Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

I am in Delhi for the week (mostly with family obligations), but I was able to sneak away for a few hours this afternoon (less time than I hoped) to visit the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, also home to innovative programs likeSarai and IM4Change.

I have been trying to get in touch with them for a few weeks, ever since a collaborator recommended I visit, and it was well worth the trip. I knew about their Hindawi project (which was one of the first attempts to localize the computer experience (specifically, RedHat, because open source meant possible to modify), and that they have a library of social science research.

When I got off the Delhi Metro and walked to their building, I found myself in a quiet area of Delhi. The complex is unassuming and not very guarded (how different from the experience of visiting more high-tech offices). I simply walked in and was taken quickly to the office of the one person I knew a name for, Mr. Ravikant (from the Sarai program). We had an interesting conversation about the Hindawi project and his studies of movies in Indian society, and then I headed off to the library.

The library is about 6 rooms packed with books, and when I arrived also hosted an art exhibit that took over much of the main room (and cut it in half, literally, via a diagonally placed window pane). Despite the whimsy of the room-sized exhibit, the mood in the room was rather serious. The library was run by an older man working on his PhD who pointed me at the room where I might find books on health and sustainability. I had less than an hour to explore it, so I moved quickly to pick out the most relevant books. I came downstairs, arms loaded, and was greeted by a frown and the information that I should be only picking up 4-5 books at a time. Undaunted, I started working my way through my finds only to learn 30 minutes later that the library was closing 15 minutes earlier than advertised.

In the end, I had time only to write down the references for the most interesting books, skim 2 or 3 of them, copy a few quotes, snap photos of a few pages, and so on. The collection was truly unique, with many books published in India or even self-published. I fear I will not be able to find many of these anywhere else. I end this post with a smattering of what I found.

After leaving the library, I ended up walking home beside a member of CSDS who works on media and journalism. His work attempts to translate information needed to improve the accuracy of indian journalism, and we had a long and interesting conversation about localization and stereotypes during my metro ride home (we overlapped for quite a ways). We had a very interesting conversation about his work on IM4Change and indian society overall. We talked about the difficulties I am having in developing an intuition for “india” and the fact that one reason for this is the diversity of who india is and where it is going — this requires a form of localized thinking that echoes the need to think at the individual level in assistive technology. It is not easy to hold on to both the specifics of one environment/context and also the generalities of a whole (and very diverse) set of societies/country. One interesting insight I gained from the conversation is to think about in what ways (and how universally) scarcity defines Indians. Overall, the visit was a reminder that I need to further immerse myself in Indian culture, especially rural culture, if I am to have anything useful to say about those settings. As we’ve learned in HCI, each user is unique. Similarly, in India, each locality is unique (there are 17 languages and over 800 dialects here, just to give a sense of the diversity of different regions across India). While good HCI eventually comes to conclusions that can generalize across users, it is often very effective to first get to know specific users very well. This becomes even more important when the user is foreign to the designer. I don’t know if I’ll get there in my short time here, but at least I have a sense of the road I need to travel now.

Relating to Sustainability:

ML Dantwala (1996). Dillema’s of Growth: The Indian Experience. Sage publications: Looked at agricultural policy; rural development. one chapter concerned with the adoption of high yield seeds.

Conservation for Productive Agriculture. published by the “Publications and Information Division; Indian Council of Agricultural Research; New Delhi. Ed: V.L. Chopra; T.N. Khoshoo: Articles contributed by scientists worldwide. Chapter on water conservation (#7, p. 98)  discusses india’s vast water resources

Rabindranath Mukhopadhyay (1999). Growth of Indian Agriculture: A study of spatial variation. Classical Publishing: Abridged doctoral dissertation. Statistics oriented

Mahmood Mamdani (1972) The Myth of Population Control: Family, Caste and Class in an Indian Village. Monthly Review Press, New York.

B. K. Pradhan, M. R. Saluja, S. K. Singh. Social Accounting Matrix (SAM) for India: Concepts, Construction and Applications. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Detailed modeling (input out put, and SAM ) for workers in india, exploring gender differences, etc.

