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Stories about Silicon Roundabout

[Allow me to introduce Georgina Voss! She’s based with us over the summer, doing a study of the Old St area. If you’re in the area, it would be super helpful if she could meet you too. Read what she has to say then get in contact. -Matt]

So this is like the first day at school for me, complete with new bright orange backpack – finding out where people go at lunchtimes, which groups hang out where, and what makes this different from other schools.

But to back up a bit. I’m a researcher from Brighton, an ethnographer with an interest in the in creative industries, communities and user activities. I’ve just arrived at Old Street this morning for a project on the place itself. There’s a growing cluster of tech, new media and design firms around here, which the denizens have playfully called Silicon Roundabout after its Californian big brother. The aim is to carry out an ethnography of the social world of Silicon Roundabout: where it came from, how it operates, where people go and what they do, what does it mean to work in a place like this? AnnaLee Saxenian did something very similar with her work on the rise of Silicon Valley and decline of Route 128 in the late 1980s (published as Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128). Using an ethnographic approach to examine the culture of the two places, Saxenian uncovered the casual communities and networks in California which cut across the formal boundaries of firms. Compared to the more hierarchical and rigid social structures and histories of Route 128 in Massachusetts, people working in the start-ups of the Valley were able to share and develop ideas more easily.

And this is what is interesting here: what stories and histories are there to tell about Silicon Roundabout? Hi-tech clusters are nothing new – in the UK alone there we have Silicon Fen (Cambridge). Silicon Beach (Brighton) and Silicon Glen (the Central Belt triangle in Scotland). But there aren’t any narratives about the culture and norms around the Roundabout, and it’d be pretty fascinating to dig into this. Matt at S&W is interested too, so he’s given me a desk and space on the blog through the summer – and here I am.

But I need help! What I’m doing is observational fieldwork, and that means meeting people and chatting and hanging out and observing. It would be ace to meet people who work around here (and further afield too) – chats over coffee, cake or beer would be great. I’ll be here 2-3 days a week, in the daytime and the evening too. At the moment I’m with the boys in Schulze & Webb (battling with the wireless on my prehistoric laptop, eating homemade biscuits). Whilst I’m being hosted by them throughout the project, it would also be very useful to spend time with other companies on the Roundabout too, from between a few days to a couple of weeks. You can get hold of me at if you’re interested – it would be very splendid to hear from folks.

(Some background on me. I like researching, writing and teaching about outlaw innovation, the creative industries, communities, technology histories, user activities, gender and sexuality, and ethics. I finished my PhD in 2008 – the thesis was on how the North American online adult entertainment industry innovated around technologies, and whether their stigmatized status affected what they did. If you like I can tell you more when we have coffee.)

5 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. molly said on 28 May 2009...

    Welcome Georgina — you’re sure to have a vibrant, productive and entertaining summer.

    I have a question for you about the narratives — it seems to me that Silicon Roundabout very clearly produced its own narratives. I’m thinking of the media it generated within five days of its naming, the very link you provide, the back-and-forth on Twitter, the images shared on Flickr, the gatherings of people on the Moo/Dopplr roof. Wouldn’t these count as narratives? The community around Old Street is newer than what AnnaLee Saxenian wrote about — and print publications and academic narratives tend to take a lot longer to get published — but the narrative surrounding the people in Silicon Roundabout go back 15 years.

    Very curious to hear what you’ll find. I hope to cross paths with you this summer when I’m in London.

  • 2. Imran Ali said on 29 July 2009...

    There’s a similar unsurfaced history of the web sector in Leeds, particularly around the worlds of Freeserve, Ananova and France Telecom…I’d love to hear more about your methodology and see if we can run a smaller scale study here….and of course to learn your findings and observations about Old Street :)

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