Call: Ethnographic Fiction & Speculative Design Workshop

Call for Papers: Ethnographic Fiction & Speculative Design Workshop

Ethnographic Fiction and Speculative Design is a full-day workshop at the 5th International Conference on Communities & Technologies–C&T 2011, in Brisbane, Australia, 29 June-2 July, 2011.

Position papers are due 1 April, 2011.
Please email submissions to


While pervasive technology development and implementation proceed apace, the potential social and cultural implications – including the ways in which end user communities can be active participants in these processes – remain underexplored. The inherent invisibility of the technological infrastructure required to support these emerging networks makes it difficult to identify which objects around us might have computational capacities, or what those capacities might be. Without that sort of tangible knowledge, it is also difficult to imagine how such networks stand to reconfigure individual identities and social interactions, or how access, data privacy and ownership might be managed. Manifesting this knowledge in concrete, but not necessarily real or true, ways can be seen as a crucial first step in providing communities the means to productively engage such issues and concerns.

UK designers Dunne and Raby have long argued that critical and speculative design have the “ability to make abstract issues tangible” and could be a valuable addition to “public debates about the social, cultural and ethical impact on everyday life of emerging and future technologies.” Bruce Sterling conjures design fiction as a way to engage cultural imaginaries, and Julian Bleecker more pointedly defines design fiction as a means of “questioning how technology is used and its implications, speculating about the course of events…and incit[ing] imagination-filling conversations about alternative futures.” But are all alternatives equal? And how can we use these future visions to act in the present?

Goals of the Workshop

This full-day workshop aims to explore how grounded ethnographic and action research methods can be transformed into fictional and speculative designs that provide people the kinds of experiences and tools that can lead to direct community action in the development and implementation of new pervasive technologies.

“Ethnographic fiction is a form that blends the fact-gathering research of an anthropologist with the storytelling imagination of a fiction writer. It is not a true story, but it aims to depict a world that could be as it is told and that was discovered through anthropological research.” – Tobias Hecht

In the first half of the workshop, individual participants will be invited to present brief position papers on issues related to the use of ethnographic research as a means for engaging multiple publics and speculative design as a means of enabling community action related to new pervasive technologies.

“The speculative design process doesn’t necessarily define a specific problem to solve, but establishes a provocative starting point from which a design process emerges. The result is an evolution of fluctuating iteration and reflection using designed objects to provoke questions and stimulate discussion in academic and research settings.” – Nikhil Mitter

Issues raised in the papers and discussions will be used to create design briefs for the second half of the workshop. Small groups will work collaboratively to complete the briefs and present the results to the group at the end of the day.


Authors are invited to submit 2-4 page position papers (in CHI Publications Format), on topics including, but not limited to:

  • Creative non-fiction and/or ethnographic fiction as methodology
  • Social and cultural issues related to pervasive computing
  • Speculative design, design fiction and/or critical design
  • Action research, community-based and/or public technology initiatives

Accepted papers will be compiled and made available online, along with the design briefs and other workshop documentation. High-quality submissions will be considered for a journal special issue or edited book.

Position papers are due 1 April, 2011.
Please email submissions to

Important dates

Submission of position papers 1 April, 2011
Notifications of acceptance 30 April, 2011
Final papers due 27 May, 2011
Workshop 30 June, 2011


Dr Anne Galloway is Deputy Head, School of Architecture and Senior Lecturer, School of Design at Victoria University of Wellington. Dr Ben Kraal is Research Fellow with the People and Systems Lab, Queensland University of Technology. Professor Jo Tacchi is Deputy Dean, Research and Innovation in the School of Media and Communication, RMIT.

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