Jens Pedersen: Cultivating desire and absence in design ethnography

Welcome to a K3 seminar with Jens Pedersen, Senior Lecturer in Interaction Design at K3. The title of his talk is:

Cultivating desire and absence in design ethnography

The talk will take place on Wednesday, May 15, at 10.15-12.00 in The K3 Open Studio, NIC 0541, Niagara.

Below you will find an abstract for the talk:

In this talk I’ll argue that researching desire is the key to make ethnographic fieldwork work and be productive for designers. Ethnography has long been a stable of design research, but there is lack of clarity about how an ethnography should be crafted to be ‘generative’ for design as it were. Typically, the role of ethnography is framed as one of ‘informing’ design, but it is typically unclear how a deeper understanding of the present can be productive in imagining the future. Drawing on experiences from working with ethnography in design practice (and the supervision of many student projects) I argue that traditional ethnographic approaches borrowed from anthropology and sociology are problematic in design because they tend to be ‘presentist’. For a design ethnography to not just inform, but also inspire it needs to focus not just on what ‘is presently there’, but also on what ‘is manifestly not there’, what is absent.

This may sound — maybe — unnecessarily theoretical, but in the talk I give concrete examples of how a text focusing on present absences (desires) compared to just presence performs differently vis-à-vis the designer — how the former inspire ideas where the later does not.   

Because of a certain disappointment with ethnography in design we have seen various arguments for moving beyond ethnography towards more interventionist approaches that dismisses the value of understanding the present to design the future. The problem with these approaches, however, is that they also frame ethnography in presentist terms and therefore tend to overlook the potential of ethnography. The talk, then, is an attempt to both reconceptualise and rehabilitate ethnography in design by cultivating an appreciation of desire and absence in design ethnography.

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