This sample questionnaire demonstrates how my research proposal might work. If you circle the name you think suits each robot best and return the sheets to me at the end of the presentation, you will be helping me fine tune my research design and I hope you’ll have some fun. I’ll will explain this further at the end of this presentation.
As you can see the cultural studies is the relatively recent undefined and undisciplined discipline of the humanities, raking through the garbage in search of gold. To quote/cite Frow and Morris again, “Cultural studies often tends to operate in what looks like an eccentric way, starting with the particular, the detail, the scrap of ordinary or banal existence and then working to unpack the density of relations and of intersecting social domains that inform it.”This shares a common theme with robotics, that of vitality and the freedom to make it up as you go along, as McRobbie put it, to just get on with the job with whatever tool is to hand. Robotics is a very high growth area which works in the same undisicplined fashion. Robotics competitions are seen as the most effective and enjoyable way of sharing knowledge and setting benchmarks for future research.
My figures are very conservative. The number of competitions is multiplying, as is the prizemoney involved, let alone the prestige of participation. Bourdieu’s concept of scientific capital is informative but universities are also seeking financial capital, converting their research to government, industry or consumer production. Robotics is a big business in some domains, primarily defence, industrial, agricultural and mining. Whenever I am in a robotics competition or lab I wonder where all the women are and what effect this well documented and pervasive male gender bias in science and technology will have on the future, particularly as the most gendered areas are computing and robotics.
Langdon Winner described the inherent political nature of all technologies, in that something is always more easily used for one function than another. Once a feature has been introduced and reproduced you are likely to find design ‘lock-in’ occurring. A classic example of ‘lock-in’ is our use of the QWERTY keyboard which suited manual typewriters but is very inefficient for computer keyboards. We still use it although there are alternatives. (4.5)Most research is done at the culture ends of my culture/robotics/culture circle and the design of new artifacts is seen as an individual or unique process. Most studies are focussed on consumer products, already designed, or on individual relations HCI/psychology and the potential impacts on design, like Turkle. Or on the social shaping of knowledge as in Science and Technology Studies, as expressed by Latour, Foucault, Mackenzie, Wajcman, Cockburn.Robots are liminal objects. Once they leave the lab, unless branded or named a robot, (like the industrial robots of the 60s/70s) they become either machines, vehicles or toys. To study robotics is to be studying a boundary that is always in dispute. Or is it? The focus of most research is on solving practical problems, whether cognitive or embodied, not on developing critical theories. And as Stuart Hall puts it, “There is all the difference in the world between understanding the politics of intellectual work and substituting intellectual work for politics”.
Robotics is not neutral. Because there is a community of somewhat shared practise and public domain data, I propose to do a naming project, using grounded theory. Names are so common as to seem unimportant and yet they are the ultimate marker of identity. Gender is one of our most basic categorical structures.I don’t really know what will turn up, or even if I can make valid deductions, although I have some working hypotheses. Just the comparatively recent publication of the names of robots indicates that identity formation is becoming normalised in some areas. This is really the extent of previous studies, like Sherry Turkle’s, on individual relations to robots, identity and emotion. There are definitely indications of gender and function differentiations.There are limitations of name research. Aside from language, many teams either don’t name or don’t publicise the names of their robots. I hope to find 300 to 500 names and without a background in phonology, I may not get any usable interpretable data.
However, the liminal robot is being increasingly fixed as an identity, which alone is worth studying. These are samples from the EURON or European Robotics Research Network site.
Donna Haraway is one of the most exciting theorists in this area. Her early work was on primates, then cyborgs and most recently on genetic engineering and companion animals. It is her contributions to methodology that make her my key theorist. She critiqued feminist standpoint theory and developed the concept of ‘situated knowledges’, which helps makes some sense of postmodernism. Her concept of material/semiotic objects informs my research.Haraway is a difficult theorist to put into practice but highly appropriate for research standing between cultural theory and engineering. I will base my thesis on a short cultural history of the naming of robots in the context of Haraway’s theories and then proceed with the collection of data on the naming practices of the new breed of robots, (as grounded theory.)
Speaks for itself. I intend to use Frankenstein as a trope throughout my thesis, in the same way that Haraway uses an iconic material/semiotic object to demonstrate the whole range of loaded meanings and the tensions within the broader topic; robotics, naming, gender & identity, future life.
Some areas are currently beyond my master’s research but I’d like my research proposal to extend beyond the textual analysis and the collection of names from recent competitions to the creation of an open database of names/shapes of research robots for with web quiz/data collection.And maybe also to extend the naming project by; requesting more data from competition organisersqualitative i/vs with 10-12 robotics researchers (in situ)participant observation at robotics competitions, workshops and labsobservation at education robotics workshops evaluating children’s naming practices I would appreciate your questions, suggestions and the sample forms if you care to fill them in. Thank You!
