A ‘how-to’ anthropology? – Antropologie Umělcům, Brno

Next November 28th I will be in Brno to take part in the Antropologie Umělcům, a series of course of lectures, discussions and screenings on current approaches and various forms of collaboration between Social Sciences and Contemporary Art not only within the so-called Visual Studies but including also other fields and topics such as experiment, engagement, applicability or design. The courses will take place from 16th to 30th November 2017 in Aula FAVU VUT in Brno, Czech Republic.

Here you can access the information of mine’s:

A ‘how-to’ anthropology? The ‘ethnographic recursions’ of tutorial and documentation-driven projects

In the last years, I have engaged as ethnographer in extensive tutorial and open documentation projects of different activist ‘free culture’ and ‘DIY’ urban groups in Spain (mainly, the activist design collective of Barcelona “En torno a la silla” and other associated endeavours). In my ethnographic work with them I have had to partake of art-related and design-inspired multimodal playful experimentations addressing styles, genres, and formats of documenting design processes and events. Thus, what might have only been a descriptive stance of a particular design culture became an inventive process, full of ‘re-descriptive’ moments, holding in suspension the very aims and goals, as well as the modes of authorship, the devices and the narrative styles brought to bear to ethnographic endeavours as practices ‘documenting’ the life of others. Such joint modes of relating–that is, of producing encounters or forms of togetherness as well as accounts–had a lasting impact on my very ethnographic practice, generating many moments of ‘unlearning.’ Here I wish to address the ‘ethnographic recursions’ they made me enter. Indeed, my involvement in such projects premised on the idea of the ‘how-to’ as a grounding trope has somehow urged me, in collaboration with other colleagues (namely, the ones we are gathering around the EASA’s Colleex network), to reinvent our fieldwork devices drawing inspiration from the how-to ontology of our epistemic partners. In showing somewhat playful attempts at translating that ‘how-to’ ontology into academic debates for the discipline I would like to delineate here the productivity of addressing forms of methodological rather than conceptual recursion as a way into other modes of learning and doing anthropology.


Efectos documentales – Taller en el Máster en Arquitectura Alicante

Mañana tendré el inmenso placer de poder estar en Alicante (algo que me apetecía especialmente desde hace mucho tiempo), gracias a la intermediación de Ester Gisbert y Miguel Mesa del Castillo, en el Máster en Arquitectura de la Universitat d’Alacant (Sala 01, Politécnica IV).

Mi intervención y los talleres en que estaremos trabajando, girarán en torno a los “efectos documentales“. En los últimos años–y sobre todo a partir tanto de mi participación como etnógrafo/documentador en el colectivo En torno a la silla, como de la experiencia pedagógica en una facultad de arquitectura–me ha venido interesando enormemente la importancia de una indagación sobre las “interfaces documentales”. A pesar de que en particular me he centrado en los ámbitos de diseño abierto y el activismo de la diversidad funcional, cada vez más me está interesando particularmente experimentar y reflexionar sobre cómo los diferentes tipos de trazos–en diferentes lenguajes, géneros o estilos, producidos para el recuerdo o la puntualización de la experiencia de momentos de gran intensidad colaborativa, o donde se está más preocupado por hacer más que por el pensar sobre lo que se hace–producen efectos particulares sobre quién, cómo y qué se diseña. Y, por ello, quisiera que prestáramos particular atención a diferentes dispositivos, plataformas, sistemas de registro, o métodos para la generación de encuentros donde producir acercamientos y situaciones para compartir las experiencias; esto es, interfaces donde la documentación–entendida más bien como una experimentación con diferentes medios, formatos, sensibilidades y momentos que al modo enciclopédico o positivista–se nos aparece como un recurso esencial para el descubrimiento y articulación de la experiencia compartida en la relación entre quienes construyen y los diferentes materiales con los que lo hacen; esto es, para el trazado de ciertas transformaciones o efectos, pero también para  permitir, recursivamente, generar otras relaciones en y a través de los procesos de diseño.

