SIGCHI at 40: a Manifesto for Togetherness in HCI
The Special Interest Group for Human Computer Interaction (SIGCHI) of the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM) was founded in 1983 – 40 years ago. The SIGCHI leadership issues a call to participation for an Interactions Magazine Issue celebrating this anniversary. They called for essays on the theme of Prevailing. This was our collective answer. The essay was not published, but we still wanted to share this call for togetherness in HCI as we are about to host our sixth CHIversity events.
CHIversity, a portemanteau for CHI and diversity, is an initiative launched at the CHI conference in 2018 by the FempowerTech collective. It sought to address inequalities and oppressions not just in the world we study, but also within the human-computer interaction community—our—community. CHIversity began as a way to raise awareness about obstacles to participation for people who have been marginalized within the conference, and to create inclusive and welcoming spaces for those needing them. We began by creating spaces without alcohol, less noisy and structured around low-stakes craft activities. At the time, the name ‘CHIversity’ was deemed controversial: Conference organisers were concerned that this community-led effort would be seen as a part of the official conference programme. It was seen as a “too” critical undertaking, that people were unable to place within the common canon of CHI. While eventually CHI welcomed a Critical Computing and Sustainability subcommittee, critique often remains framed as counterproductive, as uncomfortably standing in the way of finding solutions.
CHIversity was born out of concerns that have no easy fixes. Participating in the academic HCI community requires access to resources, and working within the accepted HCI canon. Scholars and practitioners from marginalised communities are therefore pushed and kept in the margins twofold: Firstly, they do not have the resources to remain, participate and thrive in HCI research. Secondly, their work is often deemed too specific–and not universal and generalisable enough–for a non-WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, And Democratic) population.
The question then is: How do we prevail as a discipline that only recently allows critique? And how do we prevail within the discipline? Not just individually but as a community; creating the kind of spaces we wish we could have encountered earlier in our academic journeys.
Prevailing as a discipline requires working while ‘sitting in-between chairs,’ in-between disciplines. For research on justice and feminism, we may have the tools to engage with the consequences of technologies, while borrowing our theoretical frameworks established elsewhere. To be useful, this research needs to span outside of HCI itself, even as we are also trying to prevail within the field.
Prevailing within the discipline brings another set of challenges. For our research topics, perspectives and continued existence within the field often requires creating not only the right venues for it to be published (e.g., workshops, SIGs, panels, as well as papers and sessions), but to continuously fight off erasure. This includes issues of citational injustice, assertions about limits to a ‘science’ of HCI, implicit and explicit dismissal of work that is not US-specific.
This scholarship also leads to many of us getting involved in shaping processes and protocols as volunteer organisers, committee members, conferences allies and doing our best to bring about change. This academic service may be rewarded in some ways, in the community at large with service awards, and with our employers as a promotion rubric. That shouldn’t let us forget the effort often falls disproportionately on minorities, chipping away at the time they spend on other aspects of academic work. It is also only the tip of the iceberg. On a day to day basis, prevailing together demands the slow work of building solidarity. This takes many forms: QueerSIG’s mentorship scheme, AccessSIGCHI’s work towards accountability around accessibility, or in our own experience, just holding a space, online and free to access, for support with the situations we face with our employers, within academica, within HCI.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started in early 2020, potluck events usually held in person by the FempowerTech organisers transitioned online. Since early 2020, we have held a digital tea time every week for an hour, bringing together folks of various levels of seniority, across time zones, academia and industry, of diverse genders and abilities. What may have started as a way to meet with colleagues evolved into a time of the week to share the highs and lows, offer support and joyful news to those needing it, eventually becoming a base for collective action. This is where we met after the news broke of a history of widespread sexual abuse in SIGCHI conferences in 2021, to find community, and discuss what was in our power to do. This is where we met when a leak revealed plans in the US to repeal Roe v Wade while CHI was held in a state that would wipe out access to healthcare for women.
While writing this piece, we debated how to name this set of practices we’d like to see supported by the community at large. Prevailing as a discipline and within-discipline only works through, with and by people. At its very core, this means working towards creating CHI in ways that make community possible. Networking comes to mind and this is one aspect, but this is really about organising and championing marginalised voices. SIGCHI could support smaller workshop events free or at a low cost, distinct from conferences and their geographical constraints, to include people from under-resourced colleges, universities, casts, and countries. Smaller events and communities have the advantage to allow for exploring ideas, the messiness of formulating a position on issues with and within the discipline, to be heard and to be seen.
We should go beyond networks and networking, to focus on discovering and strengthening our membership in one another, sharing the heartwork of continuously recreating CHI as a shared community, discipline, and field. We invite you to join us in these small and large acts of prevailing together.
Would you like to support this effort? Please reach out to us! SIGCHI has a development fund to support new initiatives.
Co-authors in alphabetical order: Émeline Brulé (University of Sussex, email@example.com), Michael Muller (IBM Research, firstname.lastname@example.org), Velvet Spors (Tampere University, email@example.com), Angelika Strohmayer (Northumbria University)