About the project

In increasingly pluralistic societies, the question of how we live together, avoiding destructive conflict, is arguably one of the biggest challenges of our time with some of the most prominent fault lines running along gender, ethnicity, (dis)abilities, age, political affiliation and socio-economic status. Digital technologies play key roles in framing differences and othering, i.e. the construction of social boundaries that lead to tensions, both in online and real-world contexts. This project takes a design research approach to investigate how interactive technologies can create smart, physical spaces that scaffold shared, meaningful experiences for diverse groups of people. We build on the emerging paradigm of Diversity Computing and explore it for unstructured, in-between spaces for children and young adults in educational settings, e.g. school yards, aisles, break rooms or after-school care - spaces in which diverse groups of children and young adults naturally interact and processes of othering unfold and are learnt.

Creating such DivComp Spaces poses a number of novel and unsolved research questions. Most prominently, we require a) methodological innovation to enable us to design technology in non-normative ways, across lines of difference; b) technological innovation in creating systems that combine sensing and processing of data with novel interfaces to afford meaningful, shared experiences; and c) theoretical innovation to understand roles of technology and its nuanced contributions in processes of othering. We envision DivComp Spaces that are meaningful to different people in different ways, but also afford common references and structures that offer a shared frame for action. They are designed to afford encounters and modes of participation that enable constructive, respectful and non-violent controversy, in contrast to antagonistic othering that might be normative, delineating or polarising. This vision constitutes a significant departure from the prevailing paradigm of technology that focuses on sameness and the individual, rather than pluralism and togetherness.

The contribution of this project is a body of knowledge that reaches beyond its core disciplinary boundaries of human-computer interaction (HCI) and (participatory) design research, including broader computer science (e.g. innovative applications of sensor networks and data analytics), but also into areas of sociology (e.g. science and technology Studies (STS), and political sciences), philosophy (e.g. ethics, moral philosophy, new materialism) and cognitive science. Across these fields, the kinds of contributions this project will make are unique, as its design research approach means it goes beyond a purely analytical ambition to understand the impact of technology on societal processes, but bridges the gap to generative knowledge for the creation of alternative, technological futures.