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Making by making strange: Defamiliarization and the design of domestic technologies

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Genevieve Bell, Mark Blythe & Phoebe Sengers (2005). Making by making strange: Defamiliarization and the design of domestic technologies. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI) 12(2), 149 – 173

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Original abstract: This article argues that because the home is so familiar, it is necessary to make it strange, or defamiliarize it, in order to open its design space. Critical approaches to technology design are of both practical and social importance in the home. Home appliances are loaded with cultural associations such as the gendered division of domestic labor that are easy to overlook. Further, homes are not the same everywhere—-even within a country. Peoples’ aspirations and desires differ greatly across and between cultures. The target of western domestic technology design is often not the user, but the consumer. Web refrigerators that create shopping lists, garbage cans that let advertisers know what is thrown away, cabinets that monitor their contents and order more when supplies are low are central to current images of the wireless, digital home of the future. Drawing from our research in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Asia, we provide three different narratives of defamiliarization. A historical reading of American kitchens provides a lens with which to scrutinize new technologies of domesticity, an ethnographic account of an extended social unit in England problematizes taken-for-granted domestic technologies, and a comparative ethnography of the role of information and communication technologies in the daily lives of urban Asia’s middle classes reveals the ways in which new technologies can be captured and domesticated in unexpected ways. In the final section of the article, we build on these moments of defamiliarization to suggest a broad set of challenges and strategies for design in the home.

Rubric for the reading group: Everyone attending is expected to read the paper in advance. Please bring a copy with you, preferably annotated with interesting reflections. The format of discussion will be a brief invited introduction/critique by two members of the group, followed by general discussion and informal mixing.

This talk is part of the Crucible/Microsoft HCI Reading Group series.

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