“The Naming of Robots”<br />My research proposal is to analyze the production of identity in robot design<br /> by examining naming practices in research robot competitions <br />and exploring the history of robot names.<br />Are robot names gendered?<br />Robot competitions set benchmarks for research in rapidly evolving field. <br />Classifications/taxonomy appear fluid but reproduce hegemonic values.<br />Phonology studies and Implicit Assumption (Harvard) reveal our biases.<br />Methodology: Grounded theory - feminist post-positivist - Donna Haraway<br />Aim: relevant to robotics/technology and cultural studies/humanities<br />Limitations: Cultural Studies discipline – abstract textual undefined<br />Limitations: Masters project – 12,000 to 15,000 words – 6 months.<br />
Cultural Studies & Robotics<br />Cultural studies ‘lacks an established methodology and even a well-defined object’ Meaghan Morris, 1993. Australian Cultural Studies.<br />‘The project of taking popular culture seriously as a site of struggles over identity, value and power (is) one of the most versatile areas of study..’ IenAng, 2006. From Cultural Studies to Cultural Research.<br />Making it up as you go is vital. Angela McRobbie, 1992. Post-Marxism Cultural Studies.<br />No expert agrees on what a robot is – only that they work on them.<br />ISO 8373 - definition of robot can describe a microwave or dishwasher.<br />As robots become mass produced consumer objects and leave the research environment, most become simply machines or vehicles.<br />Very low academic standards in robotics research due to field in flux – focus on staying ahead of everyone else. Angel del Polbil, 2008. EURON Projects.<br />
Over 100 robot competitions each year, with 1000s of robots and teams from universities and schools and more than $1,000,000 in prizes, plus prestige!<br />
Artifacts have politics<br />Pervasive and continual gender bias in robotics and STEM. What else?<br />Robotics functions with naïve technological determinism, however social shaping of technology approach ignores materiality or agency of ‘stuff’.<br />Technologies are either explicitly or inherently political. Langdon Winner, 1986.<br />Robotics is a liminal space – defined by whoever is doing it.<br />Culture/Robotics/Culture - Reflexive circle.<br />Naming fixes concepts; Material/semiotic object (Haraway), Symbolic power (Bourdieu), Identity and interface (Turkle).<br />Gaps in knowledge! Focus on HCI/psychology/design not social/cultural<br />Grounded theory starts with some ideas and desire to explore an area, collect data and then to adjust the hypotheses. <br />
Phonology & Freakonomics<br />Gender is basic classificatory system. Pierre Bourdieu, 1980. The Logic of Practice.<br />Levitt’s large study showed high correlation between class, gender & name - with names moving downwards in economic position and gender.<br />Although the English language is not explicitly gendered, most people recognize masculine or feminine sounding words through structural cues or phonology, not memory – suggesting deep symbolic meanings.<br />Classification by gender (Bern’s sex role index) M, F, A, U. <br />Classification by human/animal/machine. <br />Classification by shape/structure.<br />Classification by function/use.<br />Classification by competition.<br />
Haraway<br />Background - Zoologist, Biologist, Philosopher.<br />“Situated knowledges” – between the essentialism of feminist standpoint theory and postmodernism’s relativism and apolitical differentiation.<br />Haraway is relational not relativistic.<br />“Responsibility” - knowledge is power – like Foucault.<br />But Haraway is deconstructionist rather than constructivist.<br />“Material/Semiotic objects” – we are implicated in text as text is in us.<br />“Metaphor” – nameplay and rhetoric to maintain theoretical complexity.<br />Difficult theorist to put into practice but apt for the naming of robots.<br />
Frankenstein<br />was the name <br />of the doctor.<br />The monster was denied <br />both a name and a mate.<br />
The Naming of Robots:<br />Cultural history using Haraway’s theories (material/semiotic, nameplay)<br />Collection of names of research robots (grounded/limited) to develop a theory of the role of identification (and gender) in the cycle of robotics research and correlation with robot function, shape or role.<br />To demonstrate results with searchable database and web quiz/collection tool for more data collection. (see your sample!)<br />To extend the naming project by; <br />requesting more data from competition organisers<br />qualitative i/vs with 10-12 robotics researchers (in situ)<br />participant observation at robotics competitions, workshops and labs<br />observation at education robotics workshops evaluating children’s naming practices<br />Questions, suggestions and filling in the sample forms - Thank You!<br />