Dis-positions: Troubling Methods and Theory in STS

Together with Mike Michael, I have been commissioned by Bristol University Press to devise, develop and edit a new STS focussed book series entitled ‘Dis-positions: Troubling Methods and Theory in STS‘.

Here’s the series description from BUP:

“Series editors: Mike Michael, University of Exeter and Alex Wilkie, Goldsmiths, University of London

Emerging through the intersections of sociology, anthropology, history and philosophy, the field of science and technology studies (STS) is undergoing pivotal shifts in how it imagines and engages with ‘the social’ and the question of ‘societies’.

Traditionally, authors have asked questions about the nature of science, technology and knowledge production and how they shape, and are shaped by, social processes. However, the field is becoming highly diversified, having been shaped by empirical, theoretical and methodological developments, such as climate change, computational technologies, and posthumanism.

Turning the mirror on STS, Dis-positions is a pioneering new book series that explores these changes in the discipline. It will occupy a unique position in the field as a platform for adventurous projects that redraw the disciplinary boundaries of STS.

Across the series, innovative conceptual frameworks will be extended, novel fields of inquiry will be identified and elaborated, and inventive methodological practices will be fostered and illustrated.

Authors will be encouraged to address live debates at theoretical, methodological and empirical levels, drawing on and interrogating developments in other academic fields such as geography, philosophy, and design. In other words, the series will welcome the new “dis-positions” entering into, disturbing and repatterning the field of STS.   

The series will provide a consolidated, rigorous and proactive space through which creative and critical new perspectives in STS and beyond can find a voice. 

The series will include: 

  • new modes of STS: posthuman, post-colonial, affective and aesthetic;
  • disciplinary intersections: interdisciplinary, experimental, practice-oriented;
  • methodological inventions: speculative, engaged, entangled, sociomaterial;
  • empirical novelty: emergent technoscientific innovations, reformulations of the ordinary;
  • theoretical developments: speculative, process and pluralistic thought; novel extensions of assemblage and practice theories; the turn to affect; post-performativity, reflexivity and interventions.”

Re-thinking And Experimenting With Participatory Research Practices And Design Through The Speculative And Ontological Turn

Alongside Peter Danholt (Aarhus University) I’m running a session at the 4S Annual Meeting ‘Good Relations: Practices and Methods in Unequal and Uncertain Worlds’. The session is entitled ‘Re-thinking And Experimenting With Participatory Research Practices And Design Through The Speculative And Ontological Turn‘ and here’s the session description.

What can design practices, engagement and participation become if we assume multiple ontologies, radical difference and pluralism? What happens, for instance, if established conceptions and rationalities of design and participatory research practices are exposed to a multinaturalist Amerindian ontology that implies that those with whom we study and engage see the world in the same way as we do only from different bodies? (de Castro, 1998; 2004) So, instead of inhabiting the same world, but having multiple cultures, we inhabit different worlds, but have the same culture. So, for instance in such an ontology what the designer, may see as a technological tool to aid the practice, may for the practice not be a tool, but a work load. Multinaturalism implies that we cannot take for granted a shared world and this entail that we must work harder practically and conceptually to come to inhabit the ontology of the other – and potentially invent and construct common worlds.

In accordance with the speculative and ontological turn(s), this session invites papers that speculate and experiment with such ideas and consider the consequences for design and participatory research practices (Heywood, n.d.; Jensen, 2010; Martin & Heil, 1999; Mol, 2002; Pickering, 2017; Wilkie et al., 2017). The overall ambition with such speculations and experiments is to explore and enable thinking, researching and acting differently: the care for the possible this entails and the commitment to taking seriously the production of existence and knowledges that might take place as part of participatory research practices.

