Mette Simonsen Abildgaard

Mette Simonsen Abildgaard is a postdoctoral researcher in the Techno-Anthropology research group at AAU, with a background in Comparative Literature and Modern Culture. She has recently finished a DFF-funded postdoc on the cultural appropriation of the telephone in Denmark from 1950-2000. She works on topics such as the design of telephone booths, the development of domestic telephone culture, and digital methods as cultural analysis. Broadly, her research interests include STS, the history of technology, Media Studies (especially radio) and Sound Studies.

Selected publications

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    Don't sit around and blab your mouth: The changing social structures of family life seen through accounting practices of 20th century landline telephony in Denmark

    The telephone belongs to a set of canonized technologies of modern life. Alongside the railroad, television and personal computers, it is a communication technology to which we attribute radical social change. However, despite being cast in this central role, research into the telephone's cultural history is modest. This is especially true in the case of landline telephony in the latter part of the 20th century. Although this period 'in-between' - after the technology's initial introduction, before mobile telephony - was not characterized by remarkable technological breakthroughs, it was here telephony was highly disseminated and established as part of everyday life in most households. With this presentation, we therefore ask how the changing socio-material infrastructures of the landline telephone has influenced the infrastructure of the everyday, particularly that of the family, between 1950 and 2000? By infrastructures, we refer broadly to physical infrastructures such as the installation of telephone lines into private homes, economic systems such as pricing and subscriptions, material artefacts such as telephones themselves, and social power structures such as gender and familial hierarchies. We pay particular attention to rules about telephone use as 'accounting practices': "notions of who lets who use what, of moral judgments of the other's activities, of the expression of needs and desires, of justifications and conflict, of separateness and mutuality" (Silverstone et al, 1992). Such accounting practices related to telephony are noteworthy because they are a way for users to officially demarcate the boundaries of that technology, and the process of continually setting and transgressing such boundaries provide insight into how changes in landline telephony have influenced power dynamics and decision-making processes in families. Theoretically, our understanding of socio-materiality and socio-technical systems relates to and draws on Domestication Theory (Silverstone et al, 1992), and Actor-Network Theory (Latour 2005, Mol 2002). The study builds on two kinds of material from Denmark. One is written sources such as archival documents, telephone company newsletters and statistics and official telephone company histories, the other is a series of semi-structured qualitative interviews with landline telephone users: 15 men and women between the age of 37 and 77 conducted at the Danish Post & Tele Museum (now Enigma Museum).

    Co-author: Lee Humphreys

    find the publication here

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    Five recent play dates

    An advantage of the playground metaphor is that it comes with the activity of going out on ‘play dates’ and developing friendships. In such playful relationships, there is always something at stake, but the interaction is also fun and inherently exploratory. In the following, we take a tour of five recent collaborative projects that the TANTlab has participated in. The projects differ widely and testify to different experiences with collaboration and intervention – from a data print on obesity with other researchers to a Facebook-driven intervention in Aalborg municipality’s primary school reform. Thus, we aim to illustrate what we mean by TANTlab as a techno-antropological playground.

    Co-authors: Andreas Birkbak, Torben Elgaard Jensen, Anders Koed Madsen, Anders Kristian Munk.

    find the publication here

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    Playgrounding Techno-Anthropology

    Since 2015, TANTlab has served as hub for experimentation with digital methods among the researchers in the Techno-Anthropology Research Group at the Department of Learning and Philosophy. TANTlab was founded on the basis of several years work on researching and teaching digital methods, not least for the bachelor and master programs in Techno-anthropology at AAU. At the same time, the lab was founded to facilitate a growing portfolio of collaborative relationships with non-university actors. TANTlab has adopted a deliberately playful attitude in this position between research, teaching and external cooperation - expressed in the slogan ‘the techno-antropological playground’.

    Co-authors: Andreas Birkbak, Torben Elgaard Jensen, Anders Koed Madsen, Anders Kristian Munk.

    find the publication here

See more publications


Why did you join the lab?

I basically take part of what happens in the lab to learn from and work with my colleagues and the collaboration partners we invite into the lab. I am interested in what questions other people ask of the material they work with and what tools they use to answer them – and maybe trough that bring new ideas to the issues I face in my own work. For instance, with my background in cultural studies/media studies, the establishment of vast archives of digitized audio-visual material has certainly opened up new possibilities for studying our cultural history, but I am still trying to figure out how we can produce relevant and specific analyses on such a large scale.


What do you do at the lab?

For me, the lab is an occasion to play with tools I I don’t usually use and issues that are new to me.  I do that through participation in data sprints and talks, which is also my way of supporting the lab as a much-appreciated place to meet and learn something new.


How did you get to call yourself a techno-anthropologist?

Back in 2006, I was studying Modern Culture and Cultural Communication and enrolled in a course called ‘Touching and being touched’ about the significance of ubiquitous computing for the contemporary culture, taught by Ulrik Ekman. I became entirely fascinated by digital art and notions such as ‘telepresence’, the sensation of technologically mediated presence from a distance. I returned to the idea of experience as co-constituted by technology some years later, as I was writing my PhD on the of the Danish youth radio program ‘P4 i P1’, and listened to the changing character of the intimate telephone conversations and answering machine messages from radio listeners. Perhaps then already proto-techno-anthropologist, I officially became part of the group of that name when I moved here to do a postdoc project on the cultural appropriation of the telephone in the late 20th century.


Associated organisations


The Techno-Anthropology Research Group

The Techno-Anthropology (TANT) group researches key processes of social and technical innovation that are critical to the challenges facing contemporary and future societies. Complicated societal issues are unlikely to be solved by technical fixes. We therefore believe that workable solutions and a responsible development of technology must build on the active consideration of social relations, the engagement of users, and an in-depth understanding of the complexities of technology-in-use.

Department of Learning and Philosophy

The Department of Learning and Philosophy operates on an interdisciplinary, cross-faculty basis. The mission of the Department is to do research, development and teaching in the areas of education, learning and philosophy, within the educational system as well as in public and private organisations.

The Faculty of Humanities 

Aalborg University Copenhagen


Department 10 - Department of Education, Learning and Philosophy
A.C. Meyers Vænge 15
Building: A, Room: 0
2450 København SV, DK

Phone: 9940 9955