Professor Lucy Suchman to be made Honorary Doctor
ANNUAL CEREMONY. At the annual ceremony on October 21, the Faculty of Culture and Society will appoint Lucy Suchman as Honorary Doctor at Malmö University. This is the first Honorary Doctorate granted by the faculty. Lucy Suchman is professor of sociology and Co-Director of the Centre for Science Studies at Lancaster University. She will be awarded the title for her research on the relationship between humans and technology.
How do you feel about being awarded an Honorary Doctorate? What does this mean to you?
– I’m honored and delighted by this! I understand that an Honorary Doctorate is not granted lightly, and stands as a kind of statement on the part of a University as to their values and priorities in the area of academic research.
What does it mean to be honoured by Malmo University, specifically?
– My past relationship with Malmo University comes primarily through the School of Arts and Communication, K3. My first visit was in 1999, and I returned next in 2002 for the 6th conference on Participatory Design of Computer Systems (PDC) which K3 hosted. This is a conference that I helped to found over twenty years ago, through a coalition of academic and industrial researchers under the auspices of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. At the time I was a researcher at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, and had become connected to a network of researchers who together comprised what is often referred to as the Scandinavian approach to systems design. Pelle Ehn was of course a leading figure in that approach. For me it was a revelation. My relation with human-computer interaction and systems design to that point had primarily been one of critique (constructive I hope!), and here was the direction for a positive alternative. It was that excitement that led to my involvement in PDC, as well as a now vital and longstanding relation to colleagues in the Nordic countries working in this area. I’m particularly inspired by the work of the Living Labs for Social Innovation in the MEDEA centre, bringing tremendous creativity to projects within the city of Malmo itself. I think that’s where the real challenges are.
Could you briefly describe how your research interests have evolved over the years, and what you are working on now?
– As I’ve indicated, my own projects have followed a trajectory from critique to more proactive engagement with respect to design. I’ve devoted much of my research career to articulating relations between people and technology, both in close readings of the human-machine interface, and in more ethnographically-informed projects in collaborative design. One of the things that I’ve emphasized is the value of what I’ve named ‘artful integrations’; that is, innovation based not in the creation of some discrete object or even system, but rather in the creative configuration of complex arrangements of people, practices and artefacts. It’s that that I think the School of Arts and Communication does so well.
The Faculty's Statement
Lucy Suchman represents a rare combination of academic excellence and a very strong political, ethical and moral position, including a persistent focus on local accountability. She has been a major influence on the way that scholars at Malmö University think about humans and technology, in fields ranging from social science research methods and innovation in practice to gender studies and human-computer interaction. Lucy Suchman has visited Malmö University on several occasions and she continues to be a great source of inspiration for generations of Malmö PhD students and researchers.
How has your research been affected by the developments in technology and computing over the past two decades?
– Over the past two decades my research area has shifted from being something rather novel for most people, to something that is increasingly unremarkable. I see this even more in my teaching than in my research, where each student cohort has a more intimate relationship to computing than the last, even among Sociology students! At the same time, I’m struck by how little progress we’ve made in shifting the conceptual frame, from a focus on the objects, to an appreciation for more complex sociotechnical assemblages as the relevant unit of analysis.
How do you think your area of research will develop in the future?
– My current research is strongly influenced by developments in anthropology, and in an interdisciplinary field called science and technology studies or STS. I’m working to bring my longstanding interests in human-computer interaction and sociotechnical assemblages to bear on recent developments in what has been referred to as the military-entertainment complex in the United States. I’m particularly concerned about current initiatives in the design of interfaces for remotely controlled weapons systems, and hope that I can find a way to build on my research experience to generate both new understandings and critical interventions in that area.
Lucy Suchman is professor of sociology and Co-Director of the Centre for Science Studies at Lancaster University and earlier worked for twenty years as a researcher at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. Her research has centred on relations of ethnographies of everyday practice to new technology design.