Research by members of the Ethnography Group can be grouped into a number of distinct, yet interwoven, research areas.
Collaborative and Collective Security Practices
Grounded in ethnography, this research area explores how (information) security is negotiated, shaped and practised within groups. Information security is here understood as a collaborative and collective endeavour, grounded in trust relations and shared security goals within groups; where security for the group is negotiated between group members and where individual security notions are shaped by those of the group as well as their social settings. Ethnography is uniquely placed to uncover such collaborative, collective and situated practices through extended field studies, driven by immersion and observation with and within the groups it aims to understand. It enables long-term explorations of, for example, what security looks and feels like for the groups under study. How security is experienced and voiced and how it is negotiated and shared between group members. How security technologies are used and for what purposes within groups. What security expectations are held within groups and how they manifest themselves.
Security at the Margins
This research area aims to explore and challenge security assumptions embedded in technology design and implementation. It engages the often `hidden’, under-represented and unvoiced communities not generally considered in the design of technology. This research area considers the approaches, notions and strategies of security and insecurity by, for example, refugees and migrants, single household families living in poverty, post-conflict populations, domestic workers, isolated and disconnected communities as they navigate digital technology and related security practices. As such, the margins are loosely defined and we understand them in cultural, economic, geographical, occupational, social terms.
Predictive Systems and ‘Networked Publics’
Members of the Ethnography Group employ ethnographic methods of inquiry in combination with social network analysis to explore and describe data-driven and ‘predictive’ systems employed by, for example, law enforcement, to bring to light the assumptions and practices underpinning such systems. More broadly, this research area explores surveillance practices and digital networks to unearth and understand information and data flows, connections and linkages, predictive and pre-emptive analytics and decision making within institutions.
Social Foundations of Cryptography
Information security studies if systems satisfy the security needs of those who depend on them. The fundamental technology to assure such systems is cryptography. It is thus foundational to ask if cryptography provides the security guarantees needed and what these are. Members of the Ethnography Group are pursuing these foundational questions by bringing cryptography and ethnography into conversation. Cryptographic security notions – and everything that depends on them – do not exist in a vacuum. While the immediate objects of cryptography are not social relations, it presumes and models them. Yet, this part of the definitional work has not received the same rigour from the cryptographic community as complexity-theoretic and mathematical questions. This research area focuses on remedying this situation by grounding cryptographic security notions in findings from ethnographic fieldwork in adversarial situations. As a point of departure, the work carried out in this research area considers large-scale urban protests to understand protesters’ security needs, practices and the technologies they rely upon. By bringing cryptographic security notions to the field, this research area provokes a series of security questions about, for example, confidentiality and anonymity in online and offline networks, trust relations and how to establish them, onboarding and authentication practices.