Staging complexity

[Published originally in xcol, an ethnographic inventory]

In contrast with more conventional approaches to the uses of theatre for the public engagement with science and technology (e.g. pedagogical approaches to science communication), contemporary forms of participatory, community, interactive or digital theatre have also served as relevant arenas for projects searching to activate publics through agonistic and complex encounters with contemporary technoscientific issues. This was the case of Enacting Innovation, a participatory performance by Judith Igelsböck & Friedrich Kirschner together with Sarah Buser, Tomás Montes Massa, Mónica Rikić, Leoni Voegelin, and Laura Zoelzer, featured in the Ars Electronica Festival, Linz (Austria, September 2020). The performance was, in itself, the crystallisation of a dialogue between social scientists and theatre professionals working in the vicinity of STS in which, rather than breaking down complexity and mobilising consensus around picky issues, its immersive, evocative and open-ended game mechanics and audiovisuals seek to ‘stage complexity’ and, with it, the paradoxes of otherwise repetitive innovation scripts.

Since the very inception of the social sciences, theatre has always been a relevant area of inspiration: an analytic concern perhaps taking centre-stage in the ground-breaking work of Erving Goffman’s (1956) understanding of social interaction or Kenneth Burke’s (1969) grammar of motives. Indeed, this dramaturgical metaphor has been of great inspiration for STS works exploring peculiar scenographies, such as the ‘theatres of proof’ of scientific work (Shapin & Schaffer, 1985), or technological ‘demonstrations’ (Rosental, 2014) where technoscience is publicly staged; but also, it has been one allowing to capture the importance of a wide variety of more or less invisible mediators articulating the everyday stages of the social (Pinch, 2010).

Also, theatre has been deployed as a medium for science communication. Beyond usages for the public understanding of science, dramaturgical and scenographic techniques have also become a relevant arena for STS experiments in public engagement: Famed recent examples of this might be the attempts of Frédérique Aït-Touati & Bruno Latour (2018) in narrating the drama of the Anthropocene in plays or staged lectures, as well as drawing from theatrical elements to articulate participatory devices with delegates in the Théâtre des Négociations at Paris’s 2015 COP21.[1] But one can also see a similar vibe in the very interesting and exploratory scenographies or, in their terms, ‘incubations’ devised by the Centre for Shared Incompetence (Guggenheim, Kräftner & Kröll, 2018) to elicit puzzling conversations in a wide variety of technoscientific arenas.

I had the opportunity to encounter another interesting example of this kind in the first week of September 2020. Then, the otherwise bucolic forest campus of the Johannes Kepler Universität (JKU) in Linz was punctuated not just by the usual brutalist architecture of its buildings, but by a chorus of odd mechanical whizzes and whirling sounds, interactive smoke clouds or strangely welcoming synthetic voices. For several days the otherwise idle ducks of its central pond welcomed an unusual audience of mask-wearing interactive artists, IT amateurs and developers, curious neighbours and culture aficionados as the university hosted the internationally acclaimed Ars Electronica festival. The festival, together with the Ars Electronica Center, have made Linz a relevant European and worldwide hotspot of explorations at the science-art nexus.

Although in this COVID edition the festival was rather put to the test of avoiding turning into a ‘pandemic’ hotspot, reducing numbers and transitioning from the usual industrial, hangar-like ambience of its previous incarnations–full of indoors installations across the city–into a mostly outdoors programme, appositely named In Kepler’s Gardens. The festival also had a small indoor programme, one of its main attractions being the projects curated by the LIT (Linz Institute of Technology): mostly consisting of science communication endeavours showcasing the university’s research through public understanding of science and deliberative approaches, with some ventures into more speculative, evocative, and puzzling participatory experiments.

Figure 1. JKU’s Learning Centre.

Amongst them, I happened to accompany as a side-observer the process of implementing and staging one of them: Enacting Innovation, a participatory performance by Judith Igelsböck & Friedrich Kirschner together with Sarah Buser, Tomás Montes Massa, Mónica Rikić, Leoni Voegelin, and Laura Zoelzer. This was an interesting collaboration between researchers in the department of Organization at the JKU working on the study of ‘innovation scripts’, and dramaturgs and scenographers of the renowned University of Performing Arts ‘Ernst Busch’ in Berlin, with a vested interest in participatory simulations and theatrical interventions using a wide variety of digital elements, ranging from graphic representation to augmented reality.