The ontological and speculative turn entails the appreciation of worlds as constructed through interwoven material and conceptual practices and implies the dissolution of both nature/culture and cognitive/material oppositions. The work of Marilyn Strathern, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Bruno Latour, Annemarie Mol and Isabelle Stengers is central to the ontological turn and has proposed concepts such as dividualism, praxiography and multinaturalism (ibid). According to de Castro the ontological turn defamiliarizes and de-colonialises modernist and western ontological presumptions about nature-culture, human-non-human divisions. And as both de Castro and Jon Bialecki argue the ontological turn should not be taken – as some might read it – as a critique of one failed ontology (the western) and its replacement with another (say an ontology of sociomaterial interwovenness), since this would just be yet another modernist move. The point is, rather, and in line in with Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987: 28) empirical transcendentalism, to “overthrow ontology” altogether.

de Castro, E. (1998). Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 4(3), 469–488.
De Castro, E. V. (2004). Exchanging Perspective: The Transformation of Objects into Subjects in Amerindian Ontologies. Common Knowledge, 10(3), 463–484.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Univ of Minnesota Press.
Heywood, P. (n.d.). Ontological Turn, The. . . ISSN, 12.
Jensen, C. B. (2010). Ontologies for Developing Things: Making Health Care Futures Through Technology. Sense Publishers.
Martin, C. B., & Heil, J. (1999). The ontological turn. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 23(1), 34–60.
Mol, A. (2002). The body multiple: Ontology in medical practice. Duke University Press.
Pickering, A. (2017). The Ontological Turn: Taking Different Worlds Seriously. Social Analysis, 61(2). https://doi.org/10.3167/sa.2017.610209
Wilkie, A., Savransky, M., & Rosengarten, M. (Eds.). (2017). Speculative research: The lure of possible futures. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Contact: pdanholt@cc.au.dk
Keywords: Ontological turn, Speculation, Multinaturalism, Design, Participatory research

Adventures in Aesthetics: Rethinking Aesthetics Beyond the Bifurcation of Nature

A 2020 online workshop organised by
Melanie Sehgal & Alex Wilkie

Click here for the workshop programme.

Thursday 25th June: 14:00 – 17:00
Friday 26th June: 14:00 – 17:00
Tuesday 30th June: 14:00 – 17:00
Wednesday 1st July: 14:00 – 17:00

with contributions by
Heather Davis
Matthew Fuller
Nicholas Gaskill
Andrew Goffey
Michael Guggenheim
Maximilian Haas
Michael Halewood
Cécile Malaspina
Mike Michael
Marsha Rosengarten
Martin Savransky
Melanie Sehgal
Alex Wilkie

Why Adventures in Aesthetics

Since the 18th century and the event of modern science, the nature of aesthetics, aesthetic practices and the habits of thinking about aesthetics have, by and large, mirrored the ordering of science founded on the bifurcation of nature. Whereas science and scientific practice has forcefully mobilized itself around ‘bare nature’ independent of ‘culture’ and the ‘social’, aesthetic thinking has also colluded in this opposition, concerning itself with the experiencing subject, perception and artistic expression.

Recently, however, the question of the aesthetic has begun to proliferate in unexpected areas of inquiry wholly ignoring these modern bifurcations. In times of anthropogenic climate change and mass extinction on the one hand, and increased dependency on ‘technoscientific’ deliverance on the other, Alfred North Whitehead’s (2004 [1920]) diagnosis of the bifurcation of nature seems to receive a new pertinence and urgency. New ways of thinking about and doing aesthetics as a more-than-human realm open up the very real and concrete possibility that aesthetic processes and capacities are not the preserve of privileged human actors – such as artists, architects, designers and their audiences or users – nor do they simply concern the beautiful and the sublime. Although philosophers of science, notably Isabelle Stengers and Bruno Latour, have taken up the challenges posed by the bifurcation of nature and its implications for understanding and thinking with scientific practices and knowledge production, less attention has been payed to its corollary for aesthetic practices and processes.

Meanwhile, in the face of new cosmological possibilities and cosmopolitics (Stengers 2005) engendered by epochal propositions, such as the Anthropocene (Crutzen 2002), Capitalocene (Moore 2015) or Chthulucene (Haraway 2015), there is a demand for new ways of thinking and feeling, new knowledge and aesthetic practices beyond the bifurcation of nature that engendered modern science and its aesthetic mirror image. The proposition of this workshop, then, is to imagine ways of addressing this demand and explore, or gamble, on the prospect that aesthetics might be thought and practiced differently, and, in so doing, acknowledge the historicities of thought that have sought a different image of aesthetics. Thus, we might wager that today aesthetics – rather than ontology or ethics – should be placed at the centre of philosophical as well as social and cultural experimentation and that aesthetics should be recognised as the primary manner of care and concern for the world.

