Paul Dourish

Research Themes

My research revolves around three primary themes:

Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp)
Computation is migrating out of the desktop PC and into the everyday world, in the form of information appliances, everyday digital devices, wireless networks, smart environments, and mobile, handheld and wearable devices. Increasingly, the world itself is an interface to computation. How can we understand these phenomena, and design for them effectively?
Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)
Much of what we do, even when we're working "alone", is in fact collaborative. We work as members of teams, groups, organizations, and societies, and we coordinate our activities with others with and through computation. What is the impact of technology on our interactions and collaborations with each other?
Social Studies of Science and Technology
The design, use, and impact of technologies is determined not solely by technical factors but also by how those technologies are shaped by social pressures and demands. These social considerations also shape what questions science asks and how we evaluate the answers.

Bringing these together, much of my research considers the social analysis of encounters between people, technology, and the everyday world. Empirically, it draws primarily on ethnographic investigation of work practice (but also on lab studies, survey data, and other sources of information). Analytically, it draws on a range of largely phenomenological positions, especially ethnomethodology. Technically, it combines interests in databases, networks, software engineering, and user interfaces to create novel ways for people to encounter computation. A central concern is understanding how the experience of interactive technology allows people to create and share new forms of practice.

When I say the experience of technology, I mean not just its usability, or other engineering-oriented metrics of effectiveness; instead, I mean the ways in which people experience the technology as useful or meaningful. Similarly, when I talk about practice, I mean ways of acting with and through technology; not just how people use computers, but how they adapt and adopt them, incorporating them into their lives and their work.

Right now, I have two main projects.

The first is concerned with privacy and security. In this work, we think of privacy not as something that people have but more as something that people do. What kinds of information practice do people engage in, and what do they achieve through them? We are interested in people's collective ways of orienting towards information as private, public, sensitive, or secret, or ways of thinking of activities as being risky, secure, dangerous, or appropriate, and the factors that both shape and are shaped by those forms of social meaning. This work has empirical, technical, and conceptual elements; it is being carried out in collaboration with a range of people, including David Redmiles in Informatics, Simon Cole in Criminology, and Jenny Terry in Women's Studies.

The second is concerned with spatiality. How do advanced information technologies -- cell phones, wireless and wired networks, augmented environments, etc. -- cause us to re-encounter the spaces through which we move? How do we understand space in the first place? Where do our notions of "place" and "space" come from, and what kinds of relationship do they have to our patterns of movement and action in everday space? Although we take spatiality very much for granted, the goal of this work is to think about it as a social and cultural product. We have turned, for example, to studies of the aboriginal Australian encounter with the mythic landscape, the Native American experience of the moral landscape, or the many different forms of urban spatiality as ways of provoking new imaginaries of space and technology.

For more detail, see my list of publications or check my students' web pages, all of which are probably updated more often that this page.