‘Contemporary HCI’ a panel discussion

This week three UK Universities came together to host a HCI Summer Festival: HCID at City University London, Open Lab at Newcastle University, and NORTHLab at Northumbria University. This week started with a panel about ‘contemporary issues in HCI’. Touching on issues of inequality, structural injustice, and working towards more hopeful futures.

I was part of this panel with Prof Abi Durrant, Prof Alex Taylor, and Dr Reem Talhouk. And here’s my part of the conversation. During the panel, this should be read in conversation with the others’ comments, which built on one another. But I do not want to post their notes here. As always, I like to ad-lib a little bit when I speak, and it’s actually a bit strange for me to write out a script for what I was going to say, but I felt I needed to say some things that were difficult for me to say. So here is what I was supposed to read out about contemporary issues in HCI:

We’re at a time in HCI where we have moved towards at a time in HCI where we have moved towards doing research in-the-world, but where many areas of HCI research are also still engaging with traditional experiments.

We have people working on projects that aim to advance social justice ideals and are developing interdisciplinary ways of understanding technologies.

  • Postcolonial computing
  • Crit disability studies
  • Crit race studies
  • Different forms of feminism
  • And many more

But at the same time, we continue to see work that re-enforces the technologies and approaches some of us have been critiquing for years. We are not just the social justice HCI community, we are a wider community of disparate conversations that are at great odds with one another.

But HCI isn’t just about the research we produce and talk about. It’s about the universities in which we do this work, our research groups, and the wider ‘community’. It’s about who is, and who feels welcome in these spaces.

We can’t talk about ‘contemporary’ HCI without talking about recent discrimination experienced by the RACE Diversity and Inclusion team.

And we can’t talk about that as an isolated incident. The bravery of the authors of the blogpost cannot be understated, but we also have to ask ourselves, and I have to ask myself, what I have done, and continue to do to perpetuate this system. And then I must act on those reflections.  

This is not the first time people have spoken up about mistreatment and discrimination in relation to SIGCHI or the ACM. And it won’t be the last.

I know of papers that have received shocking reviews that discredit the work for years, to then receive best paper awards when the publication venues was ready.

Articles for a Crossroads Special Issue were heavily edited or forcefully removed by senior editors when they were deemed inappropriate. And it required the work of so many, building on anger, tears, and fear for their safety in response to an awful keynote in 2018 for people to come together to write an open letter that was read at the town hall meeting that year.

Fempower.tech and I were heavily involved with this letter and have been told that this played a part in the establishment of the inclusion teams, of which RACE is one. And now the teams that were born out of inequities and exclusion are themselves experiencing marginalisation. But this time perhaps this is even more harmful for those involved: before it could be explained away as indifference or ignorance but what are we going to do now?

We write so carefully about inclusion, inequities, and social justice in our researcher. We now must also live this way of working.

I want to read a segment from the 2018 open letter in response to the keynote, which seems incredibly relevant again two years later.

This discrimination is a “catalyst and symptom of wider issues in HCI and CHI that we have chosen to strategically avoid over the last few years. Yes, there have been campaigns, policies, and actions, but the fact that this happened, shows that inclusion is still a work in progress. […]

We need to learn to encounter, address, acknowledge, and constructively deal with these differences democratically and collectively, rather than relying on top-down decision-making consensus. […]

This letter is a call for social change that is complex, and nuanced, and necessary. Something we have to work on together, and something that is an ongoing conversation about intersectional inclusivity of varied experiences across ACM membership.

We need to stop the self-congratulation about being the ‘best’ conference in relation to diversity and inclusion in the ACM, as this gives the false impression that the job is done. Instead, we must celebrate our small victories and simultaneously work towards becoming a better, more welcoming and retaining, space for the most marginalised in our SIGCHI community.”

The fact we are having these conversations is a step in the right direction, but they are little steps, often difficult and potentially hurtful steps, but they are steps that we must continue to take.

Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives

In exactly one week, I’ll to be sitting on a metro that is taking me to the airport. I’ll probably be equally nervous and excited about flying to Denver, Colorado, USA to attend CHI2017. While there, I’m hoping to meet some awesome new people who do awesome research, I’ll be working on some cross stitch to raise funds for Planned Parenthood, and I’ll be running a few pop-up stalls for zine making for people to share their different experiences of being at CHI, but I’ll also be presenting my paper.

So, maybe I should give a little bit of context here. As fempower.tech, some great people that I work with and I are organising what we have called #CHIversity. It’s an attempt to make diversity (whatever that is) more visible at the conference, and to foster discussion on inclusion, representation, feminisms, and social justice while there. The name, CHIversity, is naff. We know. It was a bit of a play on the topic of diversity (again, whatever that means) and CHI, and is supposed to be tongue in cheek. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to start a discussion. In this way, we hope to provide a small alternative to the usual exclusive parties that people go to to network by providing a comfortable, safe, relaxed, and alcohol-free environment for people to come together. Since we’ll be crafting, if someone doesn’t want to talk but rather just enjoy the presence of others, that’s absolutely fine. If someone wants to chat and not craft, that’s also more than okay.