Sumi Krishna (1996). Environmental Politics: People’s Lives and Development Choices. Sage Publications: Very nicely focused on India and environmentalism. Suggests at the end “Perhaps it is environmentalism that we need to redirect” Raises 4 areas of concern. “First, the environmentalist approach to a range of interlinked inequities, such as gender, caste, and class, seems to be limited because many environmentalists, despite their varied approaches, actually share ‘ideological roots’ with the very paradigms that are sought  to be changed” (e.g. “ecofeminism restricts women just as patriarchal systems do” … “Second, environmentalists have been largely unconcerned with the mechanics of establishing the decentralized institutions (like panchaayats) necessary to achieve sustainability. Centralised environmental management prgorammes … can have little chance of success, if they are conceived by administrators and technocrats, who may themselves be insensitive to the people in the environment … Third, the recognition that commercialization and market forces have a powerful corroding effect on the natural resource base does not mean that we should sentimentalize the traditional interaction of communities with their local environment. … the question is of choice and control – who determines the course of change? and of anticipating the consequences of change. And fourth, environmentalists have had little idea of how to create the necessary ‘value-orientation’. Values operate through interests. The strength of the environmental movement … mobilizing people who do not face an imminent threat is a much more difficult task … how can we build a base of shared values?”

Forests, Environment and tribal economy. Deforestation, impoverishment, and marginalisation in orissa. W. Farnandes, G. Menon, P. Viegas. Indian social institute, tribes of india series.  1988.  Looks at tribes and forests. Tribal traditions, causes of deforestation, consequences, official solutions (10) devolpemnt progammes and people’s solutions (11). Complements agarwal?

D. R. Sha (1985). An economic analysis of co-operative dairy farming in Gujarat.  Somaiya Publicatinos LTD:  Analysis of a specific market economy in gujarat…


Human Development Report  Uttar Pradesh — Lots of status on health spending & so on. Get the same for AP?

Tribal Health: Socio-Cultural Dimensions (1986). Edited Buddhadeb Chaudhuri. Inter-India Publications, New Delhi: Goes into great depth about medical anthropology in india. has a whole section on interaction of traditional and modern medical practices. Ch. 26 (p.  311- 321) deals specifically with the conflict between traditional medicine and a western program that was implemented, and how these interacted. “This study depicts the failure of state government health programs in motivating the Santals, whereas the health programs initiated through Sriniketan influenced the Santals in a positive way” (no surprise here!). In general the chapters in this book are short.

Sheila Zurbrigg (1984) Rakku’s Story: Structures of ill-health and the source of change. Printed by George Joseph, on behalf of the author! She is a canadian doctor. Sems to be an ethnography, very interesting if I can get it. Available from Centre fro social action, gundappa BLock, 64 Peme Gowda Rd. Bangalore, 560 006 or Sheila Zurbrigg, 1120 the parkway, london, ontario, n6a 2×3 canada.  Talks about the medical model of health and the fact that social factors (food distribution & access for example) have much more impact on overall health than individual disease, and in fact were responsible for improvements in world health before the germ model was even developed.

Om Parkash Sharma (2000). Rural Health and Medical Care in India (A sociological Study).  Manak Publications Study of the “modern healthcare system” in india, focuses on Uttar Pradesh.

J. P. Naik (1977). An alternative system of health care service in india: Some proposals. Allied Publishers Private Limited.

Meera Chatterjee, 1988. Implementing health policy. Manohar,  Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Policy focused. Looks at community participation in health care (chapter 5) and the role of the private voluntary health sector (6) spreading primary health technology (7). Life without food? (8).

Not specific to India:

Andrew Jamison. The making of Green Knowledge: Environmental Politics and Cultural Transformation. Cambridge University Press 2001. Not specific to India, but very interesting. Looks at the dilemmas of activism in  chapter 6 p. 147-176

Eco-Phenomonenology: Back to the earth itself. Edited by Charles S. Brown and Ted Toadvine. State University of NY Press. Also not specific to india. Has a chapter on Heiddigger 😛

Ecology, Politics & Violent Conflict. Mohamed Suliman (Ed).  ZED Books, 1998.  International perspective on conflict driven by environmental issues.

Isomäki (r.) and Gandhi (m.) (2004). The book of trees. Other India Press. Global look at trees, written and published in india. seems more manual than introspection.

