Stefana Broadbent

UCL London

I started my academic life as a developmental psychologist and a cognitive scientist studying first in Geneva in the Psychology Department of Jean Piaget and then in Edinburgh in the Centre for Cognitive Science. Since 1991, I have been doing research on emerging digital practices, which I have been looking through the lenses of distributed cognition and cognitive anthropology.

I carried out my ethnographic fieldwork not in remote geographical areas but in "exotic" workplaces. I have studied operators in Nuclear Power plants in France, Air Traffic Control centres in Europe and Flight Planning centres in a number of locations around the world. My object of study, for many years was the distribution of cognitive activities between individuals, artefacts and organisations. In these projects I was also working closely with engineers in the process of designing systems that created a balance between individuals, artefacts and their social environments.

With the widespread adoption of the Internet and mobile phones I shifted my focus onto the home. For the last 8 years I have been studying how information and communication technology has been embedded in homes, what are the practices that have emerged, and how are relationships entertained and mediated by the new media. I have carried out most of this research in Europe, looking at the physical transformations of private dwellings but also the transformation of public and institutional spaces as a consequence of the extension of the personal and intimate sphere outside of private spaces. On this topic I have written a book L'intimite au travail published in France in 2011 by FYP editions. In the revised version Internet Lavoro Vita Privata published in Italy in 2012 by Il Mulino Edizioni, I address another of the themes I am particularly interested in, which is the social nature of our attentional processes. In the chapter on Personal Communication in the recently published Digital Anthropology edited by Horst and Miller, I attempt to explain how our social expectations regarding attention giving and receiving, determine the choice of communication channels.

In my current research, I am going back to the workplace, because I believe that it is where the most interesting social and digital activities are being performed at the moment, and where we are witnessing the most radical transformations of the sense of selfhood and agency.