The main attempt of the team–as they repeated endlessly in each of the very few stagings of the project throughout the days of the festival as well as in more recent instantiations (Igelsböck & Kirschner, 2021)–was to create a performative play drawing on and expanding Judith Igelsböck’s research on the innovation scripts displayed by Upper Austrian companies, organisations and cultural agents. Her research as an STS scholar had highlighted the insistent repetitiveness in the concepts, spaces, modalities and approaches to innovation. The play wanted to expound on the paradox of the protocolised and formalised attempts at managing creativity and innovation, also displaying an interesting reflexive approach to the very procedures of making the participatory performance.

From its onset, the performance was affected at its core by the festival’s hygiene concept, mandating hydroalcoholic gel cleaning, physical distance, reduced numbers and visits by appointment using a rather strict one-way-only walking route in the interior spaces of the Learning Centre of the university, where all LIT projects were to be shown. As a result, the team had conceived the performance using four distinct stages, each of which needed to be accessed with a steep ladder. All stages were equipped with screens, where different games were to be played by individual participants. Players were drawn to imagine that they were working in a rather abstract corporation dealing with a mostly ‘empty’ signifier: the thing being produced or processed always absent from any consideration and dealt with a panoply of chart flows or metrics, and elusive organisational jargon.

Figure 2. Enacting innovation’s four stages

Hence, they were being recruited to take part in different areas (each of them having one station or stage), namely: an organisational management department, having to literally ‘inject’ innovative approaches in the corporation, connecting teams and projects (with a dry graphic interface of cards that needed to be connected to others so that different effects could start happening within the organisation); a human resources department, supervising and recruiting the right teams for the right projects (with a graphic interface showing a pool of standardised individuals running across the screen who displayed specific quantitative characteristics when touched); and a team of visionaries, exploring different innovative scenarios for the company (with a graphic adventure type of interface, in which the player could discover different territories for the company’s projects with the appropriate team).

Figure 3. Detail of the team of visionaries station ( left), with its screen and the camera-based whiteboard communication system (right).

Despite the overall silo effect of the stages–each of them having completely different graphic interfaces and game mechanics–, things were interconnected in at least two senses: (a) implicitly and rather inadvertently by the players, via the complex looping effects the actions in one game could have on another; and (b) explicitly and involving the players, via a cumbersome synchronous camera-based mode of interaction, using a whiteboard with handwritten post-its to request others to take action on their different needs (e.g. requiring a team to continue exploring) so they could continue playing. Besides this, the performance was punctuated by a series of evocative tablet-based interactive audiovisuals. After a given time playing, with or without having achieved the expected results in managing the company’s innovation from the helm of different departments, and before moving to another station, players were drawn into taking one of the tablets and moving around at the bottom of the stages with them.

Figure 4a: Tablet used to display augmented reality evocative visuals.
Figure 4b: Tablet used to display augmented reality evocative visuals.
Figure 4b: Tablet used to display augmented reality evocative visuals.

These evocative pieces mostly took the visitors/participants outside of the field of corporate innovation, creating links and showing reflections from the team members on the project itself. Rather than creating artistic means of expression to represent or potentially criticise corporate culture (that is, using interactive theatre to stage innovation scripts), these audiovisuals–ranging from poetic walks by a character on an empty space to gamified introductions of the project or its team members–displayed laterally the team’s reflections on a series of underlying paradoxes they were mired in whilst creating the performance: the fact that they were putting to use very similar methods, tools and practices to the ones being depicted; the predicaments of the artistic quest for salience and newness undertaken with analogously repetitive and isomorphic manners; or the (post)colonial hauntings of a thoroughly international team, pondering who the main audience of the play might be. In doing so, the very project revolved recursively onto itself through displaying in evocative augmented reality pieces the most challenging results of their collaboration.

Interestingly, beyond more conventional approaches to the dramatisation of science and technology, contemporary forms of participatory, community, interactive or digital theatre have also served as relevant arenas for projects searching to activate publics through agonistic and complex encounters with contemporary technoscientific issues (Halfon et al., 2020). Rather than mobilising their consensus or their passive understanding of the wonders and goods of technoscientific developments–creating simple scenographies whereby to appreciate science and technology–, what these rather complex and open-ended projects seek to stage–through immersive and participation-intensive devices–is a wide variety of technoscience dramas. In a very similar vein, in Enacting innovation, although the STS analytic of ‘innovation scripts’ allowed to empirically ground the motives and main references and evocative ideas underlying the game mechanics and its audiovisuals, the project was not conceived as a form of science communication attempting to break down or explain scientific research. The use of artistic means of expression was also not simply a form of outreach of otherwise closed-down research results. What I think this interactive play mostly did was staging the complexity and, with it, the paradoxes of otherwise repetitive innovation scripts, in at least two ways.

