This past week was the annual Association for Computing Machinery’s conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW for short). Presentations at computer science and HCI conferences are often tied to publications in the proceedings for that conference and I was fortunate enough to have a paper accepted for publication titled, Rural HCI Research: Definitions, Distinctions, Methods, and Opportunities (pdf here | ACM Digital Library entry here). My co-authors were Susan Wyche, an associate professor at Michigan State University, and Tiffany Veinot, my amazing co-adviser).
The paper is based off a systematic scoping review of HCI research conducted in rural settings or drawing explicitly from rural data. Our purpose was to investigate how exactly did HCI research conceptualize what rural meant. We created two typologies drawing from research in rural studies, geography, sociology, etc. that answered two questions: how is rural defined and what are the unique characteristics of rural places? We used these typologies to analyze our corpus of papers from HCI.
We found that more than twice as many rural HCI articles have been conducted in low-income and/or developing countries than in high-income and/or developed countries. HCI researchers rarely define rurality, and when they do, they primarily define it using
descriptive rather than sociocultural or symbolic definitions. Rather, researchers focused primarily on infrastructure and geographic isolation as key characteristics in justifying or situating the rural in their studies. Because of this, existing HCI research conducted in rural communities largely sets up the rural as something oppositional and different to the urban, rather than as an opportunity to compare rural places and learn about rurality more broadly. There is of course, a lot more in the paper, so I encourage you to read it.
If people are interested in talking about this research, or what I think about the future of rural computing more broadly, feel free to reach out to me using my contact info provided above 🙂