I’m an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University, with additional graduate field appointments in Communication, Public Affairs, and Science and Technology Studies. I'm also the Dean of William Keeton House, a vibrant undergraduate living-learning community that's part of Cornell's flagship West Campus housing system. 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 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. 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 our lives; 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?).
My research connects contemporary questions in information science to theoretical and methodological traditions grounded in the critical, interpretive, and historical social sciences. Theoretically, my work is shaped by ideas and 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. Mostly that means ethnography, usually of the sort practiced in qualitative sociology and anthropology; but I also draw on allied traditions of work in philosophy, history, public policy, design, science and technology studies (STS), some forms of media and cultural studies (including new media art), 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, Sloan Foundation, World Bank, Intel, and the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council. My current projects tend to fall into the following areas:
Infrastructure and collaboration:
My work has long been engaged with theoretical and practical problems of infrastructure: social and material forms foundational to collective human action of all kinds. This includes a long series of projects around new computational and data infrastructures in the sciences and how these have shifted forms of practice, value and collaboration (not always in ways anticipated by their designers and proponents). More recently, my interest has turned to problems of infrastructure and collaboration in fields beyond the sciences - for example, fine art furniture production, robotic surgery, and experimental music. This has sparked in turn a new fascination with the nature and role of improvisation in collaborative life - more on this soon!
Breakdown, maintenance and repair:
I am endlessly fascinated by problems of repair, and have argued both theoretically and ethnographically for breakdown, maintenance and repair as central but neglected moments in our individual and collective relationships with technology (and the world more broadly). Repair also happens to be an excellent starting point for rethinking many central assumptions in the technology world, from design, to sustainability, to the nature and location of skill and innovation. These questions have led to ethnographic projects with mobile phone repair workers around the world; with amateur fixer movements in Europe and North America; and to collaborative projects with interactive and new media artists (like this one).
Many of my theoretical and ethnographic interests are driven by the desire to arrive at a more truly global story of computing (instead of one that inevitably starts in Silicon Valley and diffuses out, sometimes, from there). This includes instances of technology development oriented to concerns and communities in the global South, as shows up under the (badly-named) field of ICTD (Information and Communication Technologies for Development). More often it involves taking stock of sociotechnical practices and dynamics (often novel and highly innovative ones) that play out under the radically varying social, economic, cultural and infrastructural conditions to be found around the world (though much of my own work has been in South and Southeast Asia). I've been deeply fortunate to have worked with and learned from a wonderful set of students and collaborators around these questions.
Technology ethics, law and policy:
Finally, my research addresses problems of technology ethics, law and policy, both as (inexhaustible!) site of problems and controversies, and as target for research impact. This includes work in research, science, and international development policy; but also periodic engagements with areas ranging from telecommunications and First Amendment law to privacy and intellectual property. I'm especially interested in the messy and uncertain moments in which emergent technologies meet unsettled ethical and legal terrains (and the procedures by which these uncertainties get reduced, codified, and laid down as structure and precedent).
INFO 1200: Information Ethics, Law, and Policy
This course investigates the ethical, legal, and social foundations of contemporary information technology. Through lectures, readings, and independent projects, we will analyze and engage contemporary challenges ranging from privacy in big data, mobile computing and national security environments, to the nature of innovation, property, and collaboration in an increasingly networked world. The course draws on cases from the fields of science, health care, education, politics, and international development, but above all it draws on YOUR experiences as a user, consumer, builder, and contributor to the global world of technology. Through this course you’ll learn about the key frameworks, processes, laws and institutions that govern the contemporary world of technology, along with key theories and methods from the academic fields that shape and inform them (law, philosophy, political science, economics, communication, sociology, management, etc.). But above all you’ll learn to engage critically and strategically with the worlds of information and technology around you, deciding what kind of information consumer, user, and citizen YOU want to be.
INFO 6210: Information, Technology, and Society
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.
(Michigan) SI 532: Digital Government I: Information Technology and Democratic Politics
(Michigan) SI 533: Digital Government II: Information Technology and Democratic Administration
(Michigan) SI 657: Information Technology and Global Development
I’ve had the great pleasure to advise or work with some fantastic graduate students over the years, here at Cornell and in my former faculty position at the University of Michigan. Here are some of them (with links where available):
Gone but not forgotten:
Lara Houston (post-doc; now post-doctoral researcher, University of London)
Alissa Centivany (now Assistant Professor, University of Western Ontario)
Dana Walker (now Critical Writing Program, University of Pennsylvania)
Radaphat (Pae) Chongthammakun (now Office of the Administrative Courts, Thailand)
Rahmad Dawood (now Syiah Kuala University, Indonesia)
Matt Burton (now post-doctoral researcher, University of Pittsburgh)
Ayse Buyuktur (now post-doctoral resarcher, University of Michigan)
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 Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski, and Kirsten Foot, eds. Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality and Society. MIT Press: Cambridge MA, 2014.
Steven J. Jackson and Sarah Barbrow, “Standards and/as Innovation: Protocols, Creativity, and Interactive Systems Development in Ecology,” in Proceedings of the 2015 Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference, Seoul, April 2015.
Steven J. Jackson, "Breakdown, Obsolescence and Reuse: HCI and the Art of Repair," in Proceedings of the 2014 Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference, Toronto, Canada, April 29-May 2, 2014.
Steven J. Jackson, Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed, and Mohammad Rashidujjaman Rifat, "Learning, Innovation, and Sustainability Among Mobile Phone Repairers in Dhaka, Bangladesh," in Proceedings of the 2014 Designing Interactive Systems Converence, Vancouver, June 2014.
Steven J. Jackson, Tarleton Gillespie, and Sandra Payette, “The Policy Knot: Reintegrating Policy, Practice and Design in CSCW Studies of Social Computing,” in Proceedings of the 2014 Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) Conference, Baltimore, MD, Feb 2014.
Steven J. Jackson and Ayse Buyuktur, “Who Killed WATERS? Mess, Method, and the Forensic Imagination in the Making and Unmaking of Large-Scale Science Networks,” Science, Technology and Human Values 39:2 (March 2014), pp 285-308.
Steven J. Jackson and Sarah Barbrow, “Infrastructure and Vocation: Field, Calling, and Computation in Ecology,” in Proceedings of the 2013 Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference, Paris, France, April 27-30, 2013.
Steven J. Jackson, Stephanie Steinhardt, and Ayse Buyuktur, “Why CSCW Needs Science Policy (and Vice-Versa),” in Proceedings of the 2013 Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) Conference, San Antonio, Texas, Feb 23-27, 2013.
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, 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, 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, “Water Models and Water Politics: Deliberative Design and Virtual Accountability,” in Proceedings of the 2006 Digital Government Conference, San Diego, May 22-24, 2006.
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 like doing: biking, hiking, music, reading, eating, skating.
Stuff I’m reading: Richard Rorty, John Dewey, Walter Benjamin; Karl Offe Knausgaard (My Struggle, Vol 5); Simon Schama (Citizens), Ian Pears (Arcadia (the interactive online version); Colson Whitehead (The Underground Railroad), Ed Baptist (The Half Has Never Been Told), Sheryl Smith (Raising Goats for Dummies).
Stuff I'm watching: The Get Down (Netflix); West World (HBO); The Man in the High Castle (Amazon).
Stuff I’m listening to: Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk (always)!; Django Reinhardt, Sonny Rollins, David Bowie, John Hammond, Richard Buckner, Sufjan Stevens; Dan Carlin's Hardcore History.