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Qualitative Inquiry

http://qix.sagepub.com Technography = Technology + Ethnography: An Introduction


Grant Kien Qualitative Inquiry 2008; 14; 1101 DOI: 10.1177/1077800408318433 The online version of this article can be found at: http://qix.sagepub.com

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Technography = Technology + Ethnography


An Introduction
Grant Kien
California State University East Bay

Qualitative Inquiry Volume 14 Number 7 October 2008 1101-1109 2008 Sage Publications 10.1177/1077800408318433 http://qix.sagepub.com hosted at http://online.sagepub.com

What is it Im trying to do . . . What do I call it . . . ? I ponder laboriously, shutting off the hot water tap with my left foot. Im lying in a deep old bathtub full of steaming water, meditating on the niche of communications research that Im trying to furthermobile appliance user-experience in the context of globalized everyday life. I mentally review my key concepts: Heidegger . . . Enframing . . . Technology as tool . . . Truth . . . Revealing . . . Poesis . . . Time structures everyday life . . . Poesis creates eruptions of truth. The faucet painfully leaks out a couple of drops, producing a tight echo in the close confines of the bathroom. Poetic dwelling is pure being. . . . Pure being in everyday life is possible through poesis. . . . Technology is a tool that enframes. . . . The truth of everyday life constantly erupts, this is poesis. I take a mental pause, feeling the heat of the water relax my body. All writing is enframing. . . . Art is an enframing constructed in a way that it works on its own to cause truth to erupt. . . . Artful writing causes truth to erupt. . . . Artful academic writing? Maybe . . . Autoethnography? Studying technology in everyday life requires ethnographic methods. . . . Autoethnography . . . Show dont tell . . . Thats artful I become aware for a moment that Im staring at the ancient, exposed pipes leading up to the shower head. I notice a spider web growing between the wall and the pipe midway along, as if to intentionally defy the daily morning ritual that washes it away. What a wonderful technology the spider web is. I wonder randomly, Does the spider have a mythology about the daily destruction/reconstruction of its world? Is it aware that we share a morning ritual? . . . I want to do ethnography of technology. . . Ethnology? No . . . exists already . . . Its like . . . techno-ethnography . . .
Authors Note: Please address correspondence to Grant Kien, Department of Communication, 3005 Meiklejohn Hall, California State University East Bay, Hayward, CA 94542-3014; e-mail: Grant.Kien@csueastbay.edu. 1101
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bah, that sounds like using technology to do ethnography . . . Techno-graphy . . . TECHNOGRAPHY! Yeah, thats it . . . technography . . . technology in everyday social situations . . . should write it down. I scramble upright, throw a towel around myself and beat a watery trail across the hardwood floor to the next room in search of a paper and pen. *** More than three years have passed since that strange man first jumped out of the tub in Urbana, Illinois, and rushed to his desk to write down the word technography. The pool of water on the floor quickly dried, but the tide of ethnographic research in technology has grown steadily and surely since that fateful Google search of the word that evening in 2004. In retrospect, I am only one of many to have invented the word. The appropriation of this seemingly long-forgotten anthropological term by industry has been rather complete, having been registered as a trademark by Bernie DeKoven, who claims to have invented it as recently as the 1980s.1 Following DeKovens lead, industry uses the word technography to define real-time, multiuser document production. In this scenario, many users network and interface with the technology directly to produce a common text, much like having a group of individuals each equipped with chalk and eraser gathered at a blackboard to produce a text. The virtual space of the interface becomes a tele-magical social arena, where ideas can be bandied about like a ball in a game of soccer. Meanwhile, technology companies interested in intuitive design and culturally specific marketing opportunities have begun hiring ethnographers to work in their research departments, to take up technography more as I have envisioned it. Although qualitative in nature, such research may often be truncated and shaped by the pragmatics of producing deliverables within a tight schedule. But corporatization represents only one very thin dimension of the word in contemporary parlance. Academically, the Oxford English Dictionary2 quotes the keyword as far back as 1881, describing technography as the observing and descriptive stage of the technological development cycle. However, contemporary interest with recent developments in technological capabilities and potentials have stimulated a fresh anthropological and sociological concern with describing the arts and crafts of tribes and peoples.3 Much of this fresh surge in what we might classify as technographic work adopts a Goffmaninformed interactionist approach, referencing classic texts such as The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), Behavior in Public Places

