Before the idiot, the poet? Aesthetic figures and design 

The abstract for a forthcoming chapter, co-authored with Mike Michael, in the edited collection Design for more-than-human futures.

Abstract

This chapter introduces the aesthetic figure of the poet and considers how it can complement and combine with the conceptual persona of the idiot as a means to enhance the speculative in epistemic design practices. Employing a case study involving engagement with energy-demand reduction communities by way of a designed research device, the chapter considers how aesthetics invites questions around affect, feeling and the perceptible and how knowing and concomitant epistemic questions are prefaced by aesthetics. That is to say, what we know is always preceded by what we feel – that something must be felt before it can be known. Crucially, the chapter invokes a particular non-bifurcated, more-than-human understanding of aesthetics, drawing on A.N. Whitehead, where affect, experience and feeling are fundamental to the immanent becoming of all entities and phenomena and not simply the extraneous preserve of human actors. The chapter proposes that the role of the poet is to protest against the exclusion of such aesthetics from knowledge practices and elicit a speculative sensibility and attunement toward the possibilities of the production of existence and new aesthetic values, in this case involving design and experiments in living with energy, technology and the environment.

Doing and Undoing Post-Anthropocentric Design

And here’s the papers being presented in our session at DRS 2022.

  • Designing & Worlding: Prototyping equivocal encounters
    Pablo Hermansen, Martín Tironi
    Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile
  • Design beyond the human world of management and organizations: Towards a cosmology for the Anthropocene
    Emmanuel Bonnet1, Diego Landivar1, Alexandre Monnin1, Ulises Navarro Aguiar2
    1ESC Clermont Business School, France; 2HDK-Valand Academy of Art and Design, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Narrating Ecological Grief and Hope Through Reproduction and Translations
    Li Jönsson, Kristina Lindström
    Malmö University, Sweden
  • Making-with the environment through more-than-human design
    Berilsu Tarcan, Ida Nilstad Pettersen, Ferne Edwards
    NTNU, Norway
  • Shitty stories: Experimenting with probiotic participation through design
    Tau Lenskjold, Danielle Wilde
    SDU, Denmark
  • Why would I ever fry and eat my SCOBY? It would be like murder! – Attuning to nonhumans through kombucha fermentation practices
    Aybars Senyildiz1, Emilija Veselova2
    1Department of Design, Aalto University, Finland; 2 NODUS Sustainable Design Research Group, Department of Design, Aalto University, Finland

Doing and Undoing Post-Anthropocentric Design 

Below is the editorial for the DRS 2022 session Doing and Undoing Post-Anthropocentric Design.

Li Jönsson a, Martín Tironi b, Pablo Hermansen c, Alex Wilkie d  

Malmö University, School of Arts and Communication (K3)

b The School of Design, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile 

c The School of Design, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

d Goldsmiths, University of London

*Corresponding author e-mail: lijonsson@mau.se

This track is an invitation to travel and explore new paths for design framed by an ethics of more-than-human coexistence that breaks with the unsustainability installed in the designs that outfit, furnish and make possible our lives. Central to this discussion is the questioning of human-centered design approaches and the concomitant prioritization of human needs and requirements, discussed in many different ways throughout the papers of this track. In face of increasingly uncertain and bleak futures dominated by probabilistic logics of prediction, extraction and human exceptionalism, it is crucial for design to develop undisciplined and pluriversal approaches that allow ‘us’ to project common life alternatives and more livable futures. 

In his keynote lecture for the 2008 Design History Society conference, entitled ‘Networks of Design’, Bruno Latour (2008) introduces the titan Prometheus, who defaced the gods and gave fire to humanity, as a symbol of modernism for the design community. If the Greek titan inflamed progress by disruptive innovation, radically breaking the more-than-human order of the Gods – the opposite, namely, to design from within, mediating and negotiating in a careful and modest way, is to contest progress and its powers. To set the scene of this track, all the authors have in one way, or another tried to follow Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus agenda. Often depicted as the foolish brother, he was in fact the one giving each mortal creature the equipment it would need to live well, favoring reproduction over production, careful transformations over disruptive ones. To give a more vivid example of how this agenda is explored in the track, we want to point to a contribution where a sensitivity and care for what at first seems rather foolish and fatuous, attending to shit, can literally open up for ways of living better. In “Shitty stories: Experimenting with probiotic participation through design” the design researchers aim to explore probiotic participation in order to destabilize medical and human focused perspectives, allowing participants to create new relationships with their gut and gut microbiome. Here, we want to especially mention the way the authors also manage to analyze the apparent failure of the research in moving “towards more harmonious coexistence with the uncountable microscopic entities that inhabit our gut.” And when doing so, they surf the unexpected, celebrating what exceeded their research script. 

