31 January 2018

Three-part series on the intersection of ethnography and design

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The Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA) published some months ago a three-part podcast series on the intersection of ethnography and design.

The series, produced by Tariq Rahman and Katherine Sacco, was based on the conference “Ethnography and Design: Mutual Provocations,” which was hosted by the University of California Collaboratory for Ethnographic Design (CoLED) at the University of California, San Diego in the fall of 2016 and features conversations with three conference participants about what the theme of ethnography and design means in their work and for anthropology more broadly.

The first episode features an interview with Cassandra Hartblay, who is a postdoctoral fellow in Russian studies at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University, with a joint appointment in Anthropology. As a postdoctoral fellow with CoLED from 2015 to 2017, Hartblay helped organize the “Ethnography and Design” conference that this series of episodes takes as its launchpad.

In the second episode, the AnthroPod team talks with Keith Murphy, Associate Professor at the University of California, Irvine, about the anthropology of design. Murphy discusses how he developed an interest in design as a linguistic and sociocultural anthropologist. Our conversation touches on Murphy’s work on Swedish design, as well as the role of anthropology of design in public anthropology. Murphy also discusses ethnocharrettes, which are an experimental design methodology for anthropology that he has been developing with George Marcus.

In the third episode, Rahman and Sacco talked with Lilly Irani, Assistant Professor of Communication and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego, about her work as both a scholar of design and a designer. Irani discusses her research on Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT), a website that allows programmers to outsource data processing work automatically. Programmers place piles of raw data into AMT and set a price, and workers chip away at these piles. When the processed data is integrated into algorithms, it is associated with artificial intelligence technology developed by the programmers; underneath the hood, however, it is human labor by which this processed data has been produced. In this episode, Irani also explains Turkopticon, a platform she helped design to support workers on AMT. Turkopticon augments AMT’s interface with reviews written by workers, making it easier to avoid exploitative employers. Additionally, we speak with Irani about her current book project, which examines the relationship between entrepreneurialism and national development in India.

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