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Living in the Arizona Testbed: Mapping the Spaces and Work of Sociotechnical Imagination and Assembly

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Technology and society co-exist, influencing each other simultaneously and iteratively, in ways that are sufficiently interdependent that it can be hard to see where one ends and the other begins. A set of sociotechnical relations exist between and across society

Technology and society co-exist, influencing each other simultaneously and iteratively, in ways that are sufficiently interdependent that it can be hard to see where one ends and the other begins. A set of sociotechnical relations exist between and across society and technologies that structure the ways that people live and work. What happens to sociotechnical relations when technologies are introduced or changed? In this dissertation, I argue that key parts of the processes that link technological and social change occur in a liminal space between the invention of new technologies and their widespread adoption and integration in society. In this space, engineers, businesses, and users of new technologies imagine, explore, develop, and test new ways of weaving together technology and society in novel sociotechnical arrangements. I call this space between invention and adoption a testbed, which I theorize as an early phase of technological deployment where outcomes are explored and tested, and sociotechnical assemblages are imagined, assembled, evaluated, and stabilized. I argue that the testbed, which is often delimited in both time and location, should be understood, interrogated, and governed appropriately to anticipate and examine the possibilities of social disruption inherent in technological change and to design the relationships between technology and society to improve sociotechnical outcomes. To understand the testbed, I engage in a case study of the Arizona public autonomous vehicle testbed, leveraging a multi-method approach that includes public observations, interviews, a survey, and content analyses. Through this work, I analyze diverse aspects of the testbed and articulate how the work of testbed actors imagines, assembles, tests, and stabilizes sociotechnical assemblages and futures. The dissertation builds on the insights gained from this investigation to evaluate the testbed and develop recommendations about assessing the space between technology invention and widespread adoption. Ultimately, this dissertation concludes that testbeds are key places where futures get made and so should be given greater attention by theorists of innovation and by societies confronting the societal and ethical challenges posed by new technologies.

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2021

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Water management and justice in the borderlands: perspectives from and analysis of the Santa Cruz River Basin

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The Santa Cruz River Basin shared by Northern Sonora and Southern Arizona is one example of transboundary water resources in the borderlands region that accurately portrays the complexities of binational management of common pool resources, such as water. Industrialization fueled

The Santa Cruz River Basin shared by Northern Sonora and Southern Arizona is one example of transboundary water resources in the borderlands region that accurately portrays the complexities of binational management of common pool resources, such as water. Industrialization fueled by trade liberalization has resulted in migration to and urbanization along the border, which have created human rights issues with the lack of water and sanitation, groundwater overdraft of the shared aquifers, and contamination of these scarce resources. Effluent from wastewater treatment plants continues to play increasingly important roles in the region, the use of which has been a source of tension between the two countries. Contributing to these tensions are the strains on binational relations created by border militarization and SB 1070. A shift in water management strategies to increase pubic participation within decision-making, increase the flexibility of the water systems, and increase cross-border collaboration is needed to ensure human and ecological sustainability in the Santa Cruz River Basin. By incorporating direct communication and local capacity as per common pool resource theory, recognizing the connections and implications of management actions through socio-ecological systems understanding, and promoting the organic drivers of change through ecologies of agents, just and vigorous futures can be envisioned and advanced.

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2015

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Morals in transition: imaginaries and American national identity through three energy transitions

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This dissertation explores the functional purpose of imagination as it is enacted in the context of shaping large transitions in sociotechnical systems. Large sociotechnical systems undergoing profound transitions embody instantiations where societies experience profound changes in the ‘rules of the

This dissertation explores the functional purpose of imagination as it is enacted in the context of shaping large transitions in sociotechnical systems. Large sociotechnical systems undergoing profound transitions embody instantiations where societies experience profound changes in the ‘rules of the game’ that underpin the conduct of daily life. The forms of imagination that guide these transformations, known in the political theory literature as ‘imaginaries,’ play a profound yet undertheorized role in transition of sociotechnical systems from one configuration to another. Expanding on this relationship, the study draws on three case studies of energy systems change in the United States during 20th and 21st century. Each case study explores unique element of how actors at a variety of levels – transnational governance, regional electrification, and in-home energy marketing – define and the possibilities for ideal human and technological action and interaction through a transition. These actors defining the parameters of a new form of systems operation and configuration are as equally focused on defining how these new configurations shape fundamental ideas that underpin American democratic sensibility. Moreover, in the process of articulating a new configuration of energy and society – be that in terms of managing global resource flows or the automation of energy use in a residential home – questions of what makes an ideal member of a society are interlinked with new contractual relationships between energy producers and energy users. Transitions research could and should pay greater attention to the normative commitments emergent systems actors – as it is in these commitments we can chart pathways to redefine the parameters that underpin emergent transitions.

