Ethnography for HRI  

Embodied, Embedded, Messy and Everyday

Half-day, afternoon, workshop at HRI 2024 (Hybrid)

March 11th 2024


A bit about our workshop:

As suggested by HRI'24 conference theme, the concern for understanding and designing human-robot interactions for the ``real world'' is now at the center of the human-robot interaction field. But what does it actually mean to design robots for the ``real world''? Who populates these ``real worlds''? What are the boundaries of these worlds, and who delineates them? How can HRI scholars who have grown accustomed to the positivist paradigm, still dominating HRI, address the complexity and messiness of these real worlds in conceptually and methodologically rigorous ways? In this half-day hybrid workshop we invite a multi-disciplinary community both from within and outside of HRI to consider ethnography as a methodology equipped to tackle these questions. Attuned to the plurality of human and non-human actors, embedded (and embodied) human practices ethnography has already secured its place in Human-Computer interaction (HCI) and Science and Technology studies (STS). With an aim to contribute to further expansion of ethnography in HRI, this workshop will invite participants to share their experiences and engage in discussions about best practices, challenges, effective strategies for overcoming these challenges, and the integration of ethnographic data with design, among other relevant topics. We see the workshop also as a first step toward establishing a community of researchers working with ethnographic approaches, and qualitative research more broadly. This will be achieved through a combination of invited speakers presentations, break-out sessions and a group discussion centered around the conceptual and methodological questions and challenges related to conducting ethnographic studies and strategies to overcome them.


The workshop will be hosted at the 2024 IEEE International Conference on Human and Robot Interaction (HRI 2024) - hybrid.

Invited speakers

  • Selma Sabanovic

    Selma Sabanovic www

    Indiana University, USA

  • Matthias Rehm

    Matthias Rehm www

    Aalborg University, DK

  • Antonia Lina Krummheuer

    Antonia Lina Krummheuer www

    Aalborg University, DK

  • Karolina Zawieska

    Karolina Zawieska www

    Aarhus University, DK

  • Jennifer Robertson

    Jennifer Robertson www

    University of Michigan, USA

  • Call for Papers

    Call for papers is now open.

    Areas of interest

    We encourage researchers and students from HRI, but also from other disciplines relevant to the main theme (e.g. STS, anthropology, culture studies) to contribute. We welcome submission across a wide range of topics including (but not limited to):

    • Ethnography, why is it still not a thing in HRI?

    • Experiences of conducting ethnographies for/in HRI: challenges and lessons learnt

    • Epistemological underpinnings and goals of ethnographic studies. Do they align or contradict HRI goals?

    • Bridging ethnographies and technologies design and development

    • Conducting ethnographic studies: methodological approaches, open questions.

    We invite papers ranging from 2 to 6 pages, excluding references and appendices. Submissions can encompass various types of work, including ongoing projects with preliminary findings, case studies, theoretical reflections and position papers that encompass the themes identified above or are in direct relation to ethnographic methods and studies in the context of human-robot interactions, or robots as actors in society more broadly.

    We kindly request that authors include in their submission one of the following (a short paragraph): (i) an open-ended question related to the workshop theme that they would like to discuss during the workshop, (ii) a specific challenge (challenges) they have experienced while conducting an ethnographic study and would like to discuss; or (iii) an open reflection on any of the questions and themes identified above.

    Submissions do not need to be anonymized for review. All manuscripts must be written in English and submitted electronically in PDF format via EasyChair . Note that at least one author needs to register to HRI with (or only) workshop option, and attend in person or online.

    Authors should use ACM SIG format (use “sigconf” as document class, instead of “manuscript, screen, eview”) template files template files (US letter). Overleaf template (use “sigconf” as document class, instead of “manuscript,screen,review”).

    All accepted submissions will be made available on this website.

    Important Dates

    • Early-bird submission deadline: January 19th, 2024, AoE.
    • Early-bird notification of acceptance: January 26th, 2024, AoE.
    • General submission deadline: February 2nd, 2024, AoE.
    • General notification of acceptance: February 16th, 2024, AoE.
    • Camera-ready deadline: February 23rd,d 2024, AoE.

    All deadlines are at 23:59 Anywhere on Earth time (AoE).


    Proposed outline of afternoon session.