Soy consciente de que muy probablemente la principal impugnación o crítica de inicio a lo que voy a plantear aquí es que “no documentar así” también tiene sus efectos sobre el diseño, y me encantaría discutirlos; aunque me parece que la documentación, con todas sus dificultades y efectos complejos (porque aquí hablaré de la documentación que se enfoca en el proceso, no en ese proceso de documentarse para diseñar o en la producción de una divulgación a posteriori para hacer circular o vender un diseño), que a veces bloquean o paralizan un proceso de diseño, nos acerca a una reflexion mucho más mundana sobre las prácticas y la política del diseñar. Pero siendo una de sus principales virtude que abre registros de lo político que van más allá del “hacer visible” y que, al menos en los casos que he venido estudiando, plantean redistribuciones de la experticia, circulaciones de saberes, aperturas de relaciones e incorporaciones constantes de elementos o reacciones en los propios procesos y materializaciones (algo que no puedo llamar de otra forma que “auto-experimentación”).

Allegra Lab – #Colleex thematic thread


IMAGE CREDITS: Navajo sand-painting, negative made from postcard CC BY Wellcome Trust

Last week we published a series of #Colleex blog posts at Allegra Lab.

Ethnographic experimentation‘ is the topic we explore in the six posts of this thematic thread whose publication evolved from the first workshop held by the new EASA network #Colleex (‘Ethnographic Experimentation. Fieldwork Devices and Companions’, 13th–15th July 2017, Jardim Botânico Tropical, Lisbon’).

We would like to accompany the debate we sought to open up in Lisbon with this publication in Allegra’s digital platform, an association that has supported our venture since its very beginnings.

Hope you enjoy them, and if so please forward them to anyone potentially interested!

1. Ethnographic experimentation: Other tales of the field | Adolfo Estalella & Tomás Criado
Ethnographic experimentation refers to an ethnographic modality where anthropologists venture into the collaborative production of venues for knowledge creation that turn the field into a site for the construction of joint anthropological problematizations.
2. ‘Devicing’ fieldwork | Tomás Criado & Adolfo Estalella
Collaboration is an epistemic figure resulting from the careful craft of articulating inventive shared modes of doing together with our companions in the field. The field turns into a site for the construction of joint problematizations.
Researching with social movements (environmental activism, makerspaces) brings ethnography’s nuanced, embodied and collective sense-making to the fore. I also argue that anthropological research within academia is important in its own right.
4. Experimenting with Stories | Rasmus Rodineliussen
Stories are a venue for experimentation and research, they tell about, define, create, and interact with social realities. Therefore they are important to include in analysis, and in order to do so the researcher must be open-minded and confront these stories with a toolkit of methodologies.
A re-description of my two-fold engagement as ethnographer-cum-documenter in the activist design collective En torno a la silla. Highlighting the importance of note-taking as a ‘fieldwork device’ for the problematizing and relating in the field.
Using participation in a collective online experiment with Twitter as a springboard, I interrogate the tweet as a fieldnote. How do the temporalities of tweeting intersect with disciplinary understandings and imaginings of “field time”, and how might we address fraught question of audiences, transparency and visibility brought about by tweeting from the field?

Functional Diversity as a Politics of Design? – DISEÑA, 11 (Special issue on Design & Politics)

The Chilean journal DISEÑA has just published its latest bilingual issue (Spanish & English), a detailed reflection on the relations between Politics & Design (DISEÑA #11), carefully edited by Martín Tironi.

I collaborate with a reflection (pp. 148-159) on the ‘politics’ of design–in a Rancièrian sense–undertaken by ‘functional diversity’ activism after the 15-M uprisings, and my participation in the En torno a la silla collective.

¿La diversidad funcional como una política del diseño?

Este artículo es una indagación sobre el activismo de la “diversidad funcional” tras la ocupación de las plazas del 15-M español, y, más concretamente, acerca de cómo a partir de ella la diversidad funcional se convierte en un repertorio que politiza el diseño (particularmente el mercado de ayudas técnicas y entornos accesibles desarrollados de acuerdo con el modelo social de la discapacidad). Para apuntalar una lectura de la política del diseño —en el sentido de la filosofía política de Jacques Rancière— que ahí aparece, tomaré como caso un pequeño proyecto colaborativo desarrollado por el colectivo de diseño abierto radicado en Barcelona En torno a la silla.

15-M _ Diversidad funcional _ En torno a la silla _ política del diseño _ Rancière

Functional diversity as a politics of design?

This article is an inquiry into the activism around ‘functional diversity’ after the public square occupations of the Spanish 15-M movement; and, more specifically, how, in them, ‘functional diversity’ developed into a repertoire for the politicisation of design (notably, the market of technical aids and accessible environments created according to the social model of disability). To underpin the particular reading of the politics of design —in the sense developed by political philosopher Jacques Rancière— that appears there, I will describe a small collaborative project put together by the Barcelona-based open design collective En torno a la silla.