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Date Created
2018

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Disconnected: investigating the social and political conditions shaping Mexico City's air quality regulatory environment

Description

Mexico City has an ongoing air pollution issue that negatively affects its citizens and surroundings with current structural disconnections preventing the city from improving its overall air quality. Thematic methodological analysis reveals current obstacles and barriers, as well as variables

Mexico City has an ongoing air pollution issue that negatively affects its citizens and surroundings with current structural disconnections preventing the city from improving its overall air quality. Thematic methodological analysis reveals current obstacles and barriers, as well as variables contributing to this persistent problem. A historical background reveals current programs and policies implemented to improve Mexico’s City air quality. Mexico City’s current systems, infrastructure, and policies are inadequate and ineffective. There is a lack of appropriate regulation on other modes of transportation, and the current government system fails to identify how the class disparity in the city and lack of adequate education are contributing to this ongoing problem. Education and adequate public awareness can potentially aid the fight against air pollution in the Metropolitan City.

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Date Created
2018

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Impact of social supports on persistent women engineers perspectives from the United States and India

Description

Lower representation of women in the engineering and computer science workforce is a global problem. In the United States, women in engineering drop out at a rate higher than their male counterparts. The male/female ratio in the engineering

Lower representation of women in the engineering and computer science workforce is a global problem. In the United States, women in engineering drop out at a rate higher than their male counterparts. The male/female ratio in the engineering workforce has remained stagnant despite growing percentages of graduates. Women dropout due to familial responsibilities and they leave to take positions in other industries. In India, women are also employed at a lower rate than men. Many studies address the reasons why women leave, but few studies address why they stay. Those that do, address the personal and organizational characteristics that enable women to persist. Little research was found regarding the social supports that further women's ability to persist in the male-dominated field of engineering. This study surveyed 173 men and women engineers in the United States and India as well as collected qualitative data. The research focused on the social supports of family, friends, a special person, supervisors, coworkers, and professional networking, to determine how they support engineering persistence in the four demographics. The participants were scored on their level of persistence and the impact of social supports was evaluated against it. All supports were significant, although not for all demographics. Social supports of family, friends and a special person were more important to the sample of engineers from India, a collectivist culture. The importance of the supervisor relationship to women in the United States was reaffirmed. Professional networking, informal or formal, was the only support significantly related to persistence across all demographics. In the qualitative data there was a strong theme; coworkers are their friends and they support them in their engineering life. As companies re-think their organizational environment and attempt to change engineering culture and long-standing attitudes, women can engage in creating strong social supports and assist in building quality professional networking opportunities. A strong web of support strengthens a woman engineer’s ability to persist during difficult times and provides them opportunities for personal and career growth. It can also be a vehicle for furthering diversity and inclusion in their organizations.

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Date Created
2016

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Sustained Relevance Through Elegance: Redesigning Higher Education from Within

Description

Universities and colleges in the United States (U.S.) are in a period of rapid transformation. Driven by the need for an educated workforce, higher education institutions are responding to rapid innovation, globalization, economic realities, and sociodemographic shifts. Simultaneously, extensive educational

Universities and colleges in the United States (U.S.) are in a period of rapid transformation. Driven by the need for an educated workforce, higher education institutions are responding to rapid innovation, globalization, economic realities, and sociodemographic shifts. Simultaneously, extensive educational online networks connect millions of people worldwide enable learning and knowledge sharing beyond what society has experienced to date. In light of technological advancements, the preservation and presentation of certain ideals that undergird academia and the communication and application of knowledge are undergoing dramatic change. Within higher education, this is both a challenge and an opportunity to re-envision the commitment to educate the public. This research discusses potential forms of this redesign and how it can build upon and depart from previous iterations of higher education. How colleges and universities will adapt to become more relevant, engaging, and accessible is a pressing question that must be addressed.

Using case studies focused on creating sustainability education materials, this dissertation develops knowledge related to three interconnected areas of study that will contribute to redesigning higher education through participatory action research methodology. First, higher education has a civic responsibility to provide new ways of thinking, being, and doing globally and providing more access to education to broader society, especially through public research institutions. Second, with a vast array of available learning materials, higher education should invest in elegantly-designed experiences consisting of well-reasoned, meticulously-curated, and high-quality content that is aesthetically appealing, engaging, and accessible to a broad audience. Third, as universities transition from the gatekeepers of knowledge to the connectors of knowledge, they also need to ensure that a coherent mission is articulated and invested in by stakeholders to create an intentionally beneficial transformational effort. The transformation of higher education toward a more inclusive learning environment through new ways of thinking and elegantly-designed learning experiences will serve to improve our learning institutions. As part of the necessary core for an educated democracy, higher education institutions must strive to create a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse society.

