What is Social Informatics?

History of the Term

The term “Social Informatics” emerged from a series of lively conversations in February and March 1996 among scholars with an interest in advancing critical scholarship about the social aspects of computerization, including Phil Agre, Jacques Berleur, Brenda Dervin, Andrew Dillon, Rob Kling, Mark Poster, Karen Ruhleder, Ben Shneiderman, Leigh Star and Barry Wellman. As the conversation developed, it became clear that labels that could energize scholars in one sub-community couldreadily turn off participants in other communities. Various participants preferred different labels; a sufficient consensus emerged around “SocialInformatics” that it can serve as a working label.

"SI studies aim to ensure that technical research agendas and system designs are relevant to people’s lives.The key word is relevance, ensuring that technical work is socially-driven rather than technology-driven.Relevance has two dimensions: process and substance. Design and implementation processes need to be relevant to the actual social dynamics of a given site of social practice, and the substance of design and implementation (the actual designs, the actual systems) need to be relevant to the lives of the people they affect. SI sets agendas for all the technical work in two ways: 1) more superficially, by drawing attention to functionalities that people value, thus setting priorities for design and implementation; and 2) more fundamentally, by articulating those analytical categories that have been found useful in describing social reality, and that which therefore should also define technical work in/for that reality as well.

Unfortunately, many technical professionals have viewed social concerns as peripheral. One key role of SI is to stand things back on their feet, so that social concerns are central and define the ground that technical work stands on (Phil Agre, 1996)."