The majority of my research is focused on sociotechnical aspects of scientific research infrastructure (often called eScience or cyberinfrastructure). A common theme of my research is investigating the sustainability of long-term research organizations: how do we support scientific research at the level of policy, social organization and as a matter of practice across years or decades?
I have also worked on issues of internet and health information, the role of social science in system design, 'order' in Wikipedia and I have explored ethnographic methods for investigating large or distributed organizations.
Below are six general themes of my research.
If you'd prefer to get more specific, here is a link describing my funded research projects.
- Technical work as a social activity (or 'sociotechnical'): Technology development, deployment and maintenance is often mis-recognized as as a solely 'technical' endeavor, but it is also a matter of human labor, organization, and social interaction. Consider a bridge: where one person might see only cables and concrete, I also see repair people, urban planners, contentious funding decisions, and challenging policy debates. Approaching technology as a sociotechnical phenomenon allows us to grasp its complexities and consequences more thoroughly.
- Organizational and technological sustainability: We live in age that is focused on the latest killer app or the next 'hot' gadget. But we must also reconcile ourselves with the long trajectories of technological legacies: our apps may be new, but the deep protocol architectures of net are now decades old. How do we reconcile seemingly accelerating technological upheavals with our desire for stable, usable, and accessible resources and services?
- The institutions of science: Research infrastructure is expensive in terms of time, necessary expertise and financial investment. This presents new challenges for the institutions of science. For example, a tension has emerged between developing infrastructure and supporting novel research. As the leading public agencies supporting US science, NSF or NIH's primary mandate is to fund new research, however in recent years they have dedicated increasing portions of their budgets to the creation of facilities supporting scientific work. Are these changes sustainable? How will it impact the landscape of science funding? These changes are significant and merit scholarly attention.
- Transformations in knowledge work: The introduction of novel information technologies are spawning transformations in the everyday practice of science. As new forms of representation (data visualization, geographic information systems, knowledge mediation) are introduced, what counts as scientific work will also be changed: does creating metadata 'count' towards a professor's tenure in geoscience? Is a meteorological visualization tool a 'contribution' to atmospheric science? Career trajectories and reward structures are shifting before our eyes as we reconsider the balance between research, tool development and data handling.
- New organizational forms: Our ability to collaborate and coordinate across time and space is leading to new organizational forms. One example is the rise of 'Big Science,' 'Big Data,' 'eScience' or 'Cyberinfrastructure' across domains of science that have never before followed these paths. Such projects seek to bring together, under a single umbrella, the development of computational resources, community building and cutting edge scientific research. They are usually nationally distributed and highly interdisciplinary. How do we design organizations can support these diverse forms of activity? What are the consequences of large-scale infrastructure development for the practicing scientist and the production of knowledge?
- The role of social science in design: Recent large-scale technology initiatives have opened many new opportunities for the direct participation of social scientists in design and science policy. These opportunities pose new challenges for social science: what are our available ways of participating? How do we manage tensions between objective research and participatory intervention? What are the ethical and political considerations for action research as social science becomes enmeshed with design and implementation? My research extends beyond the usual goals of traditional social science and has afforded me the opportunity to participate in surprising and inventive ways in technology planning and development. The active and effective participation of social science in systems design and deployment is a methodological commitment of my current and future research.