Observers Observed: The Ethnographer in Silicon Valley

by Tamara Kneese on November 9, 2023

It is undeniably powerful to hear workers’ stories in their own words. Movements can emerge from the unlikeliest sources. The oral histories of ordinary workers are often seen as distinct from the memoirs of outsiders in tech, many of them women, who have written about their experiences. The latter range from Ellen Ullman’s 1990s memoir from the perspective of a woman software engineer to Anna Wiener’s viral essay and then monograph-length account, Uncanny Valley.

Elsewhere, I have written about the politics of collecting stories from the margins of Silicon Valley. I argue that the femme tech memoir, as an iteration of the personal essay genre, can be read alongside workers’ inquiry as a way of finding solidarity across job descriptions and positionalities. Workers’ inquiry combines research with organizing, allowing workers themselves to produce knowledge about their own circumstances and use it in their labor organizing. This seems especially vital in an industry where even short-term history is hard to access and most workers stay with specific companies or in particular roles for short stints. [click to continue…]