PhD candidates April Greenwood and Brian Geyer publish on photographic practices in rural Kenya and “relational objects” in CSCW/HCI

Department of Anthropology PhD candidates April Greenwood and Brian Geyer recently co-authored an article with Dr. Susan Wyche (MSU Department of Media and Information) in Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction titled, “Exploring Photography in Rural Kenyan Households: Considering “Relational Objects” in CSCW and HCI.” The article discusses the photographic practices in rural households in Bungoma County, Kenya, and the concept of “relational objects” in computer-supported cooperative work/human-computer interaction research (CSCW/HCI).

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Abstract: “Domestic and personal photography are topics of longstanding interest to CSCW and HCI researchers. In this paper, we explore these topics in Bungoma County, Kenya. We used interview and observation methods to investigate how photographs are taken, displayed, organized, and shared, in 23 rural households. To more deeply understand participants’ photography practices, we also gave them digital cameras, observed what they did with them, and asked them to engage in a photo-elicitation exercise. Our findings draw attention to the ways photographs are “relational objects” – that is, material objects that support the maintenance, reproduction, and transformation of social relations. We then describe these relations: economic (i.e., working as cameramen producing and distributing printed images); family (i.e., parents and children using printed images to tell family histories); and community (i.e., people using printed images to present an idealized self). The introduction of digital cameras into these households did not appear to change these practices; instead, it reinforced them. We discuss how considering relational objects in CSCW/HCI is useful for balancing the technologically determinist perspectives that are the basis of many prior studies of photography in these fields. In particular, we detail how considering the concept provides new perspectives on materiality, as well an alternative to the individualistic perspective, which underlies these communities’ understanding of photography.”