A laser-cut cam for the condom vending machine.

A laser-cut cam for the condom vending machine.

The work table at the Sanctuary for Independent Media.

The work table at the Sanctuary for Independent Media.

Research Questions

I organized my work around three research questions: 

  1. In what ways can a researcher participate in a deliberate cultural intervention through the utilization of technological systems?

  2. What makes these interventions successful and what makes them fail?

  3. How does a researcher “step back” from such a project and draw out lessons for future interventions?

Conceptually, the dissertation explored the interface between reflecting on ideals and the action or physical transformation that occurs in the world. What, I wondered, are the appropriate and necessary epistemological pre-requisites for scholars' activist praxis?

A Wi-Fi antenna is tested outside of an urban garden.

A Wi-Fi antenna is tested outside of an urban garden.

The vending mechanism for the condom vending machine.

The vending mechanism for the condom vending machine.

Sense-Making Tools

In service of answering these questions I developed three “sense-making tools” to help guide me through the interrelated difficulties of two very different projects: building a condom vending machine in Kumasi, Ghana and a community-run free Wi-Fi network in Troy, New York.

Those three tools were: 

  1. Capitalism is an emergent phenomenon,
  2. Recursivity is an epistemology that prioritizes organized complexity over rationalized efficiency, and
  3. Once decoupled from its main usage in reference to the Internet, the term “online” is a useful means of describing and understanding humans’ relationships to networks of communication and economic exchange.

I fortified this experimental approach with some classic interview and participant observation techniques to ensure sufficient data collection. Taken together, the work tells a story about the importance of thinking deeply about what researchers bring to field sites, both metaphorically and literally.

The full text of the dissertation is available here.

Build your own Open Source Condom Vending machine withe schematics here.

This research made possible through the National Science Foundation, award number 1456138.