Figure 5. Detail of the Team Maker station’s graphic interface

i. Staging the complexity of innovation scripts: In presenting faithfully how innovation managers talk and operate, the play created a fictional scenography eliciting conversations on innovation culture and its challenges in the very terms of the field under study, that is, as a complex system. As many attendees remarked in some of the conversations after the performance ended, the play managed to accurately simulate the liveliness and the emergent issues present in most of these environments. Rather than dumbing down the domain under study, the performance staged complexity in an immersive first-person perspective (see Dumit, 2017 for a similar approach to game design in STS). This allowed for many ‘idiotic’ puzzlements (Horst & Michael, 2011): In the play this was made felt to participants through different graphic interfaces, rules and targets that were impossible to fulfil, having looping effects of all kinds, always leaving the player with a sense of awe at the sheer ungraspability of systems larger than life. For instance, requiring a team to explore innovation of once kind meant requesting the right people from another player, who at the same time had to grapple with the possibilities opened up by yet another player creating the organisational structures for that task.

ii. Staging the complexity of a project on innovation scripts: Rather than the project just being the crystallisation of an interdisciplinary process–something that might be read thinking of the project as having two types of practitioners, STS scholars and dramaturgs, joining forces without going out of their comfort zones–the project opened up a hybrid register. This was reflected and built into–or shall I say inscribed, scripted?–the very play: In describing their aims and debates, or how the puzzlement that the very process of staging innovation scripts backfired into paying attention to the scripted nature of artistic creativity. Doing so, the project pointed to an in between third space, suggesting the use of theatrical means and STS analytic devices to undertake research on how to stage complexity and its potential effects: That is, where staging complexity could be turned into a way not just of representing but of undertaking research on the problems of the day, as a relevant arena of further explorations on different contemporary predicaments.

I reckon that as a stance, programme or strategy ‘staging complexity’ is, by no means, devoid of problems or challenges. After all, attending several of the cycles of play, and taking part in two full cycles myself, I could clearly see how many players–myself included–ended up feeling like the run-down characters of the Lemmings video game. Perhaps some of this had to do with the participatory constraints of the digital technical features of the project (heavily impacted by the physical distancing and the Corona ‘hygiene concept’ of the event), and the zoomed out lock-in feeling they sometimes create. But I think the team made a great effort in working out these constraints to convey many layers of meaning, also searching to impact on the participants so they could appreciate the sheer unfathomable nature of the loops involved.

Witnessing the passionate reactions of innovation managers, cultural practitioners, electronic artists or regular Linz bystanders (perhaps with an educated gaze after 40 years of a renown world festival for the digital arts taking place in their own backyard), I was reminded of a scene of the TV series Halt and catch fire, featuring the ups and downs of the 1980s innovators that produced the digital world as we know it today. In that scene, the character playing the Steve Jobs type of tech guru at some point tries to convince hardware engineers and programmers to think beyond a too technical mindset, observing the changing social dynamics that informatics might afford, by saying “computers are not the thing, they are the thing leading us to the thing.” In a similar way, beyond or even because of its cumbersome technicalities Enacting innovation beautifully managed not simply to convey research results through a dramaturgical form of digital outreach, but to open up a space to enjoy the complexity of innovation as it was staged: hence making it graspable, or at least enabling, by means of gamified loops and virtual reality interfaces, a multiplicity of puzzled conversations on the culture of innovation and the predicaments of its repetitive repertoires.

References

Aït-Touati, F. & Latour, B. (2018). Performing Gaia. Theater, 48(2), 95–101.
Burke, K. (1969). A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: California University Press.
Dumit, J. (2017). Game Design as STS Research. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 3, 603-612.
Goffman, E. (1956). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh.
Guggenheim, M., Kräftner, B., & Kröll, J. (2018). Incubations: Inventing Preventive Assemblages. In N. Marres, M. Guggenheim, & A. Wilkie (Eds.), Inventing the Social (pp. 65–93). Manchester: Mattering Press.
Halfon, S. E., Olson, C., Kilkelly, A., & Lehr, J. L. (2020). Engaging Theatre, Activating Publics: Theory and Practice of a Performance on Darwin. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 6, 255–282.
Horst, M., & Michael, M. (2011). On the Shoulders of Idiots: Re-thinking Science Communication as “Event.” Science as Culture, 20(3), 283–306.
Igelsböck, J. and Kirschner, F. (2021). Playing with Innovation Scripts in Enacting Innovation. Presentation at the Playing with Method workshop, HU Berlin, URL: https://vimeo.com/515178566 (Accessed February 24, 2021).
Pinch, T. (2010). The Invisible Technologies of Goffman’s Sociology: From the Merry-Go-Round to the Internet. Technology and Culture, 51(2), 409–424.
Rosental, C. (2014). Toward a Sociology of Public Demonstrations. Sociological Theory, 31(4), 343–365.
Shapin, S. & S. Schaffer. (1985). Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Notes

[1] See https://www.ici-berlin.org/events/frederique-ait-touati/ or http://modesofexistence.org/make-it-work-theatre-des-negociations/ (Accessed December 28, 2020).

