Workshop on the appropriation of grassroots technology at C&T 2021

Understanding, Promoting, and Designing for Sustainable Appropriation of Technologies by Grassroots Communities. Towards a new wave of technologic activism

On June 21 and 22, Maurizio Teli, Myriam Lewkovicz, Susanne Bødker and myself, will be hosting this interesting workshop at Communities and Technologies 2021.

Technological development and adoption are characterized by historical waves, reflecting both technical advancements and social transformations in mutually constitutive relation. Today, we are in the middle of another of these waves characterized, for instance, by the widespread focus on AI and other emerging technologies. In this context, activists and designers are constructively appropriating these emerging technologies, thus showing how socio-technical aspects of technological design, development, and implementation, contribute to ongoing transformations of power relations, life conditions, and our collective future. This workshop aims at bringing together C&T researchers and practitioners interested in understanding, promoting, and designing forms of sustainable appropriation of contemporary technologies by grassroots communities. With sustainable appropriation, we refer to a wider concept of sustainability including ecological and social aspects, as presented for example in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

CHI 2021 is comping up soon

Registering to CHI this year was odd and it felt like an official goodbye to Yokohama. While waiting to see you all on Zoom, here come the abstracts of two papers I have co-authored.

Katie Berns, Chiara Rossitto, and Jakob Tholander. 2021. Queuing for Waste: Sociotechnical Interactions within a Food Sharing Community. CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’21), May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 15 pages.

This paper investigates the practices of organising face-to-face events of a volunteer-run food-sharing community in Denmark. The ethnographic fieldwork draws attention to the core values underlying the ways sharing events are organised, and how – through the work of volunteers – surplus food is transformed from a commodity to a gift. The findings illustrate the community’s activist agenda of food waste reduction, along with the volunteers’ concerns and practical labour of running events and organising the flow of attendees through various queuing mechanisms. The paper contributes to the area of Food and HCI by: i) outlining the role of queuing in organising activism and ii) reflecting on the role that values, such as collective care and commons, can play in structuring queuing at face-to-face events.

Jakob Tholander, Chiara Rossitto, Asreen Rostami, Yoshio Ishiguro, Takashi Miyaki, and Jun Rekimoto. 2021. Design in Action: Unpacking the Artists’ Role in Performance-Led Research. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’21), May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 13 pages.

This paper illustrates design work carried out to develop an interactive theater performance. HCI has started to address the challenges of designing interactive performances, as both audience and performers’ experiences are considered and a variety of professional expertise involved. Nevertheless, research has overlooked how such design unfolds in practice, and what role artists play in exploring both the creative opportunities and the challenges associated with interweaving digital technologies. A two-day workshop was conducted to tailor the use of the ChameleonMask, a telepresence technology, within a performance. The analysis highlights the artists’ work to make the mask work while framing, exploring and conceptualizing its use. The discussion outlines the artists’ skills and design expertise, and how they redefine the role of HCI in performance-led research.

Reconsidering Scale and Scaling in CSCW Research. A CSCW 2020 Workshop

Do you work with community-led, grassroots initiatives and are interested in problematising common understandings of what constitutes scale? Join our workshop on October 17/18, 2020

This one-day workshop invites discussion on the various socio-technical processes and dynamics that characterise scale and scaling in local, community-sited initiatives. Seeking to move beyond a view of scale as mere growth in numbers and a matter of technology-mediated replication, the workshop aims at developing a nuanced vocabulary to talk about various forms of scale and practices of scaling in CSCW research. It will bring together interdisciplinary scholars, activists, practitioners  and representatives of the public sector who wish to question and further develop the notion of scale generally associated with processes of upscaling. The workshop provides a forum to discuss: i) concepts, theories and empirical cases that broaden our view of what constitutes scale; and ii) the implications for CSCW research in assessing the long-term impact and sustenance of socio-technical innovations. The workshop will accommodate up to twenty participants and will be run virtually. 

A great book to think with

The last book discussed at our lovely book club.

A tale of diversity within our damaged landscapes, The Mushroom at the End of the World follows one of the strangest commodity chains of our times to explore the unexpected corners of capitalism. Here, we witness the varied and peculiar worlds of matsutake commerce: the worlds of Japanese gourmets, capitalist traders, Hmong jungle fighters, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, Finnish nature guides, and more. These companions also lead us into fungal ecologies and forest histories to better understand the promise of cohabitation in a time of massive human destruction.

By investigating one of the world’s most sought-after fungi, The Mushroom at the End of the World presents an original examination into the relation between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes, the prerequisite for continuing life on earth.


