Shining a light on agency: Examining responses to resource constraints to uncover opportunities for design

Emma J. Rose
Robert Racadio

People employ creative ways to overcome the challenges of daily life. The construct of agency is a productive area of inquiry when considering how people respond to these challenges. Exploring moments of agency provides an embodied understanding of people’s motivations and helps reveal the structural and technological barriers they encounter every day. We propose a framework of agency and three corresponding categories: resourcefulness, resilience, and powerlessness. This framework was developed while working with data from two design ethnographies: one in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and the other in Seattle, Washington. In these settings, many people live with resource constraints, meaning they often have to make do or do without. Viewing structures through this analytic frame provides a mechanism to critique existing systems and provide design considerations for the future.