Anthropology as a Careful Design Practice?

As part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie (Journal of the DGSKA – German Association for Social and Cultural Anthropology) Kristina Mashimi, Thomas Stodulka, Hansjörg Dilger, Anita vonPoser, Dominik Mattes and Birgitt Röttger-Rössler curated a plenary in the DGSKA 2019 in Konstanz titled ‘Envisioning Anthropological Futures‘ in which I had the honour to join a conversation with inspiring colleagues Janina Kehr, Sandra Calkins, and Michaela Haug.

Later, our contributions compiled into a manuscript for a special section of the ZfE that has recently appeared as part of the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie/Journal of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 145 – 2020, 1.


As the editors argue in their introduction:

“The contributions in this special section discuss the challenges, tensions, and prospects of doing anthropology today: How do we position ourselves as anthropologists in a time that is marked by the rise of populist and fascist movements, climate crisis, and related environmental disasters? How do we respond to highly unequal processes of social inclusion and exclusion? How can we not only describe but also contribute to an imagination of the horizons of possibility amidst capitalist ruins (Tsing 2015)? Or in other words: What is the role of anthropology in not only representing but maybe also envisioning and shaping alternative futures? Although anthropology has been entangled with geopolitical issues ever since its inception, our current “troubled times” (Stoller 2017) have brought the political back to center stage within the discipline (Postero and Elinoff 2019). They have also provoked many anthropologists to rethink the conventional descriptive or critical practices of our field and to reflect on new ways of engaged and activist anthropology (Low and Merry 2010; Huschke 2015) – or in other words, on the role of anthropology in carving out and shaping spaces that offer alternatives to dominant socio-economic arrangements, characterized by growing inequalities” (p.15)


Kristina Mashimi, Thomas Stodulka, Hansjörg Dilger, and Anita von Poser (2020) Introduction: Envisioning Anthropological Futures (and Provincializing their Origins)

In my contribution, I speculate on the possible futures for anthropological practice that might open up when, rather than studying or collaborating in corporate or professional design activities, we undertake anthropology as a careful design practice

My appreciation goes to the editors for their kind invitation, and for pushing me to clarify my arguments. Many thanks to Ignacio Farías and Ester Gisbert for the mutual inspiration in envisioning pedagogic avenues for anthropology to be relevant in architectural worlds. Also, thanks to Francisco Martínez, Daniela Rosner and Janina Kehr, who commented on versions of the manuscript at various stages.

Anthropology as a Careful Design Practice?

How can we envision the future of anthropology in the present times of crisis, when the social as we knew it, and the conventional descriptive and critical practices of our discipline may no longer be adequate? Here I tentatively draw on work at the crossroads of design, where the future can be reclaimed as a disciplinary concern for anthropology. Design has recently become a significant source of methodological and political inspiration for our discipline to take part in the materialisation of alternative forms of world-making. Yet, as design is not a unitary field, I will particularly dwell on how I have re-learnt and experimented with what being an anthropologist might mean in encounters with urban accessibility design activism. In these careful explorations I have found not only an inspiring field of inquiry within knowledge politics, but also a relevant domain for interventions seeking to create technical democracy. Describing a particular case of how I became ‘activated’ by this design activism – drawing inspiration from their practices for teaching future architects – I speculate on the possible futures for anthropological practice that might open up when, rather than studying or collaborating in corporate or professional design activities, we undertake anthropology as a careful design practice.

Published as Criado, T.S. (2021). Anthropology as a Careful Design Practice. ZfE | JSCA 145 (2020): 47–70 | PDF

Uncommoning the city | Hacer la ciudad poco común

Guillermo Fernández-Abascal and Urtzi Grau recently edited the bilingual compilation Coches, humanos y bordillos, aprendiendo a vivir juntos | Learning to Live Together: Cars, Humans, and Kerbs in Solidarity, which has just been published by Bartlebooth. A volume on the conflicts and possibilities of new more or less digital forms of city-making and urban life.

