Treating technological innovations in an experimental fashion
Crabtree, A. (2004) Design in the Absence of Practice: Breaching Experiments, In Proc. Of DIS 2004, Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, pp. 59-68. While IT research and development is now generally informed by studies of practices, this article raises the problem of innovation and design in the absence of these very practices in the context of ubiquitous computing. The author interestingly proposes to deploy new technologies "in the wild" and treat them as "breaching experiments". Some excerpts that summarizes the main meat:
"How, then, are disciplines that take practice as their object of inquiry and study to proceed in the absence of practice and, furthermore, to support innovation in design? (...) a solution we have developed over the course of our own research to address how we might incorporate ethnography into an innovative process of research and development (...) treating technological innovations in an experimental fashion (...) our approach is based on conducting experiments ‘in the wild’ (...) The ethnomethodological notion of breaching experiments: (...) a research procedure that necessarily disrupts ordinary action in order that the sociological analyst might “detect some expectancies that lend commonplace scenes their familiar, life-as-usual character, and to relate these to the stable social structures of everyday activities. (...) in the absence of practice with which to inform design, novel technological innovations might be deployed in the wild in order to confront them with novel situations and ad hoc practices devised on the fly to make the technology work ‘here and now’ (...) they provoke (in the etymological sense of ‘call forth’) practice and make it visible and available design reasoning. (...) Breaching experiments do not make existing practice available to analysis however – as none exists – but make visible the contingent ways in which the technology is made to work and the interactional practices providing for and organizing that work. "
Why do I blog this? some important elements here about how to set proper research methodologies in the context of ubicomp R&D. It certainly connects with the talk that I did recently in Marseille. I found important the clarification about researching practices... that do not exist yet. Besides, the "experiments in the wild" approach is appealing to me, although I may not limit myself to ethnomethodologically-informed ethnography (given that I like to use mixed-methods).