15M _ En torno a la silla _ Functional diversity _ Politics of design _ Rancière


1st Colleex Workshop – Ethnographic Experimentation: Fieldwork Devices and Companions

Ethnographic Experimentation: Fieldwork Devices and Companions

13th–15th July 2017, Jardim Botânico Tropical, Lisbon

First Workshop of the #Colleex 
Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation, an EASA network

Programme and book of abstracts

1st_Colleex_Programme (PDF)

1st_Colleex_Abstracts (PDF)

Call for Papers

“Fieldwork is not what it used to be” (Faubion and Marcus, 2009). The investigation of previously ignored social domains and the incorporation of new sensibilities beyond its typically verbal or visual conventions, have expanded ethnography: Anthropologists now engage in novel forms of relationship and intervention, and enter into heterodox exchanges with other disciplines like arts and design. The invocation of experimentation in fieldwork is part of this widened exploration of new ethnographic modalities that reshape the norm and form of fieldwork.

Recent invocations of experimentation in ethnographic projects are not merely a metaphorical gesture. Descriptive accounts of experimentation bring to life ethnographic imaginations that transform field informants into epistemic partners (Holmes and Marcus, 2005), remediate the form of ethnography in the company of others (Rabinow, 2011), or trade in the traditional comparative project of anthropology for a collaborative one (Riles, 2015). The experimental can thus be a distinctive articulation of the empirical work of anthropologists in the field.

The epistemic figure of experimentation is not new in anthropology (or other social sciences). On the contrary, the experimental nature of many ethnographic projects of the contemporary connects with and draws from the creative exploration of writing genres inaugurated in the 1980s but, while the experimental drive was then located in the space of representation, we are now witnessing a shift where fieldwork is a locus of experimentation.

To invoke ethnographic experimentation is not necessarily to signal a methodological rupture with conventional forms of ethnography. Rather, it is a distinctive form of narrating contemporary forms of fieldwork where ethnography is less a set of practicalities and procedures than a mode of anthropological problematization (Rabinow, 2011). Relying on the most genuine descriptive aspiration of anthropology, the invocation of ethnographic experimentation thus signals the exploration of conceptual languages for describing distinctive forms of engagement in the field.

Experimentation remains an elusive term however, sometimes loosely used, perhaps metaphorically or allegorically. At the workshop we would like to focus on specific, thoughtfully designed interventions through which ethnography in the field unfolds in experimental ways. We are interested in particular forms of relationship, material artefacts, digital infrastructures, fieldnotes genres, spatial venues, methods of meeting… Following John Law and Evelyn Ruppert (2013) we call them “fieldwork devices”: arrangements that assemble the world in specific social and material patterns for the production of knowledge. We thus invite scholars to share descriptive accounts that offer insights of how fieldwork devices turn ethnography into a venue for experimentation.

Faubion, J. D., & Marcus, G. E. (Eds.). (2009). Fieldwork Is Not What It Used to Be: Learning Anthropology’s Method in a Time of Transition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Holmes, D. R., & Marcus, G. E. (2005). Cultures of Expertise and the Management of Globalization: Toward the Re-Functioning of Ethnography. In A. Ong & S. J. Collier (Eds.), Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (pp. 235—252). Oxford: Blackwell.
Law, J., & Ruppert, E. (2013). The Social Life of Methods: Devices. Journal of Cultural Economy, 6(3), 229—240.
Rabinow, P. (2011). The Accompaniment: Assembling the Contemporary. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.
Riles, A. (2015). From Comparison to Collaboration: Experiments with a New Scholarly and Political Form. Law and Contemporary Problems, 78(1-2), 147—183.

