Redesigning PECE Founder Interview Notes - Kim Fortun


Kim in onboarding role - people completely new to PECE and style of collaboration. People are excited, but now they have to learn the system. There are tutorials & Kim’s written up specific guidelines (need to be updated - ensure everything lives on GitHub - something Kim can point to for others to learn). 


Project scale, architecture and interface - difficult to link to things as a body of work

PECE page within PECE platform - links to 12 projects, some with “better” project architecture than others


Horrified and amused - Asthma files - no links to projects bc later realized a “project layer” was needed


Platform - individual projects individual and collective - doorways into all these different projects

Slider on some (Disaster etc.) you can click through to individual projects

Project page as content site - explain what types of things you might need when developing a project page

Strength - you can go deep


COVID-19 - lines of work focused on places, some on different questions, some integrative questions. Challenge: helping people see how to track between things. RN have a way of clicking to go to the “front” of the project - hierarchy?

Have to do the groundwork before you know what the questions are. If you jump to the high level questions you’re just going to repeat banalities - you’ll speak in dominant terms if you go to those questions first. So how do you go from lots of empirical annotations to some kind of interpretation of what’s happening on an epochal or systemic level? Maybe having different questions at different levels? But can’t export questions into other annotations, which might help


How is this collaborative, what does it mean for everyone to put their questions in and take it up a level?

Kim: Need to focus on shifting norms and constructs on what’s acceptable - who lives, who dies, what we’re obligated to do / is nobody’s responsibility. Disaster literature, fed gov’t had no responsibility for people under duress, so that had to be created. Do we have responsibilities to the most vulnerable? Now there’s more acknowledgement of the nasty (biased) side of this, but is that going to get us anywhere as the discursive terrain shifts? It’s not going to be one thing, it’ll be a whole bunch of needlepoint things. Need to be looking in all these directions. Whatever people are looking at, where have there been disputes over the type of data used to characterize the problem, the interpretation of the problem, where are there contestations over what’s going on? Not the at the end of the day question, but it’s on our way to the question that might be what’s happening with energy vulnerability, how is mutual aid being supported. 


With the PECE platform and other projects, ethnography / interpretive research have many different questions at many different levels of abstraction on the way to where we’re going. NSF workshop on digital infrastructure, data crawlers to go through Shakespeare to a historian that said “my data analysis is I sit in a coffee shop and I stare at this stuff on my computer and then I know what my interpretation is.” Refused more detail. PECE is more like what he does, but overtly expressed. He probably goes through those levels of questions, but they’re mangled and tacit rather than “Exposed.” In order to support them in PECE we have to expose them - separate out what you’re doing, set up a workflow. That circles back to supporting collaboration because the rewarding part of PECE bring in junior researchers, they can’t jump through / create those questions themselves. But if you expose them, they can have a room of their own, you’re just telling them where it is. Work of figuring out how to expose the workflow of interpretive research. Lillypads to stand on in the projects. Visible, usable workflow and interface. Deeply tied to the challenge of making a tacit tradition of knowledge production more expressed and exposed


Use PECE to experience a workflow, scaffolding the levels of question / abstraction that guides you toward doing interpretive research. Nothing currently exists.

Another example - 20 engineering undergrads, transportation / health / environment / education and how they went together. Easily parse people out. They didn't know what we wanted to know. With a little scaffolding, they brought stuff back that we wouldn’t have seen because they know community standards. Their eyes were trained differently and we benefited. Want to use PECE for more interdisciplinary work (sciences or engineering). Wouldn’t be that different than this project, not a place where they’d be doing their own work, but seeing qualitatively with the eyes of a chemist or whatever. 


Data integration - you can integrate data in a computational model and that’s one way (with a lot of limits). If you could ask the same questions in a qualitative mode, it would be like a computer model but with different valences limits and restraints. Different type of data integration. 


Leverage different sets of eyes (“kaleidoscopic” - see something one way, spin the dial and see it configured another way). Different appreciation for that in lots of different fields. Via the analytic, see the data in different ways - but is the analytic the end? Is that how we present the research? Does it flow from there to a PECE essay? Part of the problem is that the knowledge produced by a system like PECE, you have to force it to be a knowledge claim (as though it settles down) because it’s so dynamic. Whatever the knowledge endpoint is, how can we most effectively visualize, represent, share - don’t know. Experimenting with channeling into the PECE essay. On purpose trying to invent new knowledge forms between new knowledge practices. 



