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Social Informatics Research Unit

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Research in SIRU seeks to understand the social processes shaping the production, consumption and use of information in contemporary organisations and society.

Central to our work is an understanding of the ways in which information and communications technologies (ICTs) are used to mediate information provision and access in range of different sites and contexts.

The research and consultancy conducted within SIRU has its origins in a number of different disciplines and fields of study, including: library and information management, sociology, science and technology studies (STS), and new media studies and design. Several members of SIRU are also practicing information or IT professionals and there is strong emphasis on the relationship between research and practice within this group.

Current research themes include:

Health informatics

This strand of research examines how ICTs are used to mediate the organisation and delivery of health care. Taking a sociotechnical systems approach to understanding ICTs in healthcare, particular emphasis is placed on understanding issues of user acceptance and resistance to new technologies and in how systems become embedded into everyday life and work practice. These issues are examined at the level of the organisation, the community, and the household. Lead researchers: Flis Henwood and Audrey Marshall; for further information go to Current projects.

Library and information sector research

This strand of research seeks to examine how the library and information sector and the roles of information professionals are shaped by organisational and technological developments and to identify the core skills required by information professionals in the information society. Lead researchers: Martin de Saulles, Juliet Eve, Nicola Smith and Margaret Wallis; for further information go to Current projects.

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Information and communications ethics

This strand of research seeks to make an ethical assessment of new information and communication technology. In particular, the work interrogates the ‘consequentialist’ approach found in prospective technology assessment and challenges the idea that we can interrogate the future in some way in order to provide justification for policy decisions in the present (the ‘error of futurism’). Lead researcher: David Horner.

Community informatics

This strand of research has developed important critiques of the ‘information’ or ‘network’ society, focusing on issues of civic engagement and community development. Particular emphasis is placed on the relationship between the theory and practice of community informatics. This work has resulted in the development of a normative framework of democratic design criteria for community ICT initiatives. Lead researcher: Peter Day.

Gender and technology

This work explores the mutual shaping of gender and technology, and has been developing for over 20 years. Early work explored the under-representation of women in science, engineering and technology and sought to understand both young women and men’s occupational decision-making in the context of dominant discourses on gender and equal opportunities. Later work explored the importance of pedagogical context for understanding women’s experience on undergraduate computing and IT courses. A co-edited book (Cyborg Lives, 2001) explored the potential of ‘technobiographies’ as a method for understanding gendered relationships to technology. Most recently, gender analyses have contributed to a fuller understanding of user acceptance and resistance to new technologies in health care. A co-edited book on this theme is planned for 2007. Lead researcher: Flis Henwood.

For further information about current and past projects see the Current projects and Publications links.

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