    Initial timetable:
    14:00 - 14:10 Introduction (organizers)
    14:10 - 14:40 Karolina Zawieska Aarhus University, DK The concept and study of everyday life in HRI and SSH research

    Whether in academia or industry, it has been largely expected that robots, social and not, soon will become part of our everyday life. This has led to development of an increasingly established set of methods and approaches that allow studying the use and human engagement with robots ‘in the wild’. But what do we mean exactly by the ‘everyday’ and how do we translate it into the HRI terms? This presentation will provide an overview of the key elements that characterise our understanding of everyday life in SSH and HRI research and, given the points of overlap and divergence between the two, will propose possible ways to further engage in a systematic study and critique of the contemporary everyday in HRI.
    14:40 - 15:00 2 minute introductions of submitted papers
    15:00 - 15:30 Matthias Rehm Aalborg University, Dk
    Antonia Lina Krummheuer
    Aalborg University, DK
    Challenges and opportunities of combining ethnography and engineering for building robots

    We are going to present a concrete example of using ethnography during the development of personalized robots with people with acquired brain injury and their care personnel. We are presenting this work from two perspectives, the ethnographer’s and the engineer’s, and highlight the challenges and opportunities that come from combining the different disciplines. The whole process lasted for 18 months with monthly workshops with participants from a residency. During this time both disciplinary perspectives were challenged and had to be adjusted to the realities of the field and the technical possibilities. While the project has ended, the insights from the ethnographic field study still results in spin-off projects, e.g. for robot-assisted decision making for sustainable consumption.
    15:30 - 16:00 Coffee break
    16:00 - 16:30 Selma Sabanovic Indiana University, USA Using an ethnographic lens to broaden the scope of HRI design

    Ethnographic studies, with or without robots, can help HRI researchers identify new opportunities, generate novel ideas, and question the current assumptions of robot design. I will discuss how we can use ethnographic studies to expand the scope of human-robot interaction design by considering a broader array of stakeholders, new social roles and niches for robots, and emphasizing social and cultural factors that are typically not front and center in robot design. I’ll discuss insights from organizational studies with assistive robots that brought out larger concerns relating to the labor of care and the constraints of the local healthcare system; community values connected with intergenerational interaction and new socially mediating roles for robots; and the significance of the social and physical context of HRI in defining the social experience and interpretation of robots. I’ll consider how ethnographic work in HRI can support building more diverse ideas about the goals and scope of HRI design, and how they can bring out new matters of concern relating to the use of robots in society.
    16:30 - 17:00 Jennifer Robertson University of Michigan, USA Doing Ethnography in Robotland: Warnings and Advice

    My paper draws from my field- and archival-work in “Robotland” over the past 25 years. Both a longue durée perspective and “rapid ethnography” methods are necessary in robotics (and embodied AI) projects as that field is characterized by a rapid rate of innovations and transformations in materials, designs, coding (algorithms), and applications. I will focus my presentation on what I consider the most salient domains needing both address and redress and conclude with corrective suggestions.
    17:00 - 17:30 Group Discussion
    17:30 - 18:00 Discussion, wrap-up


    • Anna Dobrosovestnova (Corresponding organizer)

      Anna Dobrosovestnova (Corresponding organizer) www

      Human-Computer Interaction Group, TU Wien, AT

    • Hee Rin Lee

      Hee Rin Lee www

      Michigan State University, USA

    • Sara Ljungblad

      Sara Ljungblad www

      University of Gothenburg, SE

    • Mafalda Gamboa

      Mafalda Gamboa www

      University of Gothenburg, SE

    • Masoumeh (Iran) Mansouri

      Masoumeh (Iran) Mansouri www

      University of Birmingham, UK

    • Toby Gosnall

      Toby Gosnall www

      University of Birmingham, UK


    This space serves as a resource for related initiatives and readings. It is curated by the organizers and invited speakers.
    Please feel free to send any of the organizers an email if you think something should be added to the lists below.

    Related materials, including accepted papers:

    Accepted papers:

    Pelikan, H. R. M., et al. "Whose perspective are We Studying in Ethnographuc HRI?" pdf

    Vetter, R. "Participatory Design with People with Dementia as an Instance of Bridging Design and Ethnographies" pdf

    Martelaro, N., Fox, S. "Proposing a Field Manual for Field Observation Studies of Public Human-Robot Interaction" pdf

    Murphy, R. R. "Participant Observer Ethnography in Disaster Robotics" pdf

    Hauser, E. "Ethnographic Activity, Artificial Agency, and 'Progress' in Robotics" pdf

    Cherny, J. "Why Not Ethnography" pdf

    Johansen, S. et al. "Bridging Ethnography and Design in HRI: Making Space for Diverging Perspectives" pdf

    1. Introduction to Ethnography / Ethnography as a methodology:

    Atkinson, P. (2007). Ethnography: Principles in Practice (3rd ed.). Routledge LINK

    Marcus, G. E. (1998). Ethnography through thick and thin. Princeton University Press

