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Critical Interfaces Analysis (CIA)

Description

Computer interfaces not only manifest dreams of automation, smoothness and accessibility; they often also shatter the dreams of others, such as, for instance, the precarious workers of the sharing economy, the victims of algorithmic biases, not to mention the “dead labor” that goes into the production of our interfaces, performed by the workers at the assembly lines in Shenzhen or the mines in Congo.

Critical interface analysis seeks to elucidate how cultural relations of power and control are entangled in technological infrastructures. As an analytical practice it relates to other studies of interfaces, such as those found in HCI that focus on how to build new tools, experiences of usability or immersions by way of analysing affordances, user patterns, labor practices, and more. However, the aim of critical interface analysis is to point at the broader cultural, political, and ideological issues that these user experiences relate to – including globalization, platform capitalism, potential in/exclusions of users (relating to identity and race politics), the use of material/environmental resources, labor conditions, class struggles, and more.

The intention of the workshop is to gather a small group of researchers within the cultural and aesthetic studies of software (including software studies, platform studies, interface criticism, critical data/algorithm studies, and more) to share experiences and ideas on how to critically analyse contemporary interface culture. Specifically, we seek to address how to critically analyse potential disjunctions between the desires of users and the maximization of profit that goes hand in hand with a cultural interface industry (around social media, streaming services, apps and more). Hence, ‘critique’ is here understood as more than a value judgement or an opinion, and relates to the discursive nature of technical infrastructures.

Call for participation (closed)

The intention of the workshop is to gather a small group of researchers within the cultural and aesthetic studies of software (including software studies, platform studies, interface criticism, critical data/algorithm studies, and more) to share experiences and ideas on how to critically analyse contemporary interface culture. Specifically, we seek to address how to critically analyse potential disjunctions between the desires of users and the maximization of profit that goes hand in hand with a cultural interface industry (around social media, streaming services, apps and more). Hence, ‘critique’ is here understood as more than a value judgement or an opinion, and relates to the discursive nature of technical infrastructures.

CRITICAL INTERFACE ANALYSIS is relevant because computer interfaces not only manifest dreams of automation, smoothness and accessibility; they often also shatter the dreams of others, such as, for instance, the precarious workers of the sharing economy or the victims of algorithmic biases. The interface takes part in an exercise of power and control – even to the point where we are willing to accept human casualties at the assembly lines in Shenzhen or in the mines in Congo, where our interfaces also originate.  In other words, critical interface analysis seeks to elucidate how cultural relations of power and control are entangled in technological infrastructures. As an analytical practice it relates to other studies of interfaces, such as those found in HCI that focus on how to build new tools, experiences of usability or immersions by way of analysing affordances, user patterns, labor practices, and more. However, the aim of critical interface analysis is to point at the broader cultural, political, and ideological issues that these user experiences relate to – including globalization, platform capitalism, potential in/exclusions of users (relating to identity and race politics), the use of material/environmental resources, labor conditions, class struggles, and more.

The broader aim of critical interface analysis is therefore to reflect on the imperative logic of the tools, apps and services that we use in our everyday lives or at the workplace, in order to elucidate the corporate, colonial, political, ideological, material, cultural or other interests that drive the assimilation of the user into the interface. In this sense, critical interface analysis  is interested in the apparatus (rather than the tool), and such exposure is also regarded as a necessary critical outset for a reengineering of the apparatus.  

POSSIBLE TOPICS: The open question that we wish to explore in this workshop is how to perform such critical interface analysis? Critical interface analysis has an interest in exposing the seams that bind the user to the tool within a broad apparatus. However, these seams may appear in different ways, be of different material nature (ranging from the formal design patterns and elements of the graphical user interface to the technical infrastructures of deeper levels of code and hardware), and they may expose different aspects of the politics of the interface. We are therefore seeking proposals from scholars and/or practitioners who are interested in presenting, conceptualizing and discussing their methodological practices – including, e.g., how they use discourse analysis, user walkthroughs (inspired by design research), data visualizations and other digital methods, “follow-the-thing” (or actor-network) approaches, studies of code, artistic practices, and more. The aim here is to map existing and emerging methods/approaches in critical interface analysis, the discussions they inherently allude to, as well as their potentials and limits.

FORMAT

The workshop will consist of individual online presentations followed by common discussion and collaboration. Given the current COVID19 situation that affects the working conditions of many scholars, we also seek to experiment with (and discuss) the use of free/libre open source platforms for online knowledge production.

DELIVERABLES

Deliverables will include:

  • A 15-minute presentation of one’s use of critical interface analysis that outlines what one does and the potential critical insights this may lead to. 
  • Participation in a collaborative mapping of critical interface analysis (or even, collaboratively coming up with new analytical approaches/methods)

CONTEXT: The workshop will lead up to the yearly gathering of HCI researchers associated with Centre for Participatory IT (PIT) at Aarhus University (August 17-19). Due to COVID19, this year’s “Summer PIT” will take place online. Participants are encouraged to stay updated and register for the full Summer PIT seminar programme see http://pit.au.dk  

SIGN UP: Send headline (title) and a two line bio to cua@cc.au.dk. Deadline, June 1.

Program

(NB! changes may occur)

MONDAY (10 Aug) - moderated by Winnie Soon

PRESENTATIONS: 10-11

  1. Juan Pablo Pacheco:  "Fibre Optic Oceans — Water as Medium"
  2. Malthe Stavning Erslev: "Mimesis as quasi-materialist inquiry"
  3. Søren Bro Pold + Christian Ulrik Andersen: "Platform Narratology"
  4. Michael Dieter: "Repurposing UX Design Decks: The Dark Patterns Elimination Arena."

DISCUSSION: 11-12

  • “Zoom & video chats”, as a possible focus

TUESDAY (11 Aug) - moderated by Christian Ulrik Andersen

PRESENTATIONS: 10-11

  1. Tatjana Seitz + Macus Burkhardt: “Interfacing Machinic Governance”
  2. Nanna Thylstrup + Zeerak Waseem: “Screening danger: the politics of toxicity scores in Perspective API”
  3. Pablo Velasco + Winnie Soon: "Critical Technical-Art Practice"
  4. Cesar Escudero Andaluz: "Dissidence Interfaces"

DISCUSSION: 11-12

  • “Transactions/protocol”,  as a possible focus 

WEDNESDAY (12 Aug) - moderated by Pablo Velasco  

PRESENTATIONS: 10-11

  1. Gabriel Pereira: "Computer Vision and the Color of Water: The Interfaces of Color Pickers and Algorithmic Analysis"
  2. Eric Snodgrass: “Your very own control room: a look at everyday and interventionist methods, interfaces and practices of remote watching”
  3. Joana Moll: "Cynicism by design" 
  4. Nathaniel Tkacz: "Format Archaeology as Interface Criticism "

DISCUSSION: 11-12