Current Research


The dissertation was successfully defended on Wednesday, August 15, 2007.

Abstract: This dissertation examines the intersection between technology and scientific practice for marine mammal scientists who use digital photography. Scientists studying marine mammals use a technique called photo-identification to identify individual animals such as whales and dolphins in the wild. This technique involves photographing the animals, and later matching these images to catalogs of previously sighted and identified individual animals. This information then contributes to understanding the population parameters, behaviors, and other information about the animals. These methods have been in widespread use since the 1970s; recently, however, most scientists in this field have switched from film photography to digital photography.

This research demonstrates that this change, which seems at first glance to be a simple matter of swapping one three-pound piece of equipment loaded with film for another similar looking three-pound piece of equipment equipped with a digital sensor and computer memory cards, has had important consequences throughout this scientific domain. Some of these consequences were intended, others were unintended. Among the unintended consequences, some are positive, some are negative, and some are still being negotiated. The consequences range from the benefit of having instant feedback in the field, which improves accuracy and efficiency in the data collection process, to the cost of dealing with the increasingly complex information systems needed to work with the large flow of information through the labs.

Digital photography has rapidly replaced film photography in many domains over the last decade. Even though digital cameras are becoming nearly ubiquitous in every domain where photography plays and important role, however, very little research has attempted to understand the socio-technical nature of digital photography and what the consequences are of this change. This social informatics study uses Kling’s Socio-Technical Interaction Networks (STIN) strategy to analyze the regular uses of digital photography within this scientific field, and to understand the consequences of this technology for the practice of science. The research involved interviews and observations of 41 scientists working at thirteen laboratories, plus the analysis of supporting documents.

Additional information: One of the goals of social informatics research is to understand technology in the human contexts where it is put to use. Technology has often played a role in social changes, and my broad research agenda is to contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between information technologies and social change.

To make this research on the broad topic of IT & social change more concrete, I have focused on a specific recent technology, digital photography, and examine ways it has been put to use in various domains. Domains discussed in various papers (see bottom of page for samples) include photojournalists, courtroom and police photography, photobloggers, and scientific photography.

Photo credit: HIHWNMS NOAA Fisheries Permit #782-1438
My dissertation focuses on one specific type of scientific photography: marine mammal photo-identification. Scientists studying marine mammals use photo-identification as a tool for their research. Whale researchers, for instance, use photographs of whale flukes (tails) and marks on their backs to identify individuals. Dolphin researchers use the shape of fins as well as notches and marks in the fins, to identify dolphins. Photo-identification is also used to identify seals, manatees, and other marine mammals.

Scientists in this field have recently (ie., in the last 2-3 years) widely switched to digital photography. This study examines ways in which work practices, communication patterns, relationships, and behaviors have changed with the adoption of digital cameras, and also ways in which the scientists have shaped the technology of digital cameras to their needs.

Main research questions:

  1. Who are the relevant actors within the systems supporting photo-id research, and what are the core groups both related and unrelated to photography to which these actors belong?
  2. What are the pressures/incentives or impediments to adopting digital techniques?
  3. How is knowledge about how to use digital photography technology obtained (e.g., is it formal or informal, what role do other researchers play, who in the scientist’s networks participate in the learning)?
  4. What are the resource flows (e.g., to pay for equipment, staff, field work, new specialists in digital technology, etc…) that the scientists have mobilized to pay for their photo-id work?
  5. Who becomes involved in the photo-id process for the first time when scientists adopt digital photography, which formerly involved actors and technologies are excluded, and how are peripheral actors affected?
  6. What conflicts arise over the digital photography computing package in routine use, and what are the biggest benefits of digital photography in routine use?
  7. How are the data shared with other scientists?
  8. What are the architectural choice points for the system (e.g., what choices are made over time that influence the current configuration of the computing package), and what are the rejected alternatives? What are the other elements of the total computing package (e.g., databases, GPS, etc…) used to support photo-identification and have these changed?
  9. What technological alternatives would be desirable to improve the existing system?
  10. These questions are derived from Kling’s STIN strategy for social informatics research (Kling et. al. 2003; Meyer 2006).

Dissertation committee
Dr. Howard Rosenbaum (chair), Associate Professor of Library & Information Science
Dr. Noriko Hara, Assistant Professor of Information Science
Dr. Pnina Shachaf, Assistant Professor of Library & Information Science
Dr. Barry Bull, Professor of Education

Indiana University Protocol #06-10893

Papers related to this research

Dissertation prospectus: [ PDF File ]

A one-page summary of the dissertation proposal which was defended and accepted in July 2006.

Dissertation proposal: [ PDF File ] of Socio-Technical Perspectives on Digital Photography: Scientific digital photography use by marine mammal researchers

This dissertation proposal was defended and accepted in July 2006. The paper discusses the research questions and methods which will be used in the research. (90 pages)

Qualifying paper: [PDF file] of Socio-technical perspectives on digital photography in professional practice.

This qualifying paper was defended and accepted in July 2005, which advanced me to Ph.D. candidacy. The paper lays out much of the theoretical underpinnings of this research, and traces the development of previous research influencing this project. (79 pages)

STINs: [ PDF file ] Socio-technical Interaction Networks: A discussion of the strengths, weaknesses and future of Kling’s STIN model. In Berleur, J., Numinen, M.I., Impagliazzo, J., (Eds.), IFIP International Federation for Information Processing, Volume 223, Social Informatics: An Information Society for All? In Remembrance of Rob Kling (pp. 37-48). Boston: Springer.

The STIN strategy helps focus social informatics research by providing a research strategy for inquiring about technology use.

Photoblogs: [PDF file] of Meyer, Rosenbaum and Hara: How Photobloggers are Framing a New Computerization Movement. [Powerpoint file] of presentation also available.

This paper, presented at the AoIR (Association of Internet Researchers) 2005 Annual Meeting, discusses the landscape of photoblogging and the behavior of photobloggers.

Communication regimes: [ Link to ] Communication Regimes: A Conceptual Framework for Examining IT and Social Change in Organizations. In Grove, A. (Ed.) Proceedings of the 68th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science & Technology (ASIST) 42, Charlotte, NC (US).

Communication regimes are a conceptual framework developed by the author based on work and discussions with Rob Kling. They represent a way to distinguish between various types of communication intensive organizations.

Media framing of digital photography: [ Link to ] Framing the Photographs: Understanding Digital Photography as a Computerization Movement.

Paper presented at the workshop "Extending the Contributions of Professor Rob Kling to the Analysis of Computerization Movements", Irvine, CA. Selected to appear as a chapter in forthcoming edited book. The paper reports on content analysis based research into how the media has framed the technology of digital photography from 1990-2005.

Digital manipulation: [ PPT file ] of To Photoshop or Not to Photoshop: Digital Manipulation and the STIN Framework.

This Powerpoint presentation presents information on the manipulation of digital photographs, and how various professions regulate the technically easy abilites to manipulate through social and regulatory pressures. This work was presented at the 2003 Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) Annual conference, as well as in the SLIS Doctoral Research Forum at Indiana University.
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Last updated: August 18, 2007