Paul Dourish and Scott Mainwaring, the founders of the Intel funded Social Computing Research Center at UC Irvine, presented yesterday a paper at Ubicomp 2012 with the short but bombshell title “Ubicomp’s Colonial Impulse” (pdf).
The abstract remains quite vague, and doesn’t much insight on what this colonial impulse is all about:
Ubiquitous computing has a grand vision. Even the name of the area identifies its universalizing scope. In this, it follows in a long tradition of projects that attempt to create new models and paradigms that unite disparate, distributed elements into a large conceptual whole. We link concerns in ubiquitous computing into a colonial intellectual tradition and identify the problems that arise in consequence, explore the locatedness of innovation, and discuss strategies for decolonizing ubicomp’s research methodology.
In essence the argument in the paper is centred around the idea of colonialism as a knowledge enterprise, or as I would word it, a global knowledge empire (Dourish is Scottish and has some affinity with one particularly powerful colonial empire).
Then they point out – and here we get to the more explosive subject matter that the title hints at – a series of considerations that undergird both systems of thought [i.e. colonialism and ubiquitous computing):
In what follows, the authors examine these ideas in more depth. They “want to show how ubicomp’s research program, envisioned and portrayed since its founding as a program “for the twenty-first century” [i.e. “future-making”], nonetheless draws on a considerably older legacy. [They] then draw out some consequences of this approach, suggest some strategies for escaping it, and sketch the contours of an alternative approach to ubiquitous computing.”
The article is well argued, a delight to read, and was rightfully selected as one of Ubicomp 2012’s “Best Paper Nominees”. Most interestingly, the criticism is not limited to Ubicomp, but can be – as the authors point out – applied to all knowledge institutions and all tech companies active in Silicon Valley – and they point to Google as a good case in point (even adding also the IMF and the World Bank in their critical drag net).
Therefore their “contours of an alternative approach to ubiquitous computing” provide the outset of an alternative approach to the “Silicon Valley Empire”.
We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.
Experientia has now its own Twitter feed. Four months of Putting People First posts and other links have already been uploaded. If you followed Experientia on Twitter through the feed of its CEO, Mark Vanderbeeken, make sure to now also follow the company (but don’t unfollow Mark, who will keep on tweeting away). And while […]
Experientia’s Putting People First blog has been redesigned. It is now entirely responsive, allows for easier browsing, searching, and filtering, and features larger images on the posts. The entire history of posts remains accessible as before. We are still tweaking things and welcome any feedback.
Why the world needs anthropologists – Coming out of the ivory tower Location: Padua, Italy, Centro Culturale Altinate/San Gaetano Date and time: Friday, 5 December 2014, 13:00 – 18:00 Padua, Italy, 5 December 2014 – The second edition of the international symposium of applied anthropologists attempts to erase the boundary between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ anthropology, […]
Last year Experientia designed the interface of an ATM of UniCredit, a major Italian bank. The interface is now rolled out across the bank’s ATMs in Italy, to great satisfaction of the bank and the customers alike, since interaction speed is much faster and error rates went down dramatically. Last year UniCredit and Experientia also […]
In September 2014 Experientia gave a presentation on working as UX professionals with financial institutions at the EPIC conference in New York. The paper is now available on the EPIC site in HTML and PDF versions (free registration req’d). Abstract Application of a user-centered approach rooted in ethnographic methodologies facilitates a major European bank’s transition […]