Digital affordances. Introduction to a book - Bhopal has a super simple structure - fieldwork, argument, analysis. Looked at a bunch of intros and decided, what was an intro? Had more free play within the structure if you’re not cryptic about what’s going on inside. Narrate a more complicated text if I was just super straight up in the intro. That’s the double bind in PECE - when really familiar structure (like how you lay out the three columns of an essay) gives you more flexibility because you’re not trying to figure out which way is up. Still haven’t completely settled on a project page design that works consistently across projects, which might be because the projects are different, or because we never got it right in the first place so always unhappy with it. Mostly the latter - tried to, on mobile, columns scroll - tried always ordering it such that it would resolve logically on a phone. Some buttons can be on the end so you can see them on the phone, but you can’t have too much at the top, but on the main page it looks best to have “about” at the front and middle - flow. 


Multidimensionality of PECE projects - what all needs to go on a project page? Versions of PECE essays that are just about reading sets of literature. Tim - using color coding to indicate what type of essay it is. You want the literature material to be available across projects - clearly should be open for sharing across projects. Using color to signify project specific v. questions that cut across projects in the platform. Visualizing TP - 5 questions, 2 project specific, others about modes of visualization, modes of collaboration, modes of installation. Moving to gallery shows. These are enduring questions for CFE outside of this project. When we do a project on visualization next year, want to build on the base of the project we build on this year and last year. Should be able to add a question to someone else’s analytic - why wouldn’t you be able to? The original author of the question, the question isn’t proprietary, maybe you’re restricted from seeing their answer but seeing the answers to those questions give you a lot of material to work with. Things that encourage people to build off the work of others and get down into the weeds. 


When you see peoples examples and interpretations along the way of your own work, it’s incredibly generative and creative making. Different than a nice article that animates your thinking, it’s like that but in a more nano-moment kind of way. Literally seeing different things (dress). Makes you want to go find the equivalent for your own argument - letting people lay things side by side. Juxtopositional thinking - unlikely things and comparing. Not a positivist process - not trying to get the “right” reading of what I’m doing, trying to draw out an understanding of a phenomena in a way that I can share with someone else. Not the only drawing out that could happen.


How is meaning made via trade in memes (Lucy’s story) - certain theory of language, that wouldn’t be meaningful because you’re not transferring meaning, you’re putting a kind of biller ball in effect. Poststructural theory of language suggests that that’s how language works at its best - having meaning emerge. Not wanting so much structure that you inhibit this vitality of language use. 


History of experimental writing in ethnography so that the text performs in a “meme” kind of way. You can’t just argue it in standard academic prose - how do leverage digital textuality to do that (reminds me of MIke’s visuals). Poetics and anthropology, language emerged in the late 80s - George Marcus, why he’s interested in PECE. Have to sit there with him and really walk him through it. But he’s super invested and thinks it’s this important thing. Quickly went the way toward stream of consciousness, poetic that meant no structure. Poststructuralism as a theory teaches you there’s no such thing as no structure. What structure is underlying it- how do you move between structure and unstructure as a way to animate the meaning-making field is of theoretical interest. Didn’t build PECE to do that technically, but now that we’re involved, learned all too quickly that that was at stake. Lindsay comes from fuzzier side of AI and information systems - brought in a language for that that met at the poststructural door. People interested in writing have little interest in animated textuality - see it as technical and not interesting discursively, Kim learned to work in PECE to think of it as a text with all the structure / lack of structure a text needs. How do you move a person through a text is not a given - it’s a design aspect of a project. 


Dissertation sketch - How does the text move the reader? What is point A and B, what are the waymarkers along there. Planning your chapter architecture as these lillypads that move a reader through, maybe not linearly, but knowing that the reader moves through. PECE needs to get to a point where (it wouldn’t be standardized because you don’t move people through ethnography in the same way) but become skilled at that question inside of PECE frame or architecture. 


Trying to use “the project” to “tame the beast,” bounding a text but that’s the last thing you want to do, that’s why you’re operating in digital space. In academic legibility, needs a timestamp. PECE affords a very open-ended project. How do you both timestamp it so that it’s an academic thing (not just promotion but for citation). Angela built installation about STS in Africa before 4S. Continuing to work on it, the next year did a project within that that dug deeper. Worked OK to say that the iHUB is embedded in STS Africa, still a distinct project that was a stub and became its own thing. What should the citation be? Automated production of a citation w/ persistent identifier. 


How does that work bc things can be everywhere else? Metadata and backstory? Literalness of encouraging borrowing. The Scream - made it as a lithograph so that it could be widely copied. Painted several different ways, remixed, want something like that, rather than where “it’s mine and precious,” but need an attribution record. Don’t want an audit culture where someone feels like if they dotted an i they should get their name on it. Creative culture that needs to be maintained.