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(1963), Relations in Public (1971), and Frame Analysis (1974). This grounding has been helpful for numerous academics struggling to make sense of the publicprivate performative aspects of human technologically contextualized behavior that has become particularly visible with the virtualization of experience and congruent mobilization of electronic space (a few examples: Gotved, 2006; Humphreys, 2005; Katz & Sugiyama, 2006; Ling, 2004; Robinson, 2007; Soukup, 2006; Waskul, 2005). Although such work is unquestionably rigorous and often quite academically poignant, Goffman-informed research perpetuates an assumption that the authors in this special issue wish to contend with. That is, it continues to reify technology as a prop or dead thing somehow situated outside the arena of social interaction even while it demarcates the boundaries. It is not that we eschew this orientation; there is much we have learned from such work, and will no doubt continue to garner for many years to come. Rather, in the present circumstances of technological evolution, the work in this special issue seeks an approach that enables us to describe what the traditional approach cannot: the intimacy of technology, the relationships and feelings it is bound up in, and the understanding that technology contributes dynamically and dramatically to the performance of everyday life rather than onedimensionally serving as its backdrop and container. Ours is far from the first effort in this direction. ActorNetwork Theory (ANT) has held the mantle as a reluctantly pigeonholed ethnography of technology for roughly two decades. Technography as we are using the term is not a contender for the title, but rather precedes ANT and might teleologically be considered the genre of inquiry to which ANT belongs (i.e., insofar as we trust the arbitrariness of taxonomies). Although there is much affinity between our motivation and the ANT goal of collapsing modernist insideoutside dualisms, this pushes beyond the traditional ANT approach, which emphasizes attention to the abstract array of forces productive of things. It is not so much the array itself that holds our attention here, which suggests maintaining a macro perspective of sorts. Rather, the relationships themselves from an intimately experienced perspective are the concern, one ingredient of what Latour (1986) once referred to as the glue that holds society together.4 The goal here is in essence twofold: to coax sociotechno researchers to embrace the latest advances in qualitative methodologies and push them further, and to encourage qualitative researchers to reconsider traditional assumptions about dead space and technology. It is our hope that this vein of research will help us come to terms with some of the social ramifications of exponentially increasing technological changes, which includes everything from robot vacuum cleaners and cars that park themselves,

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to real-time satellite tracking and surveillance, to submolecular medical interventions. To be clear, not all authors contributing to this issue have a genealogy rooted in ANT, but all the works herein do share the desire to further a new perspective that describes socially active technology in qualitative research. And of course, like the multiple inventions of the term technography itself, its not as if we all arrived at this point the same way, at the same specific time, or even with the same set of questions driving us on. Even so, it is a rather convenient coincidence that at this moment in the evolution of qualitative technology research we are able to gather our voices in a discussion about this same shared goal, and share our progress with each other. In so doing, we add our own evolutionary step to the work that has brought us to this place, and hopefully inspire the next step to come after. Paying respect where it is due, it must be acknowledged that there are some important figures that have shown us the way up to this point. From the side of qualitative technology research, many authors have shown us the path to documentation of technological experience, but perhaps most notably relevant for readers of this journal are the ethnographers Annette Markham (1998), Norman Denzin (1999), and Christine Hine (2000). Their works helped move our area of interest to the next stage by illustrating electronic, virtual spacewhat had until then been mainly conceived as purely technological, empty spaceas a legitimate arena of social activity that could be entered as a discursive field for ethnographic research. From the front line of ethnographic methods, works by Seale (1999), Richardson (2000a, 2000b), Gannon (2001), Saldaa (2003), and Davies et al. (2004), have informed the crafting of our writing for this issue, most impactfully in the production of texts that dramatize rather than lecture. Their lessons are perhaps best summarized in the elaboration of the few simple rules that have guided editorial pragmatics. Here I am mainly thinking of two Denzinian (2003) principles of writing: showing the effects of social interaction through dramatization rather than lecturing on causal principals, and burying the theory within the narrative rather than giving it textual privilege. Works in this special issue specifically converse with and build on previous articles published in this journal by Lee (2005), Kien (2006, in press-a), and Vannini (2007). But the articles in this special issue also push new methodological frontiers, both coaxing a much more social understanding of technology as participant in everyday life for qualitative researchers in general and at the same time giving a nuanced elaboration of the often subtle, occasionally fantastical, absurd and ridiculous, and sometimes horrific social situations in which technology participates.