Contribuciones de / Contributions by Ibiye Camp, Brendan Cormier, Noortje Marres, Hamish McIntosh, Simone C. Niquille / Technoflesh, Marina Otero Verzier, Tomás Sánchez Criado, Brenton Alexander Smith, Lara Lesmes + Fredrik Hellberg (Space Popular), Liam Young.

[ES] Viviremos todos juntos, eso es inevitable. Pero la llegada de los vehículos autónomos al entorno urbano plantea otra cuestión urgente: ¿cómo se integrarán estos coches sin conductor en la vida cotidiana? Las industrias tecnológicas y del automóvil que desarrollan estos vehículos también están diseñando el futuro de nuestras ciudades. Sus visiones muestran calles que incorporan tecnologías autónomas y donde los humanos deambulan, despreocupados, por un espacio público donde máquinas automatizadas circulan a alta velocidad. Estas visiones se proyectan en un tiempo lejano, y al hacerlo, ignoran las cuestiones que la llegada de estos vehículos plantean en el futuro inmediato.

En respuesta a tal descuido, este ensayo, y las reflexiones que lo acompañan, exploran los conflictos inminentes asociados a esta tecnología y como estos transformaran nuestras calles, con una hipótesis en mente: el despliegue de la tecnología sin conductor, rápida y disruptiva, no conlleva una solución urbana integrada, más bien plantea preguntas y exige imaginar como responderlas. Este libro identifica algunas, responde a otras y, sobre todo, imagina cómo humanos y maquinas podrán influir en las decisiones sobre el ecosistema urbano, colectivamente.

[EN] We are on the verge of sharing our cities with autonomous vehicles. Recent developments in driverless technologies are having an impact on our urban environment, raising questions about how self-driving vehicles could be integrated into our daily lives. Automotive and technological industries are not only developing the vehicles but also envisioning the future of our cities, a future where streets have seamlessly integrated driverless technologies and humans wander about, unconcerned by the presence of new automated machines circulating at high speeds through public space. These visions skip to a distant time and ignore the issues that these vehicles raise in the immediate future.

In response to such an oversight, this essay and the accompanying meditations explore the conflicts soon to be unleashed by this new technology and the transformation of our streets it will trigger. The current implementations of driverless technology, which are fast and disruptive, do not suggest an eventual integrated urban solution. Yet this book allows us to imagine how humans and cars might collectively influence the urban environment.

In my contribution to the volume I share a provocation on the project of urban unification of ‘smart city’ initiatives: What if rather than trying to contribute to urban unity, contemporary urban planners and designers relearnt, through different techniques and procedures (algorithmic, sensor-based, DIY or otherwise), to be affected by an uncommon city? In other words, the processes whereby cities are treated not as places of homogeneity but of divergence.

Published as Criado, T.S. (2021). Uncommoning the city | Hacer la ciudad poco común. In G. Fernández-Abascal & U. Grau (Eds.), Aprendiendo a vivir juntos: Solidaridad entre humanos, coches y bordillos / Learning to Live Together: Cars, Humans, and Kerbs in Solidarity (pp. 123-130). A Coruña: Bartlebooth | PDF EN & PDF ES

Online talk at the STIS, Edinburgh > Presenting the ‘An Uncommon City’ book project (April 12, 2021)

Next Monday 12th April 15:00-16:00 (GMT) I will be presenting my book project ‘An Uncommon City: Bodily Diversity and the Activation of Possible Urbanisms’ at the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS) online seminar of the University of Edinburgh.


Abstract: In this presentation I would like to discuss with you a book project on what I am calling ‘an uncommon city.’ The book is an anthropological exploration of bodily diversity and its impact in the material and knowledge politics of city-making. Drawing on field and archival work of independent-living and disability rights movements, paying attention in particular to their urban accessibility struggles as well as their pedagogic interventions in the training of architects, city planners, and designers (with materials mostly from Barcelona, but also from Munich), I trace a wealth of activist initiatives caring for an epistemic, material and political activation of urban design. These initiatives have or had at their core the production of singular situations—made out of policy documents and building codes, infrastructures and standards, collaborative design processes and prototypes, and manifold sensitising devices and documentation interfaces—through which designing technologies, urban landscapes or institutions and political spaces is to be attempted from the appreciation and articulation of bodily diversity: from the demographic identification of bodily patterns to the invention of inclusive and universal design, also connecting with the contested history of urban accessibility struggles, or the perpetual emergence of many access issues in contemporary forms of city-making where bodily diversity appears as the main concern to address by different actors. In particular, the book wishes to unfold three ways – (i) activating prototypes, (ii) activating public infrastructures, and (iii) activating design studio projects – in which a concern with bodily diversity mobilises the uncommon prospects of the city, opening up other possible urbanisms.

