How are bodily and identity norms re/produced in the code and content of digital media technologies?

Does it matter if you don’t find your sexual preferences represented in a dropdown menu on a dating site? What happens when decisions about what constitutes “valid” data to be captured are based on technical limits to processing power or standardized algorithms? How might social or organizational assumptions about use and users exclude some people in the development of innovative digital technologies?

In my research I combine my personal fascination with digital media technologies with my political commitment to examining critically the impact of such technologies on bodies and lives. My work sits at the intersection of Science & Technology Studies, media studies, and feminist theory, bringing critical perspectives on normativity and knowledge production to studies of different digital media technologies.

Smart cities and companion (ro)bots are just two areas where technological development has important implications for recognition and livability. Technologies like these make big promises, but also have big consequences for how we can all live our lives. I develop material-discursive approaches rooted in interdisciplinary collaborations in order to explore these consequences.

New research projects

I am currently engaged in two research projects that build on and significantly develop my previous experience and knowledge:

Sustainability means inclusivity: engaging citizens in early stage smart city development

The challenge of how cities can best be designed and developed in an inclusive and sustainable direction is monumental. Smart city technologies currently offer the most promising solution to creating a long-term sustainable urban environment. However, smart city projects have been criticised for being based on a technology-centric, top-down vision of the urban space. In this vision, citizens are often less visible, or the needs of certain groups of citizens are taken as the norm. These visions risk excluding other bodies, lives and needs. Taking careful account of the diversity of human needs has the benefit not only of making urban spaces comfortable and safe for more people, but also of improving chances of new technologies being adopted by the whole community. In this project, an experienced interdisciplinary team will engage with citizens, technical developers and “top down” stakeholders around a smart city test site in Norrköping, Sweden. The test site comprises a 1km length of road in a busy area of the city, along which a variety of static and mobile sensors will be placed to gather data about the environment during 2019-2021. By integrating STS-inspired in-depth ethnographic work with the technical team and a series of Living Labs with users of the space, this project will create dialogue between citizens and the technical team as they collaborate on developing a prototype app for collecting data based on citizens’ needs.

Financed by Formas

Robotic care practices: Creating trust, empathy and accountability in human-robot encounters

No longer a science fiction, robots are starting to enter our daily lives, performing different kinds of care for us and our children. This project examines attempts to program educational robots and recruitment assistant robots to produce relations of trust, empathy and accountability with humans. These relations are necessary for forming good social interactions with humans, upon which the successful long term adoption of these cognitive companions depends. Understanding how trust, empathy and accountability are created in these interactions thus represents both cutting-edge research and an important part of the perceived solution to a global shortage of workers prepared to carry out the time and labour intensive work of care. This project brings together developers from the Social Robotics Lab, Uppsala University, FurHat company in Stockholm, and social sciences researchers from Linköping University with an international advisory board specialised in human-robot interactions. Through ethnography, developer interviews and video analysis of intra-actions with robots, we critically interrogate a tension between emotion and accountability in human-robot relations that stems from fundamentally different understandings of emotions, and which has wide-ranging consequences. At regular joint learning seminars during this four year project we will work together to develop nuanced, interdisciplinary understandings of emotion that can refine practical applications of robotic care.

Financed by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation

Short lecture: How to teach a robot to care?

Katherine Harrison, senior lecturer in gender studies, talks about three different robots that we may encounter in society: the teaching robot in school, the impartial interviewer and the robot in elderly care. Recorded on October 21, 2020 at Linköping University.


Research projects and networks

Latest publications