I’m a faculty member in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University, with additional graduate field appointments in Communication, Public Affairs, and Science and Technology Studies. Withy my intrepid colleague Phoebe Sengers, I'm also co-Director of Graduate Studies for Information Science.
I teach and conduct research in the areas of scientific collaboration, technology policy, democratic governance, and global development. More specifically, I study how people organize, fight, and work together around collective projects of all sorts in which technology plays a central role. I also study how infrastructure – social and material forms foundational to other kinds of human action – gets built, stabilized, and sometimes undone. This brings me regularly into worlds of policy (especially technology, research, and development policy), organizational or institutional analysis, and occasionally into design (mostly as analyst and critic). I spend much of my time doing ethnographic and sometimes historiographic research, where I study how shifting policies, emerging technologies, and cultural innovation meet complex and historically-layered fields of practice. I think a lot about governance – how order is produced and maintained in complex sociotechnical systems; time – how we experience, organize, design, and work around the temporal flows and patterns that shape and define individual and collective activity in the world; and breakdown, maintenance and repair – as sites of innovation, power, and ethics in complex sociotechnical systems. At the broadest level, I study how things change and how they stay the same, in a world that is furiously doing both (piece of cake, right?).
Before Cornell, I was on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Information, where I co-founded and directed the school’s Information Policy specialization. I also spent a year as a Fellow at the National Center for Digital Government (then at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government). I hold a Ph.D. in Communication and Science Studies from the University of California, San Diego; an M.A. in Political Economy from Carleton University in Ottawa; and a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Concordia University in Montreal. I’m from Canada originally, but have lived, worked, and conducted research in South Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
My research connects contemporary questions in information science to theoretical and methodological traditions grounded in the critical, interpretive, and historical social sciences. I have particular interest in questions of technology governance, in both its formal (how we make and fight about the laws, rules and policies that shape emerging technologies) and informal dimensions (how new technologies shape, change, or reinforce existing social norms, rules and expectations). This leads me to an active research and teaching program in technology law and policy (especially innovation, research, telecommunications, and development policies). I also care a lot about knowledge: how it’s produced and sustained; who owns it; how it feeds into collective decisions; and how it might be changing, including through the introduction of new information and computational forms. And I’m interested in collaboration – the ongoing miracle (!) by which divergent interests and perspectives are brought into alignment in the interest of more and less durable forms of collective action (and again, how collaboration might be changing, including through the use of new information and computational tools).
Theoretically, my work is shaped by ideas and empirical traditions coming out of American pragmatism, critical theory, and post-structuralism. Methodologically, I’m most informed by research traditions dedicated to the naturalistic understanding of order, value, and meaning as defining attributes of human activity in the world – a point which most definitely includes what we do with, to, and through our tools. Mostly that means ethnography, usually of the sort practiced in qualitative sociology and anthropology; but it also draws on allied traditions of work in phenomenology, ethnomethodology, critical theory, science and technology studies (STS), some forms of cultural studies and art practice, and interpretivist strains of information science sub-fields like Human-Computer Interaction and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work.
My research has been supported by grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation (including an NSF CAREER award), the Social Science Research Council, Ford Foundation, World Bank, Intel Research, and the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council. Here are some of the more current ones (a fuller list of grants can be found in my CV):
Governing Collaborative Science: supported by an NSF CAREER Award, this project examines patterns of governance, collaboration, and infrastructure development in ecology and the earth sciences. This includes ongoing work with two formally organized network initiatives – the Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER) and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). More generally, it looks at field-level patterns of change and stasis associated with the introduction of new computational infrastructure, and difficulties attending the emergence and governance of more-and-less loosely knit research collaborations in the sciences. See writing section for some early results.
Monitoring, Modeling, Memory / Knowledge Infrastructures: with support from an NSF Human and Social Dynamics grant and collaborators from Michigan, UCLA, UC Irvine and Georgetown University, this project explores patterns of data practice, governance, and cyberinfrastructure development across four separate fields: climate science and modeling, sensor network development, ecology and field biology, and water science and environmental engineering. A topic and challenge of the work has been the problem of doing distributed, multi-investigator, and multi-scale analyses – a problem that we and our informants both shared. Another has been the problem of accessing and capturing collaborative values, motivations, and meanings within and beneath technically oriented and project-centered frames of reference (the problem of “thick descriptions of thin phenomena”). Technically, this project is winding down, but in practice we’ve continued to work together, morphing now into some NSF and Sloan Foundation activities under the heading of “Knowledge Infrastructures.”
Building Broadband Infrastructure: this comes from the Ford Foundation’s Advancing Media Rights and Access program (program officer Jenny Toomey), and explores the promise and limits of current policy efforts in the broadband development space (most notably the federal stimulus-funded Broadband Technology Opportunities (BTOP) and Broadband Initiatives (BIP) Programs. We’ve been especially interested in efforts to extend reach, impact, and participation in broadband development to underserved places and populations (spoiler: it’s not easy).
broken: this conceptual, experimental, and ethnography/art-based project argues for breakdown, maintenance and repair as central but neglected moments in our individual and collective relationship with technology and the built environment. It’s also meant as an experiment in alternative and art-based forms of scholarly expression. For an early take on the ideas behind this project, see “Rethinking Repair” in the writing section below.
