Ethnography and Agency

Session Overview

Date and Time: Monday, August 19, 2 – 3:30 pm

Location: Broad Theater, Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles

Livestream: Free for EPIC Members

These presentations examine how our actions are expanded or constrained in the nexus of social, technological, and business systems. They describe roles ethnography can play in helping people forge new paths, seize control, and reconcile their options.


“I Pick My Poison”: Agency and Addiction in the Age of Subscriptions


Iveta Hajdakova, Associate Director, Stripe Partners

Morgan Williams, Senior Consultant, Stripe Partners

This paper examines how people navigate the market of subscriptions and how they determine what makes subscriptions valuable. We explore a new consumer subjectivity that emerges from the need to navigate the complexities and uncertainties of the subscription economy: this subjectivity navigates its own activity and passivity, so as to achieve desired effects. The paper contributes to a broader understanding of the subscription economy and it will be relevant to all those who want to understand how people use and evaluate subscriptions, and to those who want to improve subscription products and services.

Iveta Hajdakova is a specialist in economic anthropology and the anthropology of experience. She is interested in understanding how value is created through interactions with human and non-human agents, spaces, services and technology. Her approach draws inspiration from feminist thought, philosophy of technology, and Science and Technology Studies. Iveta holds a PhD in Anthropology from Charles University in Prague and was a 2012–13 Fulbright-Masaryk Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in New York.

Morgan Williams is a senior consultant with a background in philosophy and a specialism in AI and AI ethics. He is driven in his work towards human-centred design that leverages ethnography and the humanities to align technology with human needs and values. Morgan has a deep understanding of the media industry, having previously worked in sound for film and music. He holds an MA in Sound for the Moving Image from the Glasgow School of Art as well as an MA in Philosophy from the University of Glasgow.

How to Avoid Path Dependency: Learnings from Neuroscience, Physics and Organizational Theory


Cyril Maury, Partner, Stripe Partners

In 1814, the polymath Pierre Simon Laplace posited that “We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future”. This presentation will examine this core idea – the fact that what will happen next is determined by what happened before – from different vantage points: neuroscience (Hebbian plasticity, Canalization), economic theory (Bayes’s Theorem) and organisational theory. How and how much does legacy narrow down what is possible next? How can we, at the individual and collective levels, carve out the space for alternative, unexpected futures?

Cyril is a seasoned strategy and innovation practitioner, whose expertise centres on helping tech companies understand their users to develop better products. Having lived in Latin America, the Middle East and Europe, he particularly enjoys untangling the operational, organisational and cultural complexities inherent in adapting tech products to emerging markets. Cyril is a Science Po and HEC Paris graduate.

The Transformative Potential of Participatory Research in NGO Programs


Oluchi Audu, Design Researcher, YUX Agency

In efforts to address entrenched gender norms affecting adolescent girls in Northern Nigeria, we engaged in a formative research endeavor with the end goal of formulating Social and Behavioral Change strategies. Using qualitative and quantitative methodologies, we explored the intricate cultural and religious frameworks shaping these norms. Actively involving local adolescent girls in the research process empowered them as agents of change, ensuring their voices were central in designing intervention strategies. Through participatory approaches, we aimed to fully understand their needs and aspirations. Our work signifies a crucial step in utilizing participatory research to inform NGO programs.

Oluchi Audu is a Design researcher at YUX design, a Pan African research and design company with a mission to create digital products and services localized to the African context. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a masters degree in Human Computer Interaction from Carleton University. Her interests lie in inclusive design and finding ways to make technology usable and accessible to as many people as possible.

Cyborg Literacies in a Youth-led Makerspace: Snapshots of Refusal from an After-school Ethnography


Parker Miles, UX Researcher & Learning Experience Designer, University of Michigan

This PechaKucha highlights the strategies that Black youth undertook as they co-designed a tech-rich, after-school makerspace. Through these slides, Parker tells stories about participants’ refusals and joy, about the “immaculate” vibes they co-curated and the self-determination they exercised. Through these practices—through “cyborg literacies” that span youths’ online and offline lives—participants created the fugitive space they needed, one where they felt safe, heard, whole, and free.

Parker Miles is a self-described middling-to-solid bass fisherman from Virginia. He has just suffered through the sixth and final Michigan winter of this Ph.D. program in Education and Digital studies. In his work, he uses a few frameworks to conceptualize people’s relationships to technology including Afroturism, cyborg theory, and theories of re-embodiment. Parker’s dissertation study is a student-designed after school makerspace for Black youth to pioneer and practice critical digital literacies.