The Ethnographer’s Reading List: Nicolas Nova takes us back to objects, public spaces, and lines….yes lines [guest contributor]

Credit: Matt Cottam

A few months ago we interviewed Nicolas Nova in A Retrospective of Talks by Ethnographers at Lift Conference. Now we finally  have Nicolas grace  us with a peek into his brain with his summer reading list.  A bit more about Nicolas from his bio: 

Nicolas Nova is a consultant and researcher at the Near Future Laboratory. He undertakes field studies to inform and evaluate the creation of innovative products and services. His work is about exploring and understanding people’s needs, motivations and contexts to map new design opportunities and help designers and engineers. Nicolas applies this in the domains of video games, mobile and location-based media as well as networked objects/robots. He also teaches user research in interaction design at HEAD-Geneva and ENSCI-Les Ateliers in Paris. He holds a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction from the Swiss Institute of Technology (EPFL, Switzerland). He is also editorial consultant for the Lift Conference. In his free time, he collects video game controllers and peculiar interfaces dug up in flea markets here and there.

If you would like to contribute to the “Ethnographer’s Reading List,” send us an email! - Tricia

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This summer I’m spending the months of July and August in California for a visiting researcher’s residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, working on a project about rituals and gestures of the digital everyday. Because of that topic, the books I’ve bought for the summer are quite influenced by this project. They’re not about methodologies, but more about case studies concerning design, material culture, ethnography and architecture. Each of them seems to be feeding our investigation here:


Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century (Alison J. Clarke Ed.)

An interesting anthology describing various case studies about how different designers benefit from observing people when making new things. What caught my attention here is the wide breadth of examples presented and the description of what happens beyond data collection. As a matter of fact, several books (and presentations) I’ve read recently address the data part but are less verbose about how to turn this into “something”. And I have to admit that I’m interested in that “something”, be it a commercial product, a design fiction or a good discussion with friends. Some essays are of course more relevant to me than others but it was overall a good compilation that also covers examples beyond commercial products sold next year.


Usages: A Subjective and Factual Analysis of uses of public spaces (D‪avid Trottin‬, ‪Jean-Christophe Masson‬, 2012)

This is French book (written both in French and English) is a gem that I found a few days before departing to the USA. It’s a lovely and well-illustrated book that covers people’s behavior in urban spaces across three cities: Mumbai, Shangai and Paris. This investigation does not aim to offer an exhaustive perspective. Instead, it provides a snapshot of human practices in an inspiring way. Very bottom-up so to say, you can flip through the book or spend some time on tiny details that are evocative and relevant for design, be it about urban planning, architecture or “smart city” deployment.

Urban Code: 100 lessons for understanding the city (Anne Mikoleit and Moritz Pürckhauer, 2011)

This little book is the opposite of the one above. It’s the “top-down” approach with “rules” or “laws” about urban behavior, unlike the previous  book that favors the case-based description. Although I disagree with the very notion of principles as expressed by these authors (“Street vendors follow wrecking balls”, “shops lead people”), the way they are presented is interesting and their description is slightly more complex than what is seen at first glance. To some extent, I enjoyed that book from a formal point of view but wonder about how to make the so-called “lessons” a bit less positivist. Food for thoughts anyway!

Lines: A Brief History (Tim Ingold, 2007)

Friends have been telling me for a long time to read Tim Ingold’s fascinating work. What a book! For people like me who are interested in the mundane and the ordinary, an entire oeuvre about “lines and surfaces” was utterly stunning. The whole thing is basically about the way lines are produced and how they make sense to people. With such a nice endeavor, topics such as maps, trails, typography and archaeology are covered in an eye-opening way. As explained in his introduction:

Originally, ‘thing’ meant a gathering of people, and a place where they would meet to resolve their affairs. As the derivation of the word suggests, every thing is a parliament of lines. What I hope to establish, in this book, is that to study both people and things is to study the lines they are made of.

This quote inspired me as it exemplifies the way ethnography deals with both humans and non-humans. It echoes with my current work which  more and more addresses the exploration of material cultural in conjunction with human behavior.

Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology (James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel, Eds. 2007)
And finally, a fictional one, a an anthology of post-cyberpunk short stories by authors such as Bruce Sterling, Cory Doctorow, Jonathan Lethem, Gwyneth Jones, Hal Duncan, Charles Stross, or Pat Cadigan. Please ignore the “Post-Cyberpunk” label and the debate over the reality of the existence of a “cyberpunk” movement and enjoy the description presented there. That’s basically what I found interesting, as usual with these authors, the way they describe the implications of certain socio-technical assemblages. That quote from William Gibson presented in introduction pretty much sums up why this anthology is relevant for the audience of this blog:

I think we live in an incomprehensible present, and what I’m trying to do is illuminate the moment. I’m trying to make the moment accessible. I’m not even trying to explain the moment, I’m just trying to make the moment accessible.

.

Now, regarding the ones I haven’t read:

The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory (Norman Klein, 2008)

Given this summer in L.A., some colleagues here told me this would be a good intro. In this book, the author examines the process of memory erasure in LA. Surely an intriguing way to understand this city.

Design For The Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (Victor Papanek, 2005)

… which seems to be a classic I never read about Papanek’s approach to socially-responsible design.

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Categories: Ethnographer's Reading List, Guest posts

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5 Comments on “The Ethnographer’s Reading List: Nicolas Nova takes us back to objects, public spaces, and lines….yes lines [guest contributor]”

  1. August 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    Brilliant list! Ingold never fails to deliver. I have yet to read Lines but upon seeing your recommendation, it has been added to my list. Thank you!

  2. August 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Brilliant list! I have Design Anthropology and concur. I’ve always enjoyed Ingold and have yet to read this one. It has now been added to my list. Thanks!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Putting people first » The ethnographer’s reading list - August 1, 2012

    [...] Nicolas Nova Nicolas Nova, who holds a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction from the Swiss Institute of Technology (EPFL, Switzerland), is a consultant and researcher at the Near Future Laboratory, and and editorial consultant for the Lift Conference. He also teaches user research in interaction design at HEAD-Geneva and ENSCI-Les Ateliers in Paris. This summer he is spending the months of July and August in California for a visiting researcher’s residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, working on a project about rituals and gestures of the digital everyday. Because of that topic, the books he has bought for the summer are quite influenced by this project. They’re not about methodologies, but more about case studies concerning design, material culture, ethnography and architecture. [...]

  2. July Edition of Ethnozine – Ethnography of Wikidpedia Sources, Live Fieldnoting, & 4 guest contributors for The Ethnographer’s Reading List | Ethnography Matters - August 2, 2012

    [...] Reading List. Sam Ladner’s list mixes creativity with time, religion, and humor. Nicolas Nova’s list takes us back to objects, public spaces, and lines. Christina Dennaoui’s list brings us some [...]

  3. The ethnographer’s reading list - October 25, 2012

    [...] Nicolas Nova Nicolas Nova, who holds a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction from the Swiss Institute of Technology (EPFL, Switzerland), is a consultant and researcher at the Near Future Laboratory, and and editorial consultant for the Lift Conference. He also teaches user research in interaction design at HEAD-Geneva and ENSCI-Les Ateliers in Paris. This summer he is spending the months of July and August in California for a visiting researcher’s residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, working on a project about rituals and gestures of the digital everyday. Because of that topic, the books he has bought for the summer are quite influenced by this project. They’re not about methodologies, but more about case studies concerning design, material culture, ethnography and architecture. [...]

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