I currently teach two courses at Cornell:
IS4200: Information Policy (Winter 2012) –
This course offers an intensive (!) introduction to information policy research and practice at the senior undergraduate / lower graduate level. Topics include telecommunications and network policy, competition and antitrust, intellectual property, privacy and security, and research, innovation, and collaboration policy. The course emphasizes the development of historical, institutional and practical understanding of the policy process; policy-relevant analytic skills; and professional-quality research and writing skills.
IS6250: Information, Technology, and Society (Fall 2012) –
This is a core course for the IS doctoral program, and exposes students to key concepts, debates, and the historical development of critical and interpretive work in information science (including tracing some of that work back to its origins in other fields – sociology, anthropology, philosophy, political science and public policy, communication, etc.). It also builds methodological skills and experience in the doing of qualitative, interpretative, and critical research in information science today.
And here are some additional courses I’ve taught in past, mostly at the University of Michigan. Materials for many of these are available through course sites at Open Michigan, including syllabi, lecture slides, student notes, and reading materials (within the limits of copyright and student privacy).
SI 532: Digital Government I: Information Technology and Democratic Politics
SI 533: Digital Government II: Information Technology and Democratic Administration
SI 657: Information Technology and Global Development
I’ve advised or otherwise worked with some great Doctoral and Masters students, both currently and in my former faculty position at the University of Michigan. Here are some of them, with pointers to where they are now (as best I can keep up):
Stephanie Steinhardt (Cornell)
Leo Kang (Cornell)
Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed (Cornell)
Dana Walker (Michigan – now U Penn)
Radaphat (Pae) Chongthammakun (Michigan)
Matt Burton (Michigan)
Ayse Buyuktur (Michigan)
Alissa Centivany (Michigan)
Rahmad Dawood (Michigan)
Eric Cook (Michigan – now University College Dublin)
Jude Yew (Michigan – now National University of Singapore)
Alex Pompe, MSI (Michigan – now IREX)
Gabe Krieshok, MSI (Michigan - now US Agency for International Development)
Sarah Barbrow, MSI (Michigan - now University of Michigan Library)
These are some seriously smart and creative people – you should hire them.
If you’re a prospective doctoral student working in related areas, feel free to email me with a description of your work and any questions. I can work with and advise doctoral students in any of Information Science, Science and Technology Studies, or Communication (note that each of these graduate fields has their own selection and admission procedures, described at the links above).
Here are some current or recent pieces and/or ones that I'm sometimes asked to share (or just like to!). For a fuller list, see my CV.
Steven J. Jackson, “Rethinking Repair,” in Media Meets Technology, eds. Pablo Boczkowski, Kirsten Foot, and Tarleton Gillespie (MIT Press: forthcoming, 2013).
Steven J. Jackson, David Ribes, Ayse Buyuktur, and Geoffrey C. Bowker, “Collaborative Rhythm: Temporal Dissonance and Alignment in Distributed Scientific Work,” in Proceedings of the 2011 Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) Conference, Hangzhou, China, March 20—23, 2011.
Steven J. Jackson, Alex Pompe and Gabriel Krieshok, “Repair Worlds: Maintenance, Repair, and ICT for Development in Rural Namibia,” in Proceedings of the 2012 Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) Conference, Seattle, Washington, Feb 11-15, 2012.
Steven J. Jackson and Andrew Gordon, “Building Community Broadband: Barriers and Opportunities for Community-Based Organizations in the Federal BTOP and BIP Broadband Development Programs,” in Proceedings of the 2011 American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana, Oct 9-12, 2011.
Steven J. Jackson and Alok Vimawala, “Tightening the Net: Intellectual Property and Peer-to-Peer Practice in Higher Education Networks,” First Monday, November 2011.
Steven J. Jackson, Paul N. Edwards, Geoffrey C. Bowker, and Cory Knobel, “Understanding Infrastructure: History, Heuristics, and Cyberinfrastructure Policy,” in B. Kahin and S.J. Jackson, eds. “Special Issue: Designing Cyberinfrastructure for Collaboration and Innovation,” First Monday 12:6 (June 2007).
Steven J. Jackson, “Ex-Communication: Competition and Collusion in the U.S. Prison Telephone Industry,” Critical Studies in Media Communication 22:4 (October, 2005).
Stuff I’m listening to: John Zorn, Madeline Peyroux, Tin Hat Trio, Rufus Wainwright, Sarah Harmer, and Bill Evans; Parliament, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington stations on Pandora Radio (with Oliver and Lucia – educate the youth!); jazz bassoon (?).
Stuff I like doing: biking, hiking, paddling, eating, skiing.
Stuff I’m reading: Walter Benjamin, John Dewey, Francois Jullien, Graham Harman; Colson Whitehead (The Intuitionist), Neal Stephenson (Reamde), the Narnia books (with Oliver) and Ivy and Bean (with Lucia)