Triangulating health content

Fitting together @_boris, Flickr
Fitting together @_boris, Flickr

Ever since completing my study of individuals with chronic lyme disease [1], I have been working on (and working out) ideas around several tools that I believe can improve the online experience of patients looking for information relevant to their condition. One of the surprising findings of our study was the extent to which the people we spoke with (most of whom had become experts in searching for information relating to their illness) triangulated data before trusting it. This goal of triangulating data was not just an individual act, but also a social one. For example, one participant reported how forum members  were reminded to provide multiple types of evidence for new information,

even regular posters, if they post about something that’s a little outside the [minority model] mainstream… they will say, ‘Do you have any studies to back that up? … why is that true for you?’

while multiple participants compared the type of evidence they were getting from different resources. We also found that people placed different amounts of trust in personal reports and research studies (some participants trusted one more, others trusted the other more), and that this was influenced in part by what they believed about their condition. All of this points to the importance of exposing information about where different viewpoints are found (across types of resources), helping people to judge the trustworthiness of online resources, and helping people to identify different types of resources when searching for information.

Unfortunately, I have struggled to find students who want to work on theses sorts of tools (perhaps a topic for another post), and our work has not proceeded as quickly as I would have liked. However, I was very pleased when a former student pointed me at the new site, Medify, which explicitly links research studies, personal reporting. Their page for Lyme Disease (or any other condition you care to search for) is a great example of how one might support triangulation. They link directly to studies about the conditions, list institutions, related conditions, and top treatments. They also include a patient community for sharing search results and discussing them. It’s great to see these things juxtaposed, and made so accessible (in terms of presentation). However, it would be nice to seem them take the next step and integrate patient-generated evidence and opinion into their presentation of information about conditions, treatments and so on.

[1] Jennifer Mankoff, Kateryna Kuksenok, Sara Kiesler, Jennifer A. Rode, Kelly Waldman (2011). Competing online viewpoints and models of chronic illness CHI ’11, pp. 589-598.

Health and Sustainability

Although much of this blog has been about travel, I also want to use it to take the opportunity to write about how my trip is influencing my research. I came to India hoping to explore two topics that are already a focus of my research. Although the funding fell through for one, and the class I had hoped to was vetoed (limiting one path to exploring the other), I am still hoping to learn something about both.

My first locale-specific research goal was centered on health care decision making. In the U.S. I begin a project exploring how individuals with a chronic disease cope with differing opinions on how to treat a condition that is (primarily) in their own hands. We focused this work on Lyme disease, and discovered that patients were shifting across two conflicting models of care over time, and that this process took place online. Our work (still in a U.S. context) also showed that patients developed a resistance identity during their shift from one model to the other.

India is an ideal place to take up this thread of research further. It is a country in which multiple models of medicine exist. In speaking with people here, the list they mention includes, at a minimum: Ayurvedic, Unani, English (Western Medicine), Naturopathy and Homeopathy. The different methods do not seem to overlap much. For example, when attending a first aid class, the discussion was entirely focused on western medicine. In contrast, the Ayurvedic doctor I took my daughter to when she had a high fever used almost not artifacts common to western medicine (not even a thermometer). Yet people I speak with seem to mix and match from across multiple models of care as they see fit. I would like to understand how and when people chose among them, and how this might differ across regions of India and different socio-demographic categories. I am currently reading the ethnography “No Aging in India” [1], which explores what happens to elders in a country where the responsibility of the family for elders is no longer a given. I would particularly like to understand how the differences in the social context of healthcare as well as the differences in what options a person chooses might affect the success of technological interventions such as those that some NGOs use to bring health care to rural communities.

My second locale-specific research goal is centered on sustainability. I have taken the opportunity to read quite widely on the topic in the last few months, touching on such diverse topics as economics (such as dematerialization [2]), futures studies [3] and biodiversity [4]). From these readings and ongoing thought I have developed a perspective on sustainability that argues for the value of information technologies in exploring a very broad set of issues from education to politics, in a culturally-relevant (but globally-focused) way. However, none of these readings is all that helpful in integrating the experience of being in a developing country into my understanding of sustainability.

