Dave Martin 1972-2016

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EM/CA researcher Dave Martin died unexpectedly on June 22nd 2016. Below is a short extract (reproduced with permission) from a very nice obituary from his colleagues at Xerox, followed by a few reminiscences from the wider EM/CA community. Feel free to add your own.

Dave Martin, who suddenly passed away on June 22nd, spent the greater part of his life studying the practices of people at work. How they collaborate with each other, how they communicate and what they do… all those little mundane things that, put together, constitute the fabric of a social system. Dave was an ethnographer, inherently interested in the tension between tools, progress and the reality of everyday life. In the field, we often refer to this work as unveiling the ‘unexpected obvious’. Dave constructed narratives of how people make sense of what they do, with the eye of the embedded observer, and as far as possible from any judgement. And there is nothing more powerful than a detailed description of reality. It allows us to construct a better future because it avoids the shortfalls made by those who have no real grasp of what it is like for others.

Dave obtained his PhD on “Ethnomethodology and Computer Systems Design: Interaction at the boundary of organisations” in the year 2000 from Manchester University. He then moved to join the Cooperative Systems Engineering Group at Lancaster University where he worked on the European Union project ‘COMIC’, focussed on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and the UK's Dependability Interdisciplinary Research Centre. Dave was very versatile and worked in a range of areas but perhaps his most significant interdisciplinary work was in how ethnographic methods could be used in the study of factors affecting the dependability of complex software systems. He notably developed a Handbook of Patterns of Cooperative Interaction. Dave also worked on studies of electronic health records, hospital management, e-banking and local government.

From Barry Brown:

One of the things I will remember about Dave was how enjoyable it was to spend time with him at conferences. You could always spend time with Dave chatting, without concern for the (sometimes frenzied) networking that was going on around us. And David produced some great academic work over the years - his ICSE paper back in 2007 on testing, and his 2008 study of colour matching practices were personal favourites. But he also wasn’t shy of the odd academic joke or two - I remember when we met for the first time we chatted about a draft paper I had sent him he remarked that maybe it would be "good for publication at British HCI"... a nice put down and an example of his sense of humour! Incredibly sad to hear of his passing — not only for losing a friend, but also for losing the senior troublemaker he was becoming.

From Stuart Reeves:

"That's ridiculous, you don't have representations in your brain!"

This, I think was one of the first things I remember Dave saying, perhaps at some conference, perhaps over a drink with a bunch of us at the end of a day of talks. It was a curious thing to say, I thought, but definitely an interesting thing. New to ethnomethodology and its 'practitioners', at the time I didn't really understand what he was saying or why he was saying it. But Dave's clear sense of the obviousness of his statement could be heard in his unconcealed incredulity. There was something I was missing! How could you say this with such certainty? What would warrant this position?

But what he said really stuck with me. Over time I understood more about where Dave was coming from, and why he would say this strange thing. I found out how what he said was embedded in rich vein of thinking: of Garfinkel, of Wittgenstein, and many others.

I kept remembering what he had said. It contributed to a kind of intellectual acid forming that steadily ate away at what was initially an entirely convincing, and quite reasonable account of human action that we find in cognitive science, both of the individual and the distributed kind. And certainly an account with a definite hereditary influence for HCI researcher---i.e., 'my people'.

I never got the chance to work on anything with Dave. But I'd bump into Dave every now and then, at a conference here or meeting there. And he kept on being interesting, strange, funny and thoughtful. I will miss those moments.