Tomorrow I'm off to Vancouver to attend the annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA). This is a wonderful conference, and I highly recommend it. In the last few years the number of people who are doing work combining anthropology with design and various IT-related fields is growing – and fast. Add to that the fact that the meetings provide a genuinely diverse set of perspectives, and include a group of people that are (in my experience) knowledgeable, humble, friendly, and eager to collaborate. As compared to the AAA meetings, SfAAs tend to be more informal and to have a great deal more discussion and debate. Check out the program if you want to get a sense of it.
This year I'm giving both a talk and a poster. My talk, terribly titled 'Cultural Assessment of Kiosk Projects,' is on Wednesday from 3:30-5:20. Hopefully I can learn from some of the insightful comments on giving talks from Steve and Lorenz. It's on work I'm doing on integrating cultural assessment into the design and evaluation of projects in the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) space. This is getting to be a crowded field, and my own contribution is small, but I feel like I've got a good handle on the transitions that are happening from the perspective of applied anthropology.
And like many others, I have first hand experience with the fact that development researchers in many fields are starting realize that anthropology and ethnography are important, but they understand it as a set of methods only. While I have no pretensions about ethnography, as opposed to some who argue that 'real' ethnography can only be done by anthropologists, I do think many well-meaning researchers and practitioners in other fields actually do us a disservice by trying to use ethnographic-like methods. In trying to advance the case for ethnography to their colleagues, they often have no real 'ammunition' except that they know it ought to be done. This, in my opinion, is the same, and just as bad, as technologists who throw gadgets at development problems because they can, hoping that one will solve the problem.
My poster, during a session on Friday from 1:30-4, is based on work I did with Ben Gross regarding how people manage multiple email addresses, messaging accounts, and the like in the course of everyday life. We wonder: what are the factors that influence habits, perceptions, and decisions around complex, multi-faceted lives online? This is my first poster at the SfAA, and I'm kind of psyched for it. Poster sessions seem much more engaging than paper sessions, where the audience is always at a distance.
I hope to be online and blog some of the sessions as we go along. If you're also attending the SfAAs, drop me a line.