The majority of my research is focused on sociotechnical aspects of scientific research infrastructure. Click here to find out what is cyberinfrastructure. A common theme of my research is investigating sustainability in long-term research organizations.
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. My methods are primarily ethnographic and archival.
Below are six 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: Infrastructure development is often misrecognized as technical endeavor. Instead, infrastructure and all technology development should be understood as a continuation of the central themes of library and information science: sustainability, access, preservation, automation, interoperability and accountability. Each of these must be addressed as simultaneously technological, institutional and organizational.
- Organizational sustainability: Infrastructure evokes images of a long-term, reliable and ubiquitous environment for supporting work. However, within cyberinfrastructure circles there is little understanding of how to create and sustain such environments for decades and certainly not centuries. For example, the institutions of science funding have difficultly making commitments that match the spans of time we associate with infrastructure. Knowledge about how to sustain infrastructure remains a nascent and emergent field. In order to build sustainable scientific infrastructure we must be able to plan for the long term, design for change and organize flexibly.
- The institutions of science: 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 infrastructure and research. The NSF primary mandate is to fund new science, however in recent years it has dedicated increasing portions of its budget to the creation of facilities supporting scientific work. Furthermore, from a historical perspective infrastructure building represents a significant shift in the role of scientific institutions such as the NSF that have usually taken a 'hands off' approach to the projects they fund. These changes are significant and merit scholarly attention.
- Transformations in knowledge work: The introduction of novel information technologies is 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?
- New organizational forms: Cyberinfrastructure is an emergent organizational form. 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. What kind of organization 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. 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 ways in information infrastructure development. The active and effective participation of social science in systems design and deployment is a methodological commitment of my current and future research.