Join on your computer or mobile app: Click here to join the meeting (Teams link)

“Meet the Labs” (April 14, 2021): Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology (Berlin) & Kaleidos (Quito)

Thanks to the invitation by Andrew Gilbert (U Toronto), Wednesday April 14, 2021 4-6pm (CET) Ignacio Farías and I will be introducing the collective work of the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology as part of a conversation of the very interesting Ethnography Lab‘s Meet the Labs series.

As they state, what motivates this exploration of what different ethnographic ‘labs’ are up to, is the following:

Ethnography Labs and centers often occupy an interstitial place in the academic ecosystem as sites for collaboration, experimentation, and practice outside of departmental programs, relations of supervision, and the university itself.

Our “Meet the Labs” series is an extension of the AAA roundtable where we hope to connect and network with sister labs through a shared passion for ethnographic practice and methods. Together we will explore the possibilities of different organizational and institutional forms for the practice of ethnography. On April 14th, you can expect to hear about the projects and practices of two distinct platforms for ethnographic research taking place at the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Urban Anthropology in Berlin, Germany and the Kaleidos Center for Interdisciplinary Ethnography in Quito, Ecuador.

We are excited about the opportunity to build cross-disciplinary relationships through Ethnography with our colleagues in Germany and Ecuador, and we welcome anyone interested in thinking through what Labs have to offer our universities and communities and those would are interested in the important work being conducted at each of these organizations.

This will be part of a collective conversation with Kaleidos (Centro de Etnografía Interdisciplinaria), an interesting lab from Quito!

Very much looking forward to this!

Civilising technologies for an ageing society? The performativity of participatory methods in Socio-gerontechnology

For the past couple of years Alexander Peine, Barbara L. Marshall, Wendy Martin and Louis Neven have been editing the book Socio-Gerontechnology. Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Ageing and Technology. Its main aim is to outline a new academic field called “socio-gerontechnology.” As they state:

the book explores how ageing and technology are already interconnected and constantly being intertwined in Western societies. Topics addressed cover a broad variety of socio-material domains, including care robots, the use of social media, ageing-in-place technologies, the performativity of user involvement and public consultations, dementia care and many others. Together, they provide a unique understanding of ageing and technology from a social sciences and humanities perspective and contribute to the development of new ontologies, methodologies and theories that might serve as both critique of and inspiration for policy and design.

In all likelihood the book will turn into the ultimate compilation of works at the crossroads of Ageing Studies and STS.

With my long-time friend and colleague Daniel López we’ve had the immense luck to take part writing one of the chapters (our thanks to the editors for the invitation, and for their insights in the writing process).

Looking back at our involvement in the EFORTT project, our contribution is titled:

Civilising technologies for an ageing society? The performativity of participatory methods in Socio-gerontechnology

Given the importance of participatory methods in gerontechnology – especially to prevent the uncritical reproduction of discriminatory imaginaries in technological development – the lack of appreciation of how these methods can contribute to socio-material configurations of age and technology is striking. Inspired by the semiotic-material study of methods, this chapter provides a detailed account of how participation and public engagement were performed in a project on telecare both authors were involved in between 2008 and 2011. We show how the ‘civilising’ endeavour of this project was undertaken through the creation of two different instances of participation: in the first, representatives, experts and policymakers were enacted as stakeholders, in the second, end-users (older people and caregivers) were enacted as concerned citizens with telecare as a public issue. In foregrounding the realities enacted in the performance of these methods we emphasise, in conclusion, the need to address the materialisations of later life and technology, which these participatory methods help bring to the fore in Socio-gerontechnological developments.

Published as López Gómez, D. & Criado, T.S. (2021). Civilising technologies for an ageing society? The performativity of participatory methods in Socio-gerontechnology. In A. Peine, B.L. Marshall, W. Martin and L. Neven (Eds.), Socio-Gerontechnology. Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Ageing and Technology (pp. 85-98). London: Routledge | PDF

Ensamblajes peatonales: Los andares a ciegas como prácticas tecno-sensoriales

Nuevo artículo publicado en AIBR, Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana junto a Marcos Cereceda.