Etymologically, Prometheus emphasizes the ‘pro’, as in thinking and doing before, whereas Epimetheus emphasizes the ‘epi’, namely the thinking and doing after. In the discipline of design, techniques and practices such as prototyping, planning and experimenting in advance are commonplace. However, in light of current demands to critically rethink the ‘modern’, colonialist, and anthropocentric inheritance that resonates in design cultures; less known formats, where for example notions of ‘after’ and ‘undoing’ might be at play also need to be more considered. Such concerns are visible in a range of the papers in this track. In the contribution “Designing & Worlding -Prototyping Equivocal Encounters”’ this is made apparent as the prototypes literally get undone as they are carefully taken apart by the two chimpanzees Judy and Gombe. As argued by the authors, the “value of prototyping does not lay in the agreements reached or in the technical qualities of the artifact, but in the mistakes, problems, and destabilizing aspects that the prototyping process generated”. Judy and Gombes ‘de(con)struction’ of the artifacts can perhaps be seen as a sort of ‘dark ANT’, much in line with some of the ideas in the contribution “Design beyond the human world of management and organizations: Towards a cosmology for the Anthropocene”. Here the authors identify the differences between ‘constructability’, ‘unconstructability’ and ‘deconstructabality’ as proposal to de-project the world as we currently manage it. As the authors call for some sort of reverse engineering, or design adapted to the Anthropocene, this might be what we see described as a mode of affective relations in the next contribution to the track, “Narrating Ecological Grief and Hope Through Reproduction and Translations”. Influenced by plaster molding techniques used at a closed-down pottery, citizens are invited by the design researchers to reproduce and translate old animal and plant motifs into present circumstances, literally mapping some of the ruins of capitalism, such as loss of biodiversity onto plates. Thus, what we are confronted with is both the obligation for design practitioners to care for livable worlds fabricated out of the ruins and remains of the post-industrial and lost practices, as well as the demands to actively reflect on and explore the cosmologies implicated in constructing futures – perhaps here we can start to imagine pluralist design cosmologies. 

Clearly, what we are dramatizing are not only theoretical and methodological concerns, but also an ethical duty to critically rethink the modern, colonialist, and anthropocentric inheritance that resonates in and through design cultures. As the various contributions demonstrate, the track is situated in the contemporary discussion regarding how to rethink design from a post-anthropocentric and decolonial way of making, thinking, and feeling. As argued in “Making-with the Environment through More-than-Human Design” where traditional, indigenous, and local knowledges are at play, post-human theories function as an intruder to the current more mainstream design theories typically driven by human-centered perspectives. This is also figured in the contribution “Why would I ever fry and eat my SCOBY? It would be like murder! – Attuning to nonhumans through kombucha fermentation practices”, where the practice of kombucha fermentation support us in shedding light on our human-exceptionalist mindsets by symbiotic attuning to microbes, insisting on recognising nonhuman as actors in design processes, beyond relations of mastery and possession. Similar to all authors in this track, they share the need to interrupt what design has been doing from a modern-colonial epistemological matrix. 

References

Latour, B. (2008). A cautious Prometheus? A few steps toward a philosophy of design (with special attention to Peter Sloterdijk). In Proceedings of the 2008 annual international conference of the design history society (pp. 2-10). 

About the Authors:

Li Jönsson is Associate Senior Lecturer in Design Theory & Practice at Malmö University. Her work focuses on how design can open up for alternative ways of understanding, intervening, and expanding issues with a focus on more-than-human worlds.

Martin Tironi is Associate Professor at the School of Design, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. His research areas are anthropology of design, digital devices and technologies, and critical design. His work has been published in Design Studies, The British Journal of Sociology, Journal of Cultural Economy, Environment and Planning D, among others.

Pablo Hermansen is designer and Chair of Interaction Design at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He holds a doctorate in Architecture and Urban Studies from the same institution. He works on the role of photography in qualitative research and explores cosmopolitical prototyping and digitally augmented public and collective manifestations in the public space, as well as action research for public health.

Alex Wilkie is Reader in Design and Social Science (Goldsmiths). His interests combine STS, empirical philosophy and experimental practice-led design research. He is an editor of the Dis-positions series (Bristol University Press), Inventing the Social, Speculative Research and Studio Studies.