    Robertson, J. (2002). Reflexivity redux: A pithy polemic on" positionality". Anthropological Quarterly, 75(4), 785-792. LINK

    Adotey, E. (2021). Multiplicity and simultaneity in ethnographic research: Exploring the use of drones in Ghana. African Affairs, 120(480), 445-459 LINK

    Robertson, J. (Ed.). (2013). Politics and pitfalls of Japan ethnography: reflexivity, responsibility, and anthropological ethics. Routledge LINK


    Marak, Q. (2015). Writing the ‘self’: introducing autoethnography. Man in India, 95(1), 1-10

    Mykhalovskiy, E. (1996). Reconsidering table talk: Critical thoughts on the relationship between sociology, autobiography and self-indulgence. Qualitative Sociology, 19(1), 131-151

    Rapp, A. (2018). Autoethnography in human-computer interaction: Theory and practice. New directions in third wave human-computer interaction: Volume 2-Methodologies, 25-42 LINK

    Gamboa, M. (2022, October). Living with Drones, Robots, and Young Children: Informing Research through Design with Autoethnography. In Nordic Human-Computer Interaction Conference (pp. 1-14) LINK

    Digital / Virtual Ethnography:

    Hine, C. (2020). Ethnography for the internet: Embedded, embodied and everyday. Routledge

    Kuschnir, K. (2016). Ethnographic Drawing: eleven benefits of using a sketchbook for fieldwork. Visual Ethnography, 5(1), 103-134

    Pink, S. (2015). Doing sensory ethnography. Sage

    Sturdee, M., Robinson, S., & Linehan, C. (2020, July). Research journeys: Making the invisible, visual. In Proceedings of the 2020 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference (pp. 2163-2175) LINK

    2. Ethnographic studies in HCI:

    Paul Dourish. 2006. Implications for design. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '06). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 541–550 LINK

    Paul Dourish. 2007. Responsibilities and implications: further thoughts on ethnography and design. In Proceedings of the 2007 conference on Designing for User eXperiences (DUX '07). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 25, 2–16 LINK

    Andrew Crabtree, Tom Rodden, Peter Tolmie, and Graham Button. 2009. Ethnography considered harmful. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '09). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 879–888 LINK

    3. Ethnographic studies in HRI:

    Mutlu, B., & Forlizzi, J. (2008, March). Robots in organizations: the role of workflow, social, and environmental factors in human-robot interaction. In Proceedings of the 3rd ACM/IEEE international conference on Human robot interaction (pp. 287-294)

    Bodenhagen, Leon, Fischer, Kerstin, Winther, Trine S., Langedijk, Rosalyn M. and Skjøth, Mette M.. "Robot use cases for real needs: A large-scale ethnographic case study" Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics, vol. 10, no. 1, 2019, pp. 193-206 LINK

    Sauppé, A., & Mutlu, B. (2015, April). The social impact of a robot co-worker in industrial settings. In Proceedings of the 33rd annual ACM conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 3613-3622)

    Chun, B., & Knight, H. (2020). The robot makers: An ethnography of anthropomorphism at a robotics company. ACM Transactions on Human-Robot Interaction (THRI), 9(3), 1-36

    Kamino, W., & Sabanovic, S. (2023, March). Coffee, Tea, Robots? The Performative Staging of Service Robots in'Robot Cafes' in Japan. In Proceedings of the 2023 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (pp. 183-191) LINK

    4. Ethnography in STS:

    Marcus, G. E. (1998). Ethnography through thick and thin. Princeton University Press

    Suchman, L. A. (1987). Plans and situated actions: The problem of human-machine communication. Cambridge university press

    Law, J. (2004). After Method: An Introduction. In After Method: Mess in Social Science Research (pp. 1-15). Routledge

    Marcus, George E. (1995). Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology 24, 95-117 LINK

    Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2012). ‘Nothing Comes Without its World’: Thinking with Care. The Sociological Review, 60(2), 197–216 LINK

    Jensen, C. B. (2010). Researching Partially Existing Objects: Ontologies for Developing Things. In Ontologies for Developing Things (pp. 19-29). Brill LINK

    5. Theoretical papers on the role of Ethnography in the context of HCI and HRI:

    Jacobs, A., Elprama, S. A., & Jewell, C. I. (2020). Evaluating human-robot interaction with ethnography. Human-Robot Interaction: Evaluation Methods and Their Standardization, 269-286

    6. On Qualitative Research:

    Robert Soden, Austin Toombs, and Michaelanne Thomas. 2024. Evaluating Interpretive Research in HCI. interactions 31, 1 (January - February 2024), 38–42 LINK