David B. Martin
Research is inherently about the future. By examining the present, we imagine and try to shape a better tomorrow. If this is the nature of all research, it is even more so when the subject of study is people.
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.
When Dave joined the team here in 2006 he helped to establish a strong ethnomethodological team, following the British approach to ethnography. In his role as senior computer scientist he contributed to a number of award winning projects in areas of technical support, the paperless office and privacy at the boundaries of work and private life. His recent work was focussed on studies of crowdworkers, where he challenged the mainstream approach embedded in microtask platforms of “workers as machines” and suggested the need, based on the evidence of his studies, for fair and established work relationships, even in low skilled work.
Dave was curious about pretty much everything, and was scrupulous in doing what all technologists should do, which is understand where technology fits in society. Dave was erudite in philosophy, economics, politics and all the disciplines that help us better understand times of change and transition. His passion and breadth of knowledge were shared well beyond the Centre. Dave was committed to contributing to the entire community of Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Human Computer Interaction. He constantly juggled multiple engagements between his research, publications, conferences, guest workshops, editorial boards and seminars. The last event he took part in at Oxford University was an interdisciplinary debate on socio-digital practices of collective action, a theme close to his heart. Dave was also recently engaged as co-chair of the ECSCW 2017 conference.
We will never forget Dave’s dedication and inspiration. His studies will be pursued and his memory kept alive.