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Date Created
2020

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Modeling Power: Data Models and the Production of Social Inequality

Description

Software systems can exacerbate and cause contemporary social inequities. As such, scholars and activists have scrutinized sociotechnical systems like those used in facial recognition technology or predictive policing using the frameworks of algorithmic bias and dataset bias. However,

Software systems can exacerbate and cause contemporary social inequities. As such, scholars and activists have scrutinized sociotechnical systems like those used in facial recognition technology or predictive policing using the frameworks of algorithmic bias and dataset bias. However, these conversations are incomplete without study of data models: the structural, epistemological, and technical frameworks that shape data. In Modeling Power: Data Models and the Production of Social Inequality, I elucidate the connections between relational data modeling techniques and manifestations of systems of power in the United States, specifically white supremacy and cisgender normativity. This project has three distinct parts. First, I historicize early publications by E. F. Codd, Peter Chen, Miles Smith & Diane Smith, and J. R. Abrial to demonstrate that now-taken-for-granted data modeling techniques were products of their social and technical moments and, as such, reinforced dominant systems of power. I further connect database reification techniques to contemporary racial analyses of reification via the work of Cheryl Harris. Second, I reverse engineer Android applications (with Jadx and apktool) to uncover the relational data models within. I analyze DAO annotations, create entity-relationship diagrams, and then examine those resultant models, again linking them back to systems of race and gender power. I craft a method for performing a reverse engineering investigation within a specific sociotechnical context -- a situated analysis of the contextual epistemological frames embedded within relational paradigms. Finally, I develop a relational data model that integrates insights from the project’s reverse and historical engineering phases. In my speculative engineering process, I suggest that the temporality of modern digital computing is incommensurate with the temporality of modern transgender lives. Following this, I speculate and build a trans-inclusive data model that demonstrates uses of reification to actively subvert systems of racialized and gendered power. By promoting aspects of social identity to first-order objects within a data model, I show that additional “intellectual manageability” is possible through reification. Through each part, I argue that contemporary approaches to the social impacts of software systems incomplete without data models. Data models structure algorithmic opportunities. As algorithms continue to reinforce systems of inequality, data models provide opportunities for intervention and subversion.

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Date Created
2022

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Shrouded Cartographies of Subordination: How Science Fiction Stories Build Anti-Black Futures

Description

Some say that science fiction becomes science. If science fiction eventually becomes science and technology, then US-American science and technology surrounding robots are rooted in white supremacy. Scholarship has previously highlighted the way that films and stories about robots are

Some say that science fiction becomes science. If science fiction eventually becomes science and technology, then US-American science and technology surrounding robots are rooted in white supremacy. Scholarship has previously highlighted the way that films and stories about robots are exclusionary towards Black people and persons of color. These texts, while aptly making the connection between race, Blackness, and technology, do not sufficiently address the embedded design of anti-Blackness in cultural artifacts in the early twentieth century and the anti-Black logics that, to this day, continue to inform how stories about robots are told. Further, these analyses do not consider the connection between cultural artifacts and the material development of emerging technologies; how these embedded racist narratives drive and shape how the technologies are then constructed. In this dissertation, I aim to link how anti-Black scientific popular culture has informed academic scholarship and engineering related to robots in the United States. Stories are an inherently spatial project. Stories about robots are a spatial project intended to create “Cartographies of Subordination.” I contend from 1922 to 1942, US-American robots were mapped into and onto the world; in just twenty short years, I argue a Cartography of Subordination was established. I apply a spatial lens to critique the impact of embedding stories about robots with anti-Blackness. These stories would develop into narratives with material consequences and maintain lasting ties and allegiance to a world invested in white supremacy. I outline how popular culture and stories are transfigured into narratives that have a direct impact on how futures are built. I expose the loop between popular culture and scholarship to unmask how research and development in robotics are based on white-informed futures. My dissertation makes an original geographical contribution to the fields of Human and Cultural Geography by asserting that narrative and popular culture about robots serves to remake Cartographies of Subordination in both science fiction and science and technology broadly. If science fiction has the potential to become real scientific outcomes, I connect culture, geography, and legacies of power in an otherwise overlooked space.

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Date Created
2022