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In the interest of continuity, the contents have been arranged into three sections organized in terms of shared technological orientations. The first section deals with situated technology, thought of here as technology that people must go to in order to interact with it (desktop computer, medical life-support machines, living room television). The second section is concerned with pedagogically related technology (online pedagogical experience, machines as team members in collaborative writing tools and analytical software, and the role of technology as a research project). Finally, the third section collects work dealing with technology that is directly implicated with mobility (technology related to physical movement in space such as the iPod, cell phone, and wireless laptop and transportation technology). These classifications are admittedly arbitrary and lacking in descriptive power, and it is my hope that readers will look beyond the forced categorical closures to the vast contingencies that interrelate all of these works. In particular, issues of identity and globalization interweave in a general recurring theme. Our special issue opens with three pieces explicating performativity in the context of spaces essentially demarcated by technological machinery. In Racing and Queering the Interface, cyberfeminists Gajjala and Rybas push forward the methodology of cyberethnography, which is rooted in an epistemology of doing (Gajjala & Altman, 2006). They focus on the intersection of online and offline practices, where global and local cyberselves are formed in the intersection of ideology, discourse, and material practice. Gajjala and Rybas construct a textual reproduction of their habitus, exploring coded interactive moments in which they struggle with the interface to articulate the structure of their own cyberselves. McGibben and Peter look at humanmachine interfacing from a much different perspective in their piece Everyday Caring for the Living, the Dying, and the Dead, ethnographically exploring perplexing moral issues that arise in the use of life-support medical equipment. They look at what they call machinehuman coupling from the perspective of intensive care medical practitioners, creating a critical map that constructs a poignant biomedical technography. McGibben and Peter take us through various intensive care situations, elaborating the highly challenging emotional and moral dilemmas faced by practitioners on a daily basis. With his essay Where the Interaction Is, Dylan Tutt takes us to the comforts of the living room and draws from a year-long video ethnography to illustrate three affective encounters at the interface. Tutt is particularly concerned with collision and confusion of situated and virtual worlds, to confront the disjuncture between mediated interaction and situated social

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practices characteristic of many New Media studies. The dramatization of situations typically treated as mundane reveals the play of emotions present in everyday media encounters. Our transition to pedagogical technology experiences is led by Karen Lees autoethnographic writing about leading an online class in A Neophyte About Online Teaching. Dr. Lee documents a time-consuming struggle to balance technology with human interaction in online teaching, in the process ethnographically mapping new and different ways online community is formed in spite of physical dispersal and isolation. Her work leads to new insights regarding the social, cultural, and personal aspects productive of her online pedagogical experience. In this technological era of social networking (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.), it is fitting that several of the essays herein deal with the role of technology as a team member in collaborative projects. Jorrn-Abelln, Rubia-Avi, Anguita-Martnez, Gmez-Snchez, and Alejandra MartnezMones document their collaborative development of three new learning tools in Bouncing Between the Dark and Bright Sides. They illustrate how technology insinuates itself as an influential member in their community of practice in the design, implementation, and evaluation phases of the resulting undergraduate course. Browning and Sornes take a more overt Actor-Network Theory stance in their article The Challenge of Doing Corporatized Research, in which they find themselves struggling for control with their corporate sponsors during their 6-year ethnographic study of information and communication technology use. Their work exposes complications that can arise when a struggle between technology and profit threatens to displace the main research question. The authors produce a map of the network of relations and situations their technological research subject is caught up in. Technologies in the third area of research relate to mobility and movement. Ragan Fox opens the section with research exploring a new area of social space opened up by the phenomenon of podcasting queer content, or Qpodding. In Sober Drag Queens, Digital Forests, and Bloated Lesbians, Fox develops a theoretical and methodological framework that he then applies to expose the replication and manipulation of space in Qpod performances that empower gay men and gay audiences. I have elsewhere characterized my own strand of technography as both Mobile Technography and Global Technography (Kien, in press-b). The autoethnographic essay Beijing, 2006 traces performative elements of global citizenship and global community in the context of contemporary China, documenting intensely personal and private communications

