social interaction and mundane technologies PROJECT


Social Interaction and Mundane Technologies

Main Investigator:

Mark Rouncefield


Connor Graham


Lancaster University


01 Nov 06 - 31 Oct 08


250,000 euros

Aims and themes

"That’s a funny kind of thing, in which each new object becomes the occasion for seeing again what we can see anywhere; seeing people’s nastiness or goodness or all the rest, when they do this initially technical job of talking over the phone. The technical apparatus is, then, being made at home with the rest of our world. And it’s a thing that’s routinely being done, and it’s the source for the failures of technocratic dreams that if only we introduced some fantastic new communication machine the world will be transformed. Where what happens is that the object is made at home in the world that has whatever organization it already has."
Harvey Sacks, 1992:548-9

This two-year project aims to investigate how everyday social interaction and ‘work’ are effected through, inhibited by and/or facilitated via the range of technologies already in the or in the process of being absorbed into the fabric of people’s lives: commonplace, everyday technologies such as telephone voice services (e.g. mobile, VoIP), texting, email, wordprocessors, spreadsheets etc..

The key themes in social interaction and ‘work’ with regard to ‘mundane technologies’ that this project wishes to investigate concern:

  • community (e.g. how families are accomplished and maintain social translucence through photo-sharing);
  • decision-making, management and leadership (e.g. how managers use spreadsheets to disclose (and tailor the presentation of) information);
  • emotional labour, audit and awareness (e.g. how emotional work is performed through email).


"Just-in-any-actual-case immortal ordinary society is a wonderful beast. Evidently and just in any actual case, God knows how it is put together...[The] immortal ordinary society evidently, just in any actual only discoverable. It is not imaginable. It cannot be imagined but is only actually found out, and just in any actual case. The way it is done is everything it can consist of and imagined descriptions cannot capture this detail."
Harold Garfinkel, 1996:7-8.

The overall approach of this project is ethnomethodological. The commitment of the project is to observation and fieldwork, ethnomethodologically informed ethnography, which is directed towards studying practical action and the specificity of the circumstances around this action. To this end, and because of the nature of the themes of the project, newly appropriated research methods will also be deployed including adaptations of Bill Gaver’s Cultural Probes (Gaver et al., 1999) and the analysis of people’s digital life documents (Plummer, 1983, 2001).

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