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Human Values and Digital Work: An Ethnographic Study of Device Paradigm

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/02/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number1
Number of pages31
Pages (from-to)27-57
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date14/06/19
<mark>Original language</mark>English


I examine Albert Borgmann’s concept of device paradigm as a way to underscore the significance of human values in one’s engagement with digital work in an organizational setting. Device paradigm explains the pervasive patterns of everyday engagement with information technologies as devices that facilitate prosperity without burden and efforts and, in so doing, can downplay the human values in practices. Although prior research has highlighted the significance of focal things and practices, much remains to be learned about the role of human values in contemporary everyday engagement with digital technologies. Drawing on a critical ethnography of everyday practices at an information technology firm (approximately 300 employees), I apply the critical social theory of Borgmann to analyze how digital work is firmly anchored in human values, and how device paradigm can be used as a critical lens to examine the contemporary everyday engagement with information technology. The study reveals that digital devices can have focal aspects and everyday places can be seen as focal places. Focal things are firmly grounded in focal places, which facilitate the emergence of focal practices. Ethnographers are encouraged to explore values in the field (held by people) as well as values of the field (attached to the places).