For this I must better understand the experience of living in India, again across both regions and socio-economic classes. My personal experience is one of a country that is more careful with energy than the west (every plug, for every appliance and wall element has a switch off, for example, and is switched off if not in use). Among the upper class, high-tech individuals I have come to know, sustainability and environmentalism are common, and very important. In helping with a clean up of a local natural preserve, I witnessed the organizers pledge the students who came to help them to continue taking care of their natural environment. In Agarwal’s study of forestry management in rural India [5], environmentality (as he calls it) develops only through personal involvement by individuals and in fact is affected negatively by governmental involvement of the wrong kind. Even assuming universal environmentality within India, the question still remains: what is the right future for India (and for each of the countries in the developing world)? How in the world do we move forward, continue to develop, and simultaneous address the climate crisis? If we put aside the simplistic assumption that developing countries should somehow not develop, the alternative must be a leapfrogging of the most egregious technologies used in recent history in the first world, combined perhaps with a designed recent ion of cultural elements that enable a more sustainable lived experience.

While my prescription for success is grand, as we often say in research, the devil is in the details. And I cannot speak to the details with what I know yet, I am hoping that some of the nascent collaborations I am developing here, combined with user research, will create a beginning.

[1] Cohen, L. (2000). No aging in India: Alzheimers, the bad family, and other modern things. University of California Press.

[2] Luzzati T. (2001). [PDF] Growth theory and the environment: How to include matter without making it really matter. In Salvadori, N., The Theory of Economic Growth: A Classical Perspective.

[3] Bell, W. (2003). Foundations of Futures Studies: Human science for a new era: History purposes and knowledge (volume 1). Transaction Publishers.

[4] Pimm, S. L., Russell, G. J., Gittleman, J. L. & Brooks, T. M. (1995). The future of biodiversity. Science269(5222):347-350

[5] Agrawal, A. (2004). Environmentality: Community, intimate government, and the making of environmental subjects in Kumaon, India. Current Anthropology, 46(2):161-190.

Visit to China

Getting anywhere required photos since we could not pronounce or write the language
Getting anywhere required photos since we could not pronounce or write the language

We began our two weeks in China on the outskirts of the city of Xi’an. China came across to me as much more western (in terms of cleanliness, architecture, goods for sale, fashion, and so on) than India does. However, it is also clearly an ancient country with a rich and very different culture from the West. One big difference was immediately obvious on arriving in China: Unlike every other country I’ve visited in recent memory, English was not going to be of much use. Since I couldn’t read the writing, this meant that a great deal of preparation was required, something I don’t excel at with travel. Luckily, we had a printout with the hotel name on it, and were able to procure a taxi (though we were charged twice the normal rate, we later learned). Later in the trip we would discover that Taxi drivers mostly didn’t like us — one time Anind was forced to hail 42 cabs before one took pite on him and brought him home.

Our hotel in Xi’an was situated near a mountain near a natural hot spring, among fields of ripe pomegranates. The hotel had a spa, with 40 or 50 separate stone pools of hot water containing diverse “soup” and “tea” concoctions such as lemon, cucumber, aloe, jasmine, carrots, marbles, and many I

Pomegranates ripening
Pomegranates ripening

could not recognize spread out among peaceful walkways surrounded by greenery, flowers, and ripening fruit. Unlike spas in the US, this one welcomed children (for free), and had a special larger pool intended for a play space. The kids loved the spa, and we spent several half days bathing in pools,
playing, resting on hot stones (heated from underneath), and eating snacks at the spa’s small snack house. Afterwards, we would go to the hotel’s excellent restaurant and fill ourselves with delicious chinese specialties. Since it was raining most of the time we were in Xi’an, this was a perfect way to pass our first few days in China.

In between spa visits, we also did some sightseeing. We spent a half day in Xi’an, biking around the top of the city’s large old wall. We also had the unexpected opportunity to view a concert in the city’s bell tower, where women danced to the sound of traditional chinese instruments. The instruments included bells, a flute, a bowed single string, and a plucked string instrument. The children were entranced. We also spent half a day at the Terra Cotta warriors, tromping from building to building in the pouring rain to see one of the greatest archeological finds of the last century. The detailed carvings of the warriors and their sheer number were both impressive.

Steep steps (but not as long as our biggest climb!)
Steep steps (but not as long as our biggest climb!)

After about four days in Xi’an we headed by overnight train (always an adventure) to Beijing. Our goal there was to attend parts of the Ubicomp 2011 conference, but we also had a great deal of sightseeing planned. These plans were waylaid in part because every one of us got the flu, one after another, during this trip (ending with my husband having it on the flight home). However, as there were a few days where no one was sick, we still managed to do some sight seeing.