We’ll be doing a number of things: tweeting, blogging, fundraising, making zines, and supporting our colleagues at the diversity lunch. Something I’m quite excited about is our feminist CHI programme. It’s not complete by any means, but it’s a nice starting point for something that we could maybe keep doing at other conferences we go to?

You can find out more about what we’re planning by having a look at our website and to keep up-to-date with what’s going on while in Denver, please follow @fempowertech on twitter. 

While all of that is exciting, it’s not the only reason I’m going to CHI. I’ll also be presenting a paper I wrote with Mary Laing and Rob Comber. It’s called Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives and is based on some of the work I’ve done with National Ugly Mugs. It’s an analysis of their service delivery in relation to social justice, and I outline how they utilise technologies for their reporting, alerting, and mobilising practices to support their social justice outcomes. The paper ends on implications for design that will be useful for people who want to design digital technologies with charities.

If that made you curious enough to want to read the whole ten pages, you can either go download it from the ACM digital library (once it’s out on there, probably around the 6/7/8 of May), but if you don’t have access to that or want to read it before then, here you go. See below for the abstract:

[edit on 3rd of May 2017: the paper’s now been published in open access, so go download it here to boost that download count, because academic metrics :p]

Sex workers’ rights are human rights, and as such are an issue inherently based in social, criminal, and political justice debates. As HCI continues to move towards feminist and social justice oriented research and design approaches, we argue that we need to take into consideration the difficulties faced by sex workers; and explore how technology can and does mediate social justice outcomes for them. We contribute directly to this challenge by providing an empirical account of a charity whose work is built on the underlying move towards social and criminal justice for sex workers in the UK. Through ethnographic fieldwork, meetings, interviews, surveys, and creative workshops we describe the different points of view associated with the charity from a variety of stakeholders. We discuss their service provision and the ways in which HCI is uniquely positioned to be able respond to the needs of and to support sex work support services.


Reflections on Double Dabble

Last weekend Double Dabble: A Feminist Day of Making finally came around. Janis and I had been planning, organising, sending e-mails, and attempting to figure out what was going to happen for the last few months, and on Saturday the day finally came.

members of fempower.tech that were at Double Dabble
[me, Helen, Ko-Le, Janis, Rosie, Vidya and her little one] Thanks for the photo, Vidya!
As fempower.tech, we won the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association‘s small grant scheme this year, and were able to obtain match-funding from the Digital Economy Network to make Double Dabble happen!

The idea was simple: create a space where feminists can come together to discuss theory and making; to delve into a world of support, comfortable discussion, and creativity. Our way of doing this was to essentially create what we are starting to call an anti-hackathon.

Astrid crafting a muscle activity sensor

We took the things we liked about hackathons (making, creating, exchange of ideas) and got rid of all the things we don’t like about them (competition, judges, stress, teams, segregating of ‘techies’ and ‘non-techies’). Taking these things into consideration, we hosted 5 stalls and a ‘zine machine’ to reflect on the day as the day was happening. The stalls were designed by groups of two (except for one stall that was run by one person only) – what was particularly beautiful about these teams was that they always came from different academic disciplines (or one was non-academic) and had very different backgrounds, approaches, and research topics. I don’t think any of them had known each other before they were put in contact with each other by Janis and me, and I’m pretty sure most hadn’t seen each other before Saturday.

Let’s just say, it was an experiment.
And I was nervous about how it would turn out.

To my surprise it all went alright in the end though! Running up to the event, I was worried about not being worried enough – it’s a weird thing I do when I know I should be stressed, but for some reason am not. I fully understand the ridiculousness of this, but I can’t help it. Whenever I organise an event there is usually a moment of panic; a point (usually one or two weeks before the event is to take place) where it feels like it is all going to fall apart, where something goes horribly wrong, or where we receive some horrible news about a major participant in the event. Not at Double Dabble! Until the morning of the day, we had been working for a few minutes or hours each day for a few months to make the day happen. Janis and I had (many) informal exchanges about an e-mail we had just received or about something we had to figure out, and as such never had the pressure to deal with something on our own, but rather knew that we always had back-up. Thank you so much, Janis for all the support you gave me in organising this event. It truly was a team effort, and I really appreciate all the hard work you put in!

The day was relaxed, informative, and delicious. We had some fantastic feedback from participants and stall holders. We made cool things, we made new friends, and we made a great day!

Learning more about pre-technological Fanfiction written by Emily Brontë: Gondal stories and poetry

We’ll be sharing more reflections and information on how we organised Double Dabble over on the fempower.tech website soon (hopefully, we’re all a bunch of PhD students though, so this might take a while! haha), so if you want to keep in touch or learn more about Double Dabble and other events we’re organising subscribe to our blog, or follow us on twitter!

Happy Crafting!

Women’s Work stall where we learnt how to knit, crochet, and quilt while discussing hte invisibility of women’s work