Ensamblajes peatonales: Los andares a ciegas como prácticas tecno-sensoriales

Resumen

¿Cómo andan y cruzan las calles las personas ciegas? Esa es la pregunta, solo aparentemente sencilla, que hemos abordado a partir de un estudio etnográfico en la encrucijada de la Antropología Sensorial y los Estudios de Ciencia y Tecnología (STS) realizado en los últimos seis años en la ciudad de Barcelona. En él hemos seguido a diferentes activistas por los derechos de la diversidad visual en su cotidianidad, así como en sus trabajos de politización de las infraestructuras urbanas. A partir de una atención a la agencia múltiple y distribuida que equipa e in/habilita modos de desplazarse por la ciudad, esta pregunta nos permite describir la complejidad corporal, social, material y técnica que encierra este vulgar acto cotidiano. Nuestra indagación gira en torno a dos elementos principales: (a) la descripción de prácticas sensoriales para caminar a ciegas y (b) la descripción y examen del papel que juegan conjuntos de elementos no-humanos (animales y tecnológicos) que conforman el «equipamiento» para andar a ciegas. Profundizando el giro material y corporal de la antropología urbana sobre las realidades y prácticas de los peatones, transeúntes o flâneurs, en el presente trabajo queremos resaltar la importancia de prestar atención a los ensamblajes peatonales y las prácticas tecno-sensoriales que habilitan particulares desplazamientos: unos ensamblajes que en lugar de una ciudad hecha para el encuentro indiferente entre distintos sujetos, nos muestran una ecología compleja de soportes y acompañamientos para acoger la diversidad corporal.

Publicado en AIBR. Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana, 16(1), 165 – 190 (junto con Marcos Cereceda, 2021) | DOI: 10.11156/aibr.160108 | PDF

Playing with method: Game design as ethnographic research

The Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology (HU Berlin) hosts Playing with method: Game design as ethnographic research, a series of live-streamed events on 14.1, 28.1 & 11.2.2021

+info: https://hu.berlin/playingwithmethod

Rationale of the workshop

What if in the face of very serious topics we developed conceptual, speculative and material tools, such as games, to find ways of intervening as ethnographers, social scientists or as activists in current design dynamics? 

The series of talks Playing with method wishes to open up a line of inquiry counting on practical examples (be they card, board, performative or video-games) theoretical repertoires, and speculative visions or positional arguments to address the promises and challenges of the ways in which games might be mobilized for different forms and genres of social intervention. 

In spite, or even because of their ludic dimension, we want to explore to what extent games might be capable of altering how we discuss issues, share knowledge, raise awareness, make problems public, imagine futures, and learn to care. Thus, we would like to collectively discuss critically on the contemporary cultural role of games, with the aspiration to ponder how games could redevelop our repertoires of ethnographic representation and intervention; or what vocabularies and considerations might allow us to unfold their full potential as relevant ethnographic or peri-ethnographic genres. 

What is more, we are particularly interested in how games open up a Spielraum (a degree of play) for transgressing the boundaries of academic disciplines and reinventing what research might mean.

Why this workshop now?

In the last years, members of the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology have been approaching the potentialities and challenges of games as particular platforms or devices for anthropological research / intervention for the real estate crisis in Berlin. In our work not only we have been inspired by the activist/ pedagogic impetus of the Landlord’s Game (anti-monopolistic predecessor of Monopoly), but also by different works around games by social designers, artists and other anthropologists wishing to expand the reach of forms of urban intervention.

The games we have developed are not final products but open prototypes. They are result and method of our research, and work as devices to intervene in urban development processes. As such, they are open to be transformed and re-versioned, so that their specific languages, logics, gameplay, and effects could be adapted to specific situations and concerns of various urban actors.

In collaboration with ZK/U, we have produced a series of games, most centrally featuring House of Gossip, which re-enacts the threat of displacement of tenants from their homes, plunging us into the rumors circulating in a stairway and their truth effects. 

Drawing from our own work, for this series of talks we would like to gather around inspiring examples so as to discuss and discover together how developing games might also impact how we could do social-cultural research: from describing to intervening, from representing to performing (and breaching) reality, thus experimenting with what politics and critique might mean whenever we prototype and play.

Programme

14.1.2021 5-7pm – Urban matters (FB event)

Claudia Hummel (UdK & Spielclub Oranienstraße 25 / nGbK project group)

Tomás Criado & Ignacio Farías (Urban Anthropology, HU Berlin)

Chaired by Julia Schröder (Urban Anthropology, HU Berlin)

28.1.2021 6-8pm – Educational matters (FB event)

Judith Ackermann (Fachhochschule Potsdam)

Joe Dumit (UC Davis)

Chaired by Tomás Criado (Urban Anthropology, HU Berlin)

11.2.2021 5-7pm – Organizational matters (FB event)

Judith Igelsböck (Institut für Organisation, JKU Linz) & Friedrich Kirschner (HFS ‚Ernst Busch‘, Berlin)

Alberto Vanolo (Università degli Studi di Torino)

Chaired by Ignacio Farías (Urban Anthropology, HU Berlin)

[Updated February 2021]

Acompañantes epistémicos: la invención de la colaboración etnográfica

Acaba de ver la luz el interesante proyecto de libro Investigaciones en movimiento: Etnografías colaborativas, feministas y decoloniales, editado por Aurora Álvarez Veinguer, Alberto Arribas Lozano y Gunther Dietz (Buenos Aires, CLACSO, 2020). El libro descargarse en PDF libremente.

