A few years ago, Gopi brought me up to the design studio for my first visit. He candidly launched into an explanation about sex toys and the research he was doing in HCI before talking about some of the core faculty. As we passed by Jeff and Shaowen’s offices, he pointed to the latter and said:

“And that’s Shaowen Bardzell. She’s positioned herself as the leading authority on feminism in HCI. That’s one of the great things about this field – you have to opportunity to stake your claim. I’m trying to do the same with sex toys and intimacy.”

I already had a healthy degree of respect for Shaowen (sorry Jeff, I didn’t know you yet) but was impressed by the idea that you could argue for the existence of a new epistemology within an established field. I am of the opinion that Shaowen’s paper is an excellent model not only of an academic HCI paper, but of a paper that argues for the existence of a new epistemology within the existing HCI and design community. Because I’m doing something similar with journalism, this paper is especially pertinent to the paper I will write myself.

To better understand how Shaowen positions her argument, I’ve deconstructed the paper in a way that makes sense to me:

First off, it’s important to understand that Shaowen is not arguing for a completely new direction in HCI. Rather, she has recognized the ad hoc presence of feminism already in the field, and is calling attention to these examples. By doing so, she has essentially acknowledged a phenomenon within the community and is arguing that the field as a whole can benefit from its continued presence and expansion into a more holistic entity across the entire design process.

The paper also includes a brief genealogical overview of feminism – the important movements across the years that have helped develop the field. It provides an overall orientation to feminism for the uninitiated and an introduction to the field in an accessible manner.

Shaowen also calls specific attention to the evolved presence of feminist thinking in related disciplines – i.e. game design, STS, and architecture. In doing so, she’s essentially conducting an exemplar review – examining the ways in which feminism positively contributes to these fields and the values of identity, diversity, and equity it inscribes.

The overall message of the paper is clear – Shaowen wants to “clarify and solidify what we do already”. In terms of my final paper, this is exactly what I’m trying to accomplish. HCI already incorporates many methods (i.e. interviews, ethnography) that journalism has practiced for several decades. On the flip side, journalism incorporates more design principles than they know – they’re just not focused on them as principles of user experience. By using Shaowen’s paper as an example, I hope to stake my own claim in HCI epistemology, arguing for the continued expansion of a discipline which is in dire need of design thinking and HCI theory.

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