Computer scientists & their publics. On constructions of ‘participation’ and ‘publics’ in participatory design and research.

Since November 2014 my thesis is finished. It was a long project, after which I needed a few months not thinking about academia. Now I’m coming back to all of that. So for everyone who’s interested, here’s my thesis in full text:

Andrea Ida Malkah Klaura (2014): Computer scientists & their publics. On constructions of ‘participation’ and ‘publics’ in participatory design and research. MA Thesis. University of Vienna.

Update 2015-03-30: The work is also available through the University of Vienna’s library system:

Technosciences, with their practices as well as their products, are shaping not only our future, but also our social life – whether at home, at the working place, in our social and intimate relationships or in our academic worlds. To address potential consequences of technoscientific research, public engagement seems to be a key ingredient for responsible research and innovation. At least there is a noticeable turn towards participation and public engagement in technosciences within the last two decades. Science policies increasingly demand that scientific projects think about their societal consequences. Large governance bodies, like the EU, are building frameworks of public engagement in the technosciences. They also maintain databases for tools of participation. Nevertheless, what we often find in practice, are forms of “participation” which could better be described as “tokensim” or “nonparticipation”.

Science and technology studies (STS) did put a lot of effort in analysing such relations. But while most of the deliberations on whether and how to use participation are tied to the area of policy discussions, nearly no effort has been made to analyse and think about public participation in concrete technoscientific practices. With this work I address this gap through providing some preliminary STS-framed insights into the field of Participatory Design (PD) – a technoscientific field which, since its early formation in the 1970ies, builds on the participation of diverse publics in its concrete technoscientific practices and projects.

As a means to generate these insights I am using a theoretically informed empirical approach, derived from the framework of Situational Analysis. As core linkage between theory and practice in my own approach as well as between questions of public participation in the technosciences and considerations about the legitimacy and responsibility of research, I draw on feminist theory and feminist technoscience studies, which have highlighted the ethico-onto-epistemological entanglements of every technoscientific research endeavour – including my own research as well as STS research in general.

Further research can build on these exploratory insights to highlight potential synergies between STS and PD. New approaches to fulfil the demands of responsible research and innovations could be forged through further research on this issue. Nothing less then our future is at stake.

participation, publics, STS, Participatory Design, feminist epistemologies, Responsible Research and Innovation

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