Exploring the silences of smart care: autoethnographic and infrastructural approaches
Professor Christine Hine, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey
Recent developments in artificial intelligence and Internet of Things have provided new impetus to ongoing efforts to develop technological solutions to help care for people at home. For people living with long term conditions such as dementia and for their carers, these smart care technologies offer the prospect of access to timely support and reassurance. There are, however, many potential ethical pitfalls to navigate across the processes of design, development and implementation of these systems, as they are integrated into existing care settings. STS-informed approaches to infrastructures have taught us that it takes considerable labour of various kinds to maintain an infrastructure and that it cannot be taken for granted that a system of remote sensors accurately portrays the phenomenon that it purports to represent. Care infrastructures embed specific notions of care, and depend on multiple forms of labour, not all of which are adequately recognised or supported. This paper will explore two methodological approaches to exploration of the selectivity and silences of smart care. First, an autoethnographic approach will be outlined, focused on highlighting the experiential qualities of smart home technologies. Second, a multi-sited exploration of the distributed ethical work of developing an implementing smart care will be described. Interviews with researchers and developers, healthcare professionals, service users and carers underline the heterogeneous forms of active work entailed in making sensors speak to the care needs of those being monitored and dealing with the attendant silences.
Christine Hine is Professor of Sociology at the University of Surrey. She has a long-standing focus on research methods in relation to digital phenomena. In particular, she has developed mobile and connective approaches to ethnography that combine online and offline social contexts. She is author of Virtual Ethnography (2000, Sage), Ethnography for the Internet (2015, Bloomsbury) and Understanding Qualitative Research: The Internet (2012, Oxford University Press), editor of Virtual Methods (2005, Berg) and co-editor of Digital Methods for Social Science (2016, Palgrave). She has recently published on autoethnographic approaches to the study of smart home technologies. She is co-editor of a collection on Research Methods for Digital Work and Organizations (2022, Oxford University Press) together with Gillian Symon and Katrina Pritchard. From 2020 to 2023 she was funded by the APEX scheme operated in partnership with the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society (‘the Academies’) and with generous support from the Leverhulme Trust to conduct research on “Emergent everyday ethics in infrastructures for smart care” in collaboration with Professor Payam Barnaghi (UK Dementia Research Institute and Imperial College London).