Mar 09

beta research statement

Recently I applied to take part in a workshop and, as part of the application process, I had to write a very brief research statement. It was a good exercise to try and articulate what I hope to research. The workshop concentrates on sociotechnical systems so I emphasize how it’s part of my work.

Research statement

My research examines the design of ICT for social development and international aid projects as a value-laden activity. I consider users and artifacts within their larger sociotechnical ensemble; a unit of analysis intended to invoke both the social and technical as a seamless web of “facts, artifacts and society” (Bijker & Law, 1992, p. 291). Taking it as our unit of analysis allows us, as Bijker (1995) explains, “to deal with questions of value-ladenness, of emancipatory and oppressive potentials, of democratization, and of the embeddedness of technology in modern culture” (p. 280). Understanding the design of ICT for social development and international aid projects requires a study of both design and use to construct a complete understanding of these practices. Assessments of ICT for development projects, however, frequently limit themselves to considering the acceptance or rejection of technology by the intended users without problematizing the design process of the technology itself. An examination of the design practices shaping 21st century ICT for development requires an understanding of multiple relevant social groups. Each relevant social group has a technological frame that “structures the interactions among its members” and “shapes their thinking and acting” (Bijker, 2010). These social groups include state actors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), design agencies, design advocacy organizations, and design practitioners.

ICT for development projects require designers to devise technologies intended for users who are quite different from the designers themselves. Specifically, these differences are ones of power, culture, and the underlying assumptions about particular technologies (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994, p. 832). The body of literature exploring designers’ assumptions about users provides us with examples of how designers’ worldviews can affect the use of technology (Oudshoorn & Pinch, 2003; Woolgar, 1991), particularly where ethnicity and gender are concerned (Kolko, 1999; Nakamura, 2002; Taylor, 2003, 2004). It challenges us to consider how we might make visible these assumptions to cultivate critical analysis for reflective creative practice.


  • Bijker, Wiebe E. (1995). Of bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs: toward a theory of sociotechnical change. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Bijker, Wiebe E. (2010). How is technology made?—That is the question! Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34(1), 63-76.
  • Bijker, Wiebe E., & Law, John (1992). Postscript: technology, stability and social theory. In Wiebe E. Bijker &
  • John Law (Eds.), Shaping technology/building society: studies in sociotechnical change (pp. 290-308). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Kolko, Beth E. (1999). Erasing @race: going white in the (inter)face. In Gilbert B. Rodman, Lisa Nakamura & Beth E. Kolko (Eds.), Race in cyberspace. New York: Routledge.
  • Nakamura, Lisa (2002). Cybertypes: race, ethnicity, and identity on the Internet. New York: Routledge.
  • Orlikowski, Wanda J., & Gash, Debra C. (1994). Technological frames: Making sense of information technology in organizations. ACM Trans. Inf. Syst., 12(2), 174-207.
  • Oudshoorn, Nelly, & Pinch, Trevor (2003). Introduction: How users and non-users matter. In Nelly Oudshoorn & Trevor Pinch (Eds.), How users matter: the co-construction of users and technologies (pp. vii, 340 p. :). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Taylor, T. L. (2003). Intentional Bodies: Virtual Environments and the Designers Who Shape Them. International Journal of Engineering Education, 19(1), 25-34.
  • Taylor, T. L. (2004). The Social Design of Virtual Worlds: Constructing The User And Community Through Code. In I. M. Consalvo (Ed.), Internet Research Annual Volume 1: Selected Papers from the Association of Internet Researchers Conferences 2000-2002 (pp. 260-268). New York: Peter Lang.
  • Woolgar, Steve (1991). Configuring the user: the case of usability trials. In John Law (Ed.), A Sociology of monsters: essays on power, technology, and domination (pp. 57-99). London; New York: Routledge.

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