-P) a PDF of the paper at http://bit.ly/DesiringUser
A growing body of literature addresses the use of Grindr and SCRUFF, location-based networking applications for gay, bisexual, and queer men. This study builds on that work, asking whose sexuality is produced in the design and use of these applications. Drawing from ethnographic research and discourse analysis, we build on analytical frames from science and technology studies, feminist HCI, and sexuality studies, proposing what we call the desiring user: a user whose desires and sexuality are mediated through technological devices in particular ways. In doing so, we demonstrate how the discursive constructions of the user put forth by the creators of Grindr and SCRUFF clash with the lived reality of our rural interlocutors. We address emerging themes in CSCW and HCI related to the construction of sexual subjectivities and social computing in rural settings.
I will be attending the annual conference for the Society for the Social Studies of Science August 31 to September 3 and presenting a paper based on my summer 2016 ethnographic fieldwork entitled, “Queer technologies and rural world-making.”
This paper explores how embodied knowledge, mobile applications for queer men, and spatiality are enacted in the world-making process of rural LGBTQ people. Drawing from ethnographic research in a rural region of the American Midwest, I show how queer sexuality is negotiated through a range of artifacts including software, bars, periodicals, festivals, and stories of belonging. I focus on contextualizing the use of location-based smartphone applications and their role in LGBT world-formation since their popularization in 2009.
Discourses used by mobile apps creators, queer theorists, researchers of people-nearby applications, and the popular press frequently assume an urban user and traffic in techno-determinist discourses regarding both how these apps are used and their cultural effects. Designers assume that these technologies will be used only in certain ways and critics believe that their use will lead to “the death of the gay bar.” These discourses over-emphasize the role of queer technologies in modern gay life, offer a limited understanding of their place in LGBTQ culture, and mischaracterize how they are used by a wide variety of queer subjects.
In contrast, I argue that rural LGBTQ identity is enacted dynamically and that rural users employ these technologies in novel and unexpected ways. I draw on STS literatures on the co-construction of the user and synthesize Berlant & Warner’s framework of “world-making” from queer theory and Donna Haraway’s theory of “worlding” from feminist technoscience. In doing so, I offer a non-determinist view of these applications that centers processes of context-bound user interactions.