University of California Irvine Department of Informatics
Hillary Abraham Research Program Cover Slide

Cite as: Abraham, Hillary. 2019. Research Program Description. University of California. November. http://centerforethnography.org/content/hillary-abraham-research-program/essay

Hillary Abraham is a PhD student in the University of California Irvine’s Department of Informatics. Her research explores technology use in the context of work and home settings. She is currently working on a cross-campus project exploring the ways in which independent workers leverage technologies of various forms in service of broader goals. She is also working on this project exploring how digital technologies, or “smart home” technologies, are chosen and integrated in homes.

Research Program Description

This research program investigates the historic and present use of technology in the home. In particular, it interrogates the conception of work. Rather than focus on invisible work, which has traditionally been studied in the context of domestic labor, this project explores the ways in which work is made visible. Some research questions include:

  • What are the current and historical discourses surrounding smart homes, and how do these vary across different stakeholders?

  • How do the designs of domestic technologies contribute to or overturn traditional divisions of household labor, possibly reproducing or extending conventional gender inequalities?

  • (How) do builders of smart homes “perform” labor, and does this contribute to or reflect inequalities in the division of household labor?

  • How do domestic technologies relate to issues of power and surveillance within the home? Do occupants believe these to be issues, and in what ways do they cope?

Methods and Data

My methods are ethnographic in nature and consist primarily of interview, participant observation, and some video / media analysis. These methods are optimal for trying to understand the intricacies of lived experiences and how broader sociocultural norms and expectations interact with the problem space.

This project leverages several forms of data, including interviews, home walkthroughs, YouTube videos, advertisements, and more. The varied data types allow for a holistic picture of the problem space. 

Home Automation Enthusiasts on YouTube

This essay shares the progress on a portion of the broader project. I am using YouTube as a space for studying discourses of home automation from tech enthusiasts' perspectives.

Illustration of smart home

Weiser’s vision of ubiquitous computing harkens back to the invisible Victorian-era servant - quietly providing for your every need. The reality shows much more chaos. Systems fail, residents are subject to surveillance, and their humble servants provide constant product marketing.

Project in Pop Culture

Smart Homes have been a hot topic for decades. This section links to various pop culture and current event resources that describe how smart homes are affecting people in the real world.

Vintage ad showing woman excited about automatic washing machine that will change wash day to holiday

Home automation has had a recent resurgance in popularity due to the influx of voice assistance, robot vaccuums, and tablet-controlled lighting entering the market. However, this phenomenon is not novel. Promises that automation will eliminate domestic labor are longstanding. However, these promises have yet to be fulfilled.

Historic Ads Photo Essay

vintage ad for kitchen computer

This photo essay demonstrates some of the promises imbued within historic home technology advertisements.

Timeline of Home Technologies

1933 Chicago World's Fair Poster

This timeline shares the various historical events that have helped to shape the present discourses surrounding home automation from the perspectives of tech enthusiasts and STS scholars.