My favorite thing by far was the great wall of china. We went to the MuTianYu section of the wall. Our driver encouraged us to arrive there early (it was over a 1 hour drive), so at 7:30, when the shops were just opening, we found ourselves eating freshly made dumplings for breakfast at the base of the wall. I somehow never realized this, but the wall is built along the peaks of a mountain chain, so we had to take a cable car up to the wall itself. We were the only people on the wall for the first few hours of our hike, which made it a very special, peaceful experience. We had intended to walk toward the flatter section of the wall and head down after an hour or two, but the children saw the wall rise along the side of a a nearby mountain through the mist in the other direction and insisted that they wanted to scale that peak. After passing turret after turret, we finally reached the section of

What a view! We have to travel to the end of the visible wall and beyond to get home.
What a view! We have to travel to the end of the visible wall and beyond to get home.
Looking back over the mountains
Looking back over the mountains

the wall that rose to the peak, and we worked our way up the stairs. My son was especially brave, alternating between hugging the ground and forcing past his fear of heights to scale the next few steps. At times, when we encountered stairs that were especially steep, he clung to my back, eyes closed, as I walked up (or, earlier in the walk, down them). The view from the top was beautiful, as was the sense of accomplishment that we all felt. Amazingly, my son had no trouble at all going back down, his fear conquered by his own success. Following this, we retraced the route and began to walk toward our original goal. My daughter ended up scraping her knee and we carried her much of this way. Finally, we reached the way down: A toboggan with a brake lever and room for one adult/child combination that traveled down a metal track to the bottom. We ended with more dumplings for lunch, and a purchase of the obligate tourist trinkets.

Carved ramp in the Forbidden City
Carved ramp in the Forbidden City

Although the wall was my favorite, we did see some other beautiful sights. We spent a day wandering around the Forbidden City (prelude: A bicycle rickshaw ride and an attempt to change the price from 6 yuan to 600 yuan at the end of it!), followed by the notorious 42 taxi refusals and a visit to one of the top acrobatics companies in China. The feats we saw on stage were impressive, including bike acrobatics, a ballet dancer who danced point upon the shoulders and arms of her partner, tumblers, balancing acts, juggling of balls by foot, and more. We also visited the summer palace, during the evening reception of Ubicomp, which included a series of performances, including a sampling of the Beijing Opera and a mask dance that ended with firebreathing.

More bike magic Bowl dance

We topped off the trip with a special visit to the musical instrument sales district of Beijing, promised to my son who was missing having a cello. We took a 45 minute taxi ride to an obscure section of Beijing, and found ourself on a street filled with stringed instruments of all kinds, both western instruments (cello, violin, even viola) and traditional chinese instruments (a ceramic type of whistle with finger holes, a reeded bamboo instrument with a drone and fingered section called a Hulusi, a bowed string instrument, and more). Our first goal being a cello, we stopped at the first store that had child-sized instruments and I encouraged my son to try more than one. It was an eye-opening experience for him to compare the sound and feel of more than one instrument and see how much they differed. However, the price was high and the instruments out of town and badly made, so we kept looking. We quickly discovered that the highest quality instruments (both traditional and western) were found at shops where skilled musician played music to attract customers and display their wares. One shop even specialized in baroque instruments, including an (unfortunately out of tune) 6-stringed Arpeggione, which they let me try. In the end we settled on a beautiful, well-made 1/4-sized cello with a nice sound, and a Hulusi for my daughter. After a comedic visit to about 10 banks with no success in retrieving money, we ended up having to go back to the hotel and purchase the instruments the following day.

In the end, our time in China, despite having many “wasted” hours waiting out sickness in hotel room, was a wonderful success. In between spa visits, we were lucky to enjoy much music, acrobatics, and dancing. We ate a huge variety of food in dinners both in Xi’An, at our hotel in Beijing, and thanks to the conference at two separate conference events. We saw palaces, nature, and city walls. We bought blatantly overpriced tourist tchochkas, paintings, and even a chess set. And to top it off, I had the opportunity to attend a conference I rarely can (though I often submit to it and read its papers). The day I spent at Ubicomp 2011 was intellectually stimulating and full of wonderful discussions with friends and colleagues.