Back from Edinburgh

Last week I was in Edinburgh for two Caring&Sharing COST Action meetings and for the Ethnographies of Collaborative Economies Conference. Both events were interesting and truly committed to bringing together European research on the Collaborative Economy and community-led initiatives. The conference proceedings can be found here. Looking forward to meeting again old and new friends/colleagues I met there.

From Commodities to Gifts: Redistributing Surplus Food Locally

New paper out, co-authored with Katie Berns

Abstract. This paper investigates the practices and dynamics of a grassroots initiative that takes a non-monetary sharing approach to the issue of food surplus. Food sharing Copenhagen (FS-CPH) is a community-led, volunteer-run organisation working towards reducing food waste by collecting surplus food from supermarkets, bakeries, and private individuals and redistributing it locally, for free. The analysis illustrates the practices of the three main working groups within the organisation, the role of technology within the organization, and how food is framed through a community economies approach.

The paper will be presented at the Ethnographies of Collaborative Economies Conference and can be found here.

Scaling Out, Scaling Down: Reconsidering growth in grassroots initiatives

New paper out , co-authored with Airi Lampinen and Christofer Gradin Franzén.

Abstract. In this paper, we reflect on how scaling out – recreating and reconfiguring horizontally the most promising practices across contexts (Manzini, 2015) – can help local, grassroots initiatives to grow in a socially sustainable fashion and to sustain their action over time. We ground our discussion on the case of Hoffice, a self-organizing network that is experimenting with an alternative social model for collectively organizing and supporting flexible forms of work. In a prior ethnographic study of the Hoffice network (Rossitto & Lampinen, 2018), we outlined the socio-technical practices and values that characterise this community. We complement this previous piece by zooming in on the community’s struggles in the face of rapid growth. We conclude by proposing a way to rethink the challenges that growth can pose.

The paper will be presented at the Ethnographies of Collaborative Economies Conference, and can be found here.

ECSCW 2019 is slowly taking shape

Last week Michael Muller and I sent out the first-round notifications for ECSCW 2019. For the last two editions the conference has adopted a journal model, and articles are published in the CSCW journal. Out of the 64 submitted articles, about half were invited to be resubmitted, and many will hopefully qualify for final acceptance. I’m very excited by the number of very interesting manuscripts I have read and how, if accepted, they could deepen and expand ECSCW research – this is also the best reward for the incredible amount of work that has gone into this process. The Program Committee members have also done an amazing and valuable job with the high quality reviews and comments they have provided the authors with. The community is indebted to them for their effort during a very busy and stressful time of the year, as December usually is, and for the scientific rigour, the politeness and sense of care I have seen in many reviews. 

Stay tuned and keep an eye open for the final program! 

New Collaboration Grant with Tokyo University

As the Swedih autumn gets darker and darker, we have receivded the very good news that our project proposal “Sketching with Frictions: Designing Mixed-Reality Experiences with VR”, lead by Asreen Rostami, got  funded by Stockholm University. We have received 100 000 SEK  to start a research collaboration between DSV/SU and Rekimoto Lab and VR research centre at the University of Tokyo. Looking forward to this new adventure.



Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, by Virginia Eubanks

Today I finished reading this very intesting book on the effects of policy-algorithms on vulnerable people and social justice.

A powerful investigative look at data-based discrimination—and how technology affects civil and human rights and economic equity

The State of Indiana denies one million applications for healthcare, foodstamps and cash benefits in three years—because a new computer system interprets any mistake as “failure to cooperate.” In Los Angeles, an algorithm calculates the comparative vulnerability of tens of thousands of homeless people in order to prioritize them for an inadequate pool of housing resources. In Pittsburgh, a child welfare agency uses a statistical model to try to predict which children might be future victims of abuse or neglect.

Since the dawn of the digital age, decision-making in finance, employment, politics, health and human services has undergone revolutionary change. Today, automated systems—rather than humans—control which neighborhoods get policed, which families attain needed resources, and who is investigated for fraud. While we all live under this new regime of data, the most invasive and punitive systems are aimed at the poor.

In Automating Inequality, Virginia Eubanks systematically investigates the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America. The book is full of heart-wrenching and eye-opening stories, from a woman in Indiana whose benefits are literally cut off as she lays dying to a family in Pennsylvania in daily fear of losing their daughter because they fit a certain statistical profile.

The U.S. has always used its most cutting-edge science and technology to contain, investigate, discipline and punish the destitute. Like the county poorhouse and scientific charity before them, digital tracking and automated decision-making hide poverty from the middle-class public and give the nation the ethical distance it needs to make inhumane choices: which families get food and which starve, who has housing and who remains homeless, and which families are broken up by the state. In the process, they weaken democracy and betray our most cherished national values.