2015 – Susanne Bødker and Christian Heath

2015 EUSSET-IISI Lifetime Achievement Award to Susanne Bødker and Christian Heath

Susanne Bødker and Christian Heath have been and are two central figures in shaping a research agenda for the design of socially embedded technologies over a number of years. They represent two lines of research which each had a tremendous influence on the European CSCW tradition. Susanne represents the Participatory Design tradition and Christian the interaction analytic approach in ethnomethodology.


Susanne Bødker’s influence in the CSCW community can be traced back to her work in the Utopia project – the seminal approach to worker-oriented design of collaborative technologies in the printing industries. Strongly influenced by Kristen Nygaard’s approach to critical computing, Susanne and her colleagues set an agenda for participatory design within the CSCW community, an agenda that continues to have a powerful influence. Her work within the Scandinavian School of participatory design offered a radically new approach to design practices in the field of computing by recognizing the political nature of design and the importance of ‘taking sides’ in that politics. Equally importantly, Susanne was one of the first researchers to recognize the need for a new theoretical and conceptual base in relation to a new computing paradigm. Along with others, she applied the theoretical lens of activity theory to the analysis of and designing for cooperative work. Her widely cited PhD thesis: “Through the interface” represents a major theoretical contribution to the field of human centered computing.

Susanne has also played a major role in the institutional setting of our field. She represents a research environment that has been very active in disseminating the empirical and conceptual contributions made by the fields of CSCW, PD and HCI by energetic support for conferences and meetings which are vital to the building of a research community that combines computer science with the social sciences. Through a large number of conferences (the decennial Århus conferences, ECSCW and PD conferences), and a generous use of visiting positions, she has contributed to the large international network of CSCW/HCI/PD researchers around the world.


Christian Heath’s influence in the CSCW community can be traced back at least to the seminal papers written with Paul Luff on collaborative work in the London Underground. These papers set an agenda for CSCW research in more than one way. Firstly, they had a profound methodological importance in that they were probably the first examples of the use of video for investigation. It is easy to forget what a revolutionary step this was at the time. Nevertheless, largely due to that path-breaking work, video analysis is now routinely embedded in areas like interaction analysis; user experience design; ethnographic work, and so on.

Secondly, and no less importantly, these papers had huge analytic consequences. For the first time, we had a clear statement of the importance of timeliness and elegance in cooperative and coordinative work and a demonstration of how that interactional elegance can, with careful study, be recognised in the most subtle of glances, gestures and gazes. The point here is that economy, ecology and elegance are visible features of the local rationality that members exhibit. Sophisticated video analytic, conversation analytic and ethnographic techniques are used here to reveal something to us of the ‘resources, practices and reasoning’ that are brought to bear on the emerging situation. Such matters turn out to be hugely consequential in the effective design of cooperative technologies. Following the London Underground study, Heath’s group at King College has, inter alia, studied museums and art galleries; medical work; optometry; architectural practice; command and control centers, and public science. The group has also published a number of important books outlining approaches to workplace studies, including Video in Qualitative Research(2010), Technology in Action (2000) and Workplace Studies (2000).

Christian’s overall contribution to research is by no means limited to technological matters. His book, Dynamics of Auction (2013), is a study of auction rooms which deals in fine arts and antiques. It is a brilliant example of how descriptions of work practices can challenge the orthodoxies of economic theory.

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