Hence, far from criticizing aesthetics at large or suggesting that, by being irredeemably marked by the bifurcation of nature, the realm of the aesthetic has become superfluous, this workshop seeks to inquire into the importance and scope of a ‘new aesthetic paradigm’ as Felix Guattari (1995) envisioned it: not confined to a special realm of society but rather as transversally cutting across every domain of experience and “placed on the manner of being” (ibid. 109). However tentative and speculative such a task might remain, it derives its importance from the fact that changing not only modern habits of thought but also those of feeling and perceiving today has become an urgent task. We might, then, wager that today – when the limits of the framework of western modernity have become clearly palpable in multiple areas of experience – there is a particular import in placing aesthetics at the centre of experimentation in knowledge practices. Hence, this interdisciplinary workshop, sets out to explore this wager by considering the following propositions:

  • How might a wider idea of aesthetics (and anaesthetics) manifest today and how might it be appreciated in knowledge practices? What images of thought does it make possible? What does the move from neutrality, objectivity and facts to an aesthetic constructivism make possible?
  • How to account for the aesthetic (and anaesthetic) nature of current knowledge practices? What roles does the aesthetic play in knowledge practices not conventionally associated with it (e.g. sciences and social sciences)?
  • If a new aesthetic paradigm designates a production of existence that concerns the capacity of entities to feel, how might we detect new modes of ‘being affected’ in the world and how do we as knowledge practitioners respond?
  • How does a generalized notion of aesthetics relate to historically prior and/or non-western ways of conceiving of the aesthetic? Can we learn from these to refigure western habits of thought?
  • What repercussions does such an aesthetic paradigm have on existing aesthetic practices as well as the philosophical discipline called aesthetics?

Crutzen, P. J. 2002. Geology of mankind. Nature,
415(6867), 23.
Guattari, F. 1995. Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm. Indiana University Press.
Haraway, D. 2015. Anthropocene, capitalocene, plantationocene, chthulucene: Making kin. Environmental humanities, 6(1), 159-165.
Moore, J. W. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. Verso Books.
Stengers, I. 2005. The Cosmopolitical Proposal. In: Latour, B. and Weibel, P. eds. Making things public. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 994-1003.
Whitehead, A. N. 1933 [1967]. Adventures of ideas. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Whitehead, A. N. 2004 [1920]. The concept of nature. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Inventing the Social published by Mattering Press

The edited volume ‘Inventing the Social‘ edited by Noortje Marres, Michael Guggenheim and myself has been published by Mattering Press. The book “showcases recent efforts to develop new ways of knowing society that combine social research with creative practice. With contributions from leading figures in sociology, architecture, geography, design, anthropology, and digital media, the book provides practical and conceptual pointers on how to move beyond the customary distinctions between knowledge and art, and on how to connect the doing, researching and making of social life in potentially new ways.

Presenting concrete projects with a creative approach to researching social life as well as reflections on the wider contexts from which these projects emerge, this collection shows how collaboration across social science, digital media and the arts opens up timely alternatives to narrow, instrumentalist proposals that seek to engineer behaviour and to design community from scratch. To invent the social is to recognise that social life is always already creative in itself and to take this as a starting point for developing different ways of combining representation and intervention in social life.”

Inventing the Social contains contributions by Nerea Calvillo, Bernd Kräftner, Judith Kröll, Christian Nold, Mike Michael, Andrés Jaque, Nigel Clark, Fabian Muniesa, Martin Savransky, Marsha Rosengarten, Carolin Gerlitz, Christopher M. Kelty and Lucy Kimbell as well as Noortje Marres, Michael Guggenheim and myself.

Energy Babble book published by Mattering Press

The book ‘Energy Babble‘, authored by Andy Boucher, Bill Gaver, Tobie Kerridge, Mike Michael, Liliana Ovalle, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, and myself, has been published by Mattering Press. The book tells “the story of a set of computational devices called Energy Babbles. The product of a collaboration between designers and STS researchers, Energy Babbles are like automated talk radios obsessed with energy. Synthesised voices, punctuated by occasional jingles, recount energy policy announcements, remarks about energy conservation made on social media, information about current energy demand and production, and comments entered by other Babble users.”