What worlds do workshops world?

I’m convening a conference track at DASTS (Danish Association for Science and Technology Studies) 2022 – The Politics of Technoscientific Futures – with Peter Danholt, Michael Guggenheim and Mike Michael entitled ‘What worlds do workshops world?’. The conference takes place in Aarhus between the 2nd and 3rd of June. Here’ the track description:

What worlds do workshops world?

Workshops are now commonplace. Workshops are employed in all manner of workplace settings and organisations involving knowledge, knowledge practices, ‘materials’, and world building (Bjerknes et al., 1987; Clegg et al., 2005; Ehn, 2008; Greenbaum & Kyng, 1991; Kallinikos, 2003; Simonsen, 2014; Simonsen et al., 2000; Suchman, 2002). Workshops can be informal: workshoppy ‘get togethers’ and sessions where, for instance, participants brainstorm, or they can be highly structured, planned and formalised, involving milestones and objectives. Historically, the workshop is a certain place of form giving, manufacture and construction such as the setting of an artisanal practice. By implication, we might point out that workshops work exactly due to their vague and pluralistic quality – they are productive due to their looseness and ambiguous quality, as in the case of the Zimbabwean bush-pump (de Laet & Mol, 2000). Workshops, however, are also consequential. In workshops, worlds can be raised: actors, artefacts, environments, technologies, concepts, speculations can be brought to life and may journey into other worlds or ‘the larger world’. Workshops, like laboratories, are places of environmental control and allow for testing. We may also appreciate the ‘event’’ character of the workshop and how it may enable us to build, and in turn be built, with other humans and non-humans – a space where what is shared may be very particular. A space where we can build worlds that span worlds. As such they manifest the possibility of shared worlds which can be made without being premised on universality and homogeneity. Workshop outcomes may have limited reach or just fail miserably, when subjected to trials offered by others and in other places. Furthermore, we may be critical and sceptical of what workshops do; what can be realised based just upon a loose set-up, some post-its and two pots of coffee.  

In this panel we are interested in exploring, analysing, testing and conceptualising the workshop in its manifold specificities. We are interested in ways of thinking about, relating to and critiquing the workshop, not to debunk it, but to test its possibilities. Given this, we are interested in the genealogy of the workshop: how it has changed, what it has become and why. We are also interested in typologies of different forms or modes of workshop. We want to explore and conceptualise the inventory, discourses and materials at work in workshops. We are interested in the workshop as a processual and performative event and as world-producing. We are interested in the spatial and temporal aspects of workshops and the ‘moments’, particularities and emergence that workshops mediate. We are interested in rich ethnographic accounts and conceptualizations of workshops and in experiments and speculations in relations to the workshop. We are interested in the workshop as fabrication, as parasitism, as science, as practice, as assemblage, as…?

Some of the questions we intend to engage involve:

• What is being made and unmade in workshops?
• What is being cared for?
• What worlds do workshops world?
• What tools are and can be used to workshop and how do they shape the outcome?
• How, and to whom, are workshops accountable?
• How do workshops differ from laboratories and experiments, and studios?
• What ‘overflows’ from workshop, what are their boundaries and limitations?

References

Bjerknes, G., Ehn, P., & Kyng, M. (1987). Computers and democracy: A Scandinavian challenge. Avebury.

Clegg, S. R., Kornberger, M., & Rhodes, C. (2005). Learning/Becoming/Organizing. Organization12(2), 147–167. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508405051186

de Laet, M., & Mol, A. (2000). The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology. Social Studies of Science30, 225–263. https://doi.org/10.1177/030631200030002002

Ehn, P. (2008). Participation in design things. Proceedings of the Tenth Anniversary Conference on Participatory Design 2008, 92–101.

Greenbaum, J., & Kyng, M. (1991). Design at work: Cooperative design of computer systems. L. Erlbaum Associates.

Kallinikos, J. (2003). Work, Human Agency and Organizational Forms: An Anatomy of Fragmentation. Organization Studies24(4), 595–618. https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840603024004005

Simonsen, J. (Ed.). (2014). Situated design methods. The MIT Press.

Simonsen, J., Kensing, F., & Bødker, K. (2000). Professionel IT forundersøgelse: Grundlaget for bæredygtige IT-anvendelser. Forlaget Samfundslitteratur.

Suchman, L. A. (2002). Practice-Based Design of Information Systems: Notes from the Hyperdeveloped World. The Information Society18(2), 139–144. https://doi.org/10.1080/01972240290075066