“Rural Computing: Beyond access & infrastructure” workshop at CSCW 2018

Hello all,

I’ve been busy leading the organizing (with Dharma Dailey, Susan Wyche, and Norman Makoto Su) of a workshop being held at CSCW 2018 in Jersey City, NJ on November 4. The workshop, titled “Rural Computing: Beyond access & infrastructure,” is going to be an amazing opportunity to bring together researchers who are currently doing research in and on rural communities and their uses of technology. Head on over to our website (www.ruralhci.info) to check out the agenda and participants (and their papers). We’ll likely be organizing some sort of follow-up activities and/or publication opportunities, so if you are interested in being involved, shoot me an email (jkhardy@umich.edu).

So what is a participatory design workshop?

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.

New journal article published on location-tracking technologies in health research

Hello everyone,

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.

Panel accepted to 4S Sydney

Hello everyone,

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.

Queer Visibility in Queer Internet Studies: A reflection on QIS2

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.

Keywords: Visibility, safety, digitization, internet studies, queer studies.


Opening with the question “What is queer about internet studies now?”¹, Jessa Lingel and Jack Jen Gieseking kicked off the second Queer Internet Studies Workshop, held at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the UPenn campus in Philadelphia. Taking inspiration from topics such as porn, suicide, sex, and identity, we began the day with small group discussions about why we were attending and wrapping our minds around something like “the queer internet(s).” Following, a research panel convened with presentations on policing by non-police actors (Mitali Thakor), archiving queer games (Adrienne Shaw), self-disclosure during identity transitions (Oliver Haimson), transgender visibility (Mia Fischer), and community organizing online (Carmen Rios). These morning conversations primed us for an afternoon of critical engagement with each other around topics of digitzation and queer identity online during a hands-on workshop lead by TL Cowan. The day was capped by a rousing and inspirational conversation between Katherine Sender and Shaka McGlotten that spanned from questions of digital public sex to surveillance of workers. Throughout all of these conversations, visibility, and particularly the seemingly boundless visibility of artifacts, words, and/or feelings online, became a line through which I made connections.


In our first breakout group after Jessa and Jack’s introduction, I sat at a table with folks from a variety of backgrounds, from social computing to literary studies. Our conversation immediately turned to online communities and their features and affordances that support various forms of perceived safety. Facebook groups that are closed and/or secret have recently emerged into popular discourse, especially as it relates to political organizing in the wake of the election. Our table discussed how these groups feel safe but ultimately aren’t, that the visibility or invisibility afforded by their closed/secret status is tenuous as best (not to mention their place on a widely surveilled social network). Further, while these spaces may provide perceived notions of safety, people must have “an in” to get access in the first place, potentially leaving those most vulnerable out in the cold. It lead to this broader question of, what do we expect from platforms like Facebook that aren’t meant to be queer to begin with? Is it possible to design for security that ultimately doesn’t exist? And further, how do we cope with subjective security norms, values, and expectations when queerness has such a complicated history with visibility?


Many (most? all?) of the attendees benefitted from the visibility of queerness, of queer bodies in circulation through public media, in our own processes of understanding our sexual identities. In her description of the LGBTQ Game Archive, Adrienne Shaw described a need to make the LGBTQ characters and content of indie games visible in lists of queer game characters which frequently feature the same content over and over again. Additionally, she mentioned something that had come up in our small group conversation: the vanishing of technological queer artifacts from the 80s (e.g. queer indie games) that didn’t benefit from widely networked connection and distribution that started to emerge in the mid-90s. While Shaw and her team working on the LGBTQ Game Archive are trying to discover and make these queer artifacts visible, TL Cowan led an afternoon workshop inspired by the digitization of lesbian erotic magazine, On Our Backs, that questioned whether visibility is always a good thing. The digitization of something such as On Our Backs begs the question whether the folks who originally posed for photos and submitted to the magazine would have done so with the knowledge that these articles would be made easily available for the world to see. Cowan leveraged this to question visibility and strike the difference between queer disappearance as survival and queer disappearance as oblivion. While visibility indeed communicates needed knowledge, literacies, and subjectivities, invisibility is also just as important for the survival as queer people.


In my research with rural LGBT people in the midwest, I take inspiration from these conversations around visibility, and especially the politics of visibility. In Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America, Mary Gray asks readers to “consider how strategies of visibility that currently drive mainstream gay and lesbian social movements in the United States work out in the country” (4). Urban dominated discourses of the benefits of visibility to LGBT rights and political movements do not take into account the complexity of what it means to be visible in a small town where there are likely to be not only fewer LGBT-identified people, but drastically fewer people out of the closet. This is what Gray and others call, “the politics of visibility.” While those of us that do work in rural areas recognize that visibility operates differently depending on location, that also extends to increased calls of (forced) visibility on the Internet. We should continue to honor these calls around the complexities of visibility in order to not only acknowledge the silences (or oblivions) that may emerge in our research, but to also just recognize a basic queer condition: that visibility and safety are not always compatible.


1. This opening prompt was inspired by a 2005 issue of Social Text that asked the question, “What is queer about queer studies now?”

New publication on rural gay men and location-based social networks

Hello everyone,

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.

Read more of the paper here.

4S/EASST in Barcelona

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.