Kim open google group with some of these subthreads. This is a whole thing in itself. 30 things that we need to have serious conversation about - how do you cite? Attribution? Remixing? Navigation? Process of all of us working on it, project by design. Environmental justice, students use canvas to answer questions, use those from others to write new responses / questions, not revolutionary but wanted students to work together. Couldn’t believe that they could go use someone elses work. “Isn’t that cheating?” We’ve socialized people not to build off each other’s work. If that’s all we accomplished was the sense that it’s OK and good and you get a buzz from it because you’re not starting from scratch, if your classmate did it badly then you’re irritated in a way thats’s worse than a grade. All of this pushes pressure points on a propertied sense of knowledge - “it’s mine, I did it all by myself.” Even putting a timestamp on setting it down and using at a publication date - play the game of academic legibility, but we’re in the game of doing something really different. Constant double bind. 

Kim’s academic review file, first time presented PECE and all the platforms as scholarly products. Tried to do it in a way that Lindsay, others will want to use them as part of our scholarly record. How should we put them on our CV so they become academic things? For each PECE software, listed all the versions that have been released in the review period (2 years). All publication dates in a sense. On the platforms, listed the date the platform was published - not incredibly meaningful. Dates on projects - totally made up. Started trying to figure out how to represent PECE work in the standard format. Don’t list publications you list products. Emphasize that PECE is peer-reviewed. Got more eyes on it along the way than most academic publications bc it’s collaborative. Sense of “not peer reviewed” - ??? zillions of users. Setting up external review system that’s run on one of the journal systems to run reviews of PECE, platforms, things in projects, to use an already validated review system - know that it will take some years to make PECE-like things legible as peer-reviewed products. 


Kim wants us to look and see how things are cited for them to borrow from (software etc.)



Us think about what we’d like to do with it that’s good for our intellectual / professional work / presentation. Make it a playspace for us too. Collaborative writing about it for publication - very open. 


Getting people to explain the difference between what different people do in the project.



  • “Contradictions of structure”

    • Structure can generate creativity, no structure is still structure. Be aware of what you’re limiting and why (like powerpoint/middleware reference)

    • Easy to get lost in what you’re doing, things get down deep - lots of clicks

  • Basic usability

    • Can’t tell what’s clickable

    • Project homepage

    • Sort of a template/suggestions 

    • Carousel homepage to show what projects are on that instance 

    • Ease of use / learnability (currently with tutorials)

      • Facilitate people jumping in for small parts - don’t make it feel like you have to “take on the whole” (compared to Mike - committing to making a solid argument)

      • Broad issue of access vs complexity and expertise

  • Discoverability

    • Mapping / seeing links between projects and items

  • Collaboration

    • Collaborate in a shared space, don’t all have to be doing the same thing - leveraging diverse sets of eyes and expertise

    • Create a space of community that’s not the classic shared project where everyone is walking side by side, but where people are running in all different directions

    • Communities of practice - using PECE as a way of introducing different communities (students, other community members) to interpretive research

    • People “running in different directions” and using those alternate directions to engender new research questions of your own

  • Incorporating non-interpretive research academics to the research process

    • Validating interpretive research methods for non-interpretive audiences

    • Educating new interpretive research scholars

    • Accessing more diverse collaborators

    • Workflow made visible; scaffolding

  • Personalized landing page - what would it look like?

    • Dashboard where the question is waiting for you - don’t have to go in through the project page and do a million things. 

    • [and maybe your artifacts!!]

  • Allow questions to shift as you go along - different signals in the storm - strengthen collaboration to tolerate what everyone is seeing rather than have a dominant view

    • Structural problems for digital infrastructure

    • Kaleidoscopic - prompt different visualizations of data and questions

    • Meme - blue gold dress inspiration

    • Billiard balls - energize the field not just pass football from person a to b

    • Distinction between questions at the primary data level and project level

  • Publication

    • Where are the bounds, when you take away the bounds of a text publication?

    • Citation (again) and remixing

    • How to legitimate - Peer Review?

    • Settling enough to put a date on it so others can cite it

    • Living-ness of it - updates??? Version control; Reverse of NYT linking issue

  • Archiving

    • Civic archiving - how can we infrastructure civic action?

    • Patient PECE - Learning to advocate for yourself in an anthropological way

    • Lawsuit

Broader academic research interests:

  • Fix the problems with academia more broadly:

    • Discoverability (like Memex, difficulty of finding things on the internet)

    • Credit / ownership, but also remixing 

      • The Scream

      • Are questions currency? Acknowledgements? Something else?

      • What counts as theory- what’s worth citing?


Creative Commons Licence


Contributed date

December 16, 2020 - 10:00pm

Critical Commentary

These are notes supplementing the interview conducted by Lucy Pei and Hillary Abraham of Kim Fortun on April 14th, 2020 as part of the Redesigning PECE project. The audio recording of the interview can be found here.

Cite as

Anonymous, "Redesigning PECE Founder Interview Notes - Kim Fortun", contributed by Hillary Abraham and Lucy Pei, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 16 December 2020, accessed 24 September 2021.