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practices even in highly public environments. Mobile hyper-interconnectivity in turn inspires absurd and reassuring performances of culture and intimacy, but the fragility of which is handily demonstrated on a return to the reality of everyday street level. Rounding out this special issue, Phillip and April Vannini contribute what they describe as a technography of movement and embodied media. Vannini and Vanninis ethnographic advancement works with McLuhans notion of extension to consider technoculture as the situated encounter of technic with technique. Of Walking Shoes, Boats, Golf Carts, Bicycles, and a Slow Technoculture takes readers through a sometimes lyrical, sometimes literal exploration of an everyday life that stands in sharp contrast with the stereotypical caricature of hi-tech contemporary society, but an everyday that is not less technological in nature. As if to preempt the dismal circumstances of David the cast-off robot in the KubrickSpielberg movie AI, a bill of rights for robots was recently unveiled in South Korea (Owen & Osley, 2007). Meanwhile, disabled South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius is inspiring a new quandary considerably further along than steroids in the sporting world with his Olympic ambitions and high-tech feet (Longman, 2007). It is not, after all, ability that is at stake. Rather, it is the experience of the event itself, avant-garde happenings having silently come to dominate mainstream consumer culture (Featherstone, 1991; Lury, 1996a, 1996b). Experience reigns supreme. But how are we to get inside such experiences? How are we to understand that Mr. Pistoriuss hi-tech Cheetah Flex Foot feet are in fact faster than old-fashioned organics, but that they might be hated and discriminated against for exactly that reason? Its not just about Mr. Pistorius. Its also very much about the feet, how they act and how they provoke the rest of us to act. It is hoped that the pages that follow promote a discourse that will further explore and come to terms with the sociotechnical conundrums of this era. An old bathtub with leaky plumbing, a slow-moving ferry, televisions, computers, iPods, medical machines and many other hardwares enact important roles in the development of our combined efforts toward a neotechnography befitting our contemporary circumstances. Likewise, softwares enabling new interfacing capabilities and social opportunities propel us toward new sociotechnical frontiers ripe for investigation. And then there are the actors: children, a persistent spider, nurses, researchers, random people on the street, corporate heads, friends and couples watching TV in the basement, and many many more. Ultimately, although all the above are equally important participants in the performance and maintenance

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of technological society, we are the expert experiencers, and we take it as our job to translate and transcribe our experiences to further the understanding of the kind of society we are participating in creating and maintaining. Although methods change and evolve along with our ideas of society, this basic sociological mission unites us across time and fields of discovery. And so we say to all who have previously felt that technology was perhaps somehow not part of their real world, welcome to technological society. We think you will find through our technographical renderings not such an alienated, lonely technological world.

Notes
1. http://www.geoffballfacilitator.com/technography.html 2. Online edition, http://www.oed.com/ 3. A popular consensus definition of the original anthropological term, shared between numerous online dictionaries such as http://www.americansubstandard.com/definition .php?word=Technography, http://www.drwords.com/define/Technography, and http://www .thefreedictionary.com/Technography. 4. It is perhaps noteworthy that Latour made this comment to suggest the rightful subject for social science should not be the glue, but that which it holds together. From our perspective 20 years on, we seem to be suggesting that the glue is as important as what it bonds.

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