Este libro pone en conversación un conjunto de etnografías colaborativas, decoloniales, feministas y de IAP que comparten el deseo de producir otros conocimientos y producir conocimientos de otros modos. Las experiencias aquí reunidas nos invitan a repensarnos como investigadoras/es, a redefinir el sentido de nuestros proyectos y los procedimientos metodológicos concretos a partir de los que desarrollamos nuestro trabajo, y también a transformar las relaciones que establecemos con las personas con quienes colaboramos. Es una caja de herramientas que busca ampliar el campo de lo posible y lo pensable en investigación.

Junto con Adolfo Estalella colaboramos en el volumen con un capítulo sobre la invención etnográfica. Gracias a l*s editor*s por la generosa invitación a contribuir en este libro y, muy especialmente, a Alberto Arribas por su generosa lectura y enriquecedores comentarios.

Acompañantes epistémicos: la invención de la colaboración etnográfica

Este capítulo explora la relación que existe entre colaboración e invención en la etnografía para argumentar que la colaboración etnográfica se puede conceptualizar como un efecto de la inventiva en el trabajo de campo. Sabemos que nuestros trabajos de campo son siempre más complejos de lo que el método propone y describe y que nuestras etnografías están a menudo cargadas de improvisación, creatividad e inventiva. Creemos que examinar la inventiva que muy a menudo atraviesa las relaciones de campo puede arrojar luz sobre los modos de colaboración que muchos sitios de la contemporaneidad demandan. Más importante aún, al invocar la inventiva etnográfica como un elemento central de nuestro trabajo de campo queremos hacer visible toda una serie de prácticas, técnicas y gestos relevantes que a menudo son ignorados o invisibilizados cuando planteamos que la colaboración es el producto del método. Nuestro argumento, por lo tanto, problematiza una manera habitual de pensar la colaboración como el efecto de ciertas premisas metodológicas y sugiere conceptualizar y describir la colaboración como el efecto de la inventiva etnográfica desplegada en el trabajo de campo.

Publicado como Estalella, A. & Sánchez Criado, T. (2020). Acompañantes epistémicos: la invención de la colaboración etnográfica. In A. Álvarez Veinguer, A. Arribas Lozano & G. Dietz (Eds.), Investigaciones en movimiento: etnografías colaborativas, feministas y decoloniales (pp.145-179). Buenos Aires: CLACSO | PDF

Towards a multimodal urban anthropology (DGSKA 2021, workshop)

Together with Ignacio Farías we are convening the workshop Towards a multimodal urban anthropology for the upcoming biannual conference of the German Association of Social and Cultural Anthropology (DGSKA-Tagung 2021, “Worlds, Zones, Atmospheres. Seismographies of the Anthropocene”) that will take place September 27-30, 2021 at the University of Bremen.

Open for submissions. Deadline: 15 February 2021

Flying City CC BY Maasaak 2014

Towards a multimodal urban anthropology

More-than-human approaches in urban anthropology have convincingly contributed to rethinking the plurality of modes of knowledge, the assemblages and the kinds of actors that constitute our cities. But what do these conceptual interventions do to our ethnographic modes of inquiry? This workshop starts from the assumption that beyond a change in conceptual repertoires, decentering the all-too-human object of urban anthropology might require a multimodal transformation of our ethnographic practices, in at least two ways:
Firstly, since the ‘observation’ of more-than-human entanglements requires more than taking part in social situations, what are the conditions in which we could appreciate and learn to be affected, attuned and concerned with a wide variety of phenomena and processes, ranging from atmospheric and ecological to multi-species and/or socio-technical? How would our practices of note-taking and field-working be affected? In contexts where fieldwork becomes an active co-production of situations, we invite contributions reflecting on multimodal transformations of fieldnotes, practices of rapport / friendship / interlocution and correspondence. Secondly, to the extent that these often-experimental collaborations involve more-than-textual devices for ethnographic description and conceptualization, we would like to explore the anthropological potentials of current displacements of the media and modalities of ethnographic accounts. In a context where collaborations with art and design are becoming a common practice, we particularly welcome contributions that reflect on the intervention these devices entail for the project of urban anthropology.

E-mail: stadtlabor AT hu-berlin.de