Tuesday, April 12, 2005

City engaged

So the Engaging the City workshop at CHI happened last week, and I haven't seen any notes on it. But the position papers are online and a few caught my attention:

Timo Arnall - Marking in Public Space (pdf)
Chris Beckmann - Coin-operated Public Space Annotation (pdf)
John Geraci - Street Lamps, Trees and Mailboxes (pdf)
Amanda Williams and Eric Baumer - Exploring Shopping Malls as Sites of Suburban Computing (pdf)

I'm completely fascinated by how non-anthropologists observe and interact, and how that influences their interpretations of what they see and do. Even though not all ethnography is anthropological -- I don't know a single anthropologist who wouldn't cringe upon hearing that "the task of an ethnographer is to find the bizarre and fascinating in the ordinary" -- there's some good work in the papers above.

But the more I see designers & computer scientists doing ethnographic research the more I notice a strange disconnect between method and theory, and in worse case scenarios, ethnography is nothing more than scrapbooking. After all, how data are collected and interpreted make all the difference in the world, and it's a bit funny how -- despite all the talk of human agency -- social interaction and the urban always seem to emerge as some sort of designable, programmable system.


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