Organised by

#Colleex – Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation, an EASA network
Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS), Universidade de Lisboa
EBANO Collective – Ethnography-Based Art Nomad Organisation, Lisbon

Supported by

European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)
Jardim Botânico Tropical, Museu Nacional de História Natural e da Ciência (MUNHAC), Universidade de Lisboa
Professorship for Participatory Technology Design, MCTS, TU Munich

Organising committee

Eeva Berglund, independent scholar
Francesca De Luca, ICS, ULisboa
Adolfo Estalella, Spanish National Scientific Council
Anna Lisa Ramella, Locating Media, University of Siegen
Chiara Pussetti, ICS, ULisboa
Tomás Sánchez Criado, MCTS, TU Munich


Live tweets of ‘Ethnographic Experimentation: Fieldwork Devices and Companions’, First Workshop of the #Colleex Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation, an @EASAinfo network | 13th–15th July 2017, Jardim Botânico Tropical, Lisbon


Vidas Fuera de Cátalogo (Life Outside of the Catalogue) – BIdeOtik 2017

Presentation of the unfinished audiovisual project Vidas Fuera de Cátalogo (Life Outside of the Catalogue) by Arianna Mencaroni (CIC. Digital–UNOVA, Lisboa & En torno a la silla) and Tomás Sanchez Criado (TU Munich & En torno a la silla)

Tuesday July 11th 19:00 at Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao (Spain), as part of the Festival BIdeOtik 2017

The presentation of the unfinished audiovisual project will tell the story of our several years’ exploration in En torno a la silla (Barcelona) with digital forms of documentation (namely, blog and audiovisual platforms).

En torno a la silla is a Spanish non-profit association operating from Barcelona. In En torno a la silla we co-create and fabricate collaboratively between people with diverse knowledges and modes of functioning with the aim of transforming and intervening urban environments, seeking to improve the conditions of accessibility, inclusiveness, and care in the urban world.

En torno a la silla is a collective that works at crossroads of open design and functional diversity. All our material explorations in recent years have sought to go beyond a world built for standard bodies, opening up design processes to the consideration and incorporation of the different experiences and needs of diverse bodies.

However, even though the material ‘tinkering’ with our environments through activities like building objects or generating co-creation events has constituted the essential focus of the collective, an important part of our activities has had to do with ‘tinkering’ with the use of different registration tools for the reflection, representation, and communication of our small objects and findings: tutorials and construction manuals, video-documentation of processes or interviews, poetic or political reflection texts, etc.

What role does this opening up of the design processes play when we think about documentation processes? Through the presentation of some our ‘tinkering with documentation’–including the conception and prototyping of diverse non-linear web-video projects–, we wish to delve into the central importance of representational processes, and discuss in what way our different successes and errors in tinkering with them might have contributed to a wider learning process, as well as different transformations of the collective.


About BIdeOtik 2017: From January to December 2017 Azkuna Zentroa hosts BIdeOtik 2017, a video festival / series that highlights different ways of recording and representing all that surrounds us using other audio-visual narratives. The object of this series is to showcase video-creation works and projects generated in a local, national and international context by people from the fields of art, creation and culture who use audio-visual language in a more personal, intimate and familiar way.

Check the festival’s leaflet here


Two crises in and with STS: From ‘translation’ to ‘re-specification’?

Slightly amended version of my presentation at the opening plenary, in dialogue with Tiago Moreira and Ana Viseu, of the first joint meeting of RedesCTS and the Portuguese STS network in Lisbon at the Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS), 7-9 June 2017 ‘Lost in translation: People, Technologies, Practices and Concepts Across Boundaries’.

For this session we were explicitly asked to reflect a bit on how our work has been “affected by, or has dealt with, different kinds of boundaries, epistemic, geographical, disciplinary, linguistic, and so on.”

This was to be the first step of a wider debate amongst the presenters and the public. But I believe the need for this debate goes beyond this event, and even this network’s meeting. Any comments more than welcome.

In my intervention in this debate, I would like to profit this occasion to mumble or, rather, to think aloud on the process of moving from the uber-activist and hyper-collective intellectual milieu of Spain under austerity in the last years to the context of an ‘entrepreneurial’ public university in Munich, and into the new STS centre of Germany to be more specific.

I will try to articulate my own experience, not as an autobiographical reflection but as a mode of eliciting how moving around has made me undergo two crises in and with how STS is practiced and what its goals might be. I’ll use what these crises opened up to try out an analytic of how to go beyond ‘translation’ as a mode of, maybe paradoxically, making us experience the feeling of being ‘lost in translation.’ And will try to put forward how ‘re-specification’ rather than ‘translation’ might be conveying a more interesting stance into forms of interventive and experimental engagement with the political issues of STS’s form and content.

  1. A crisis with STS ‘as is’

My first crisis was with STS ‘as is’… Yet I think this was a particularly collective one: the collective crisis that lead to the creation of something like this network. Without any intention to speak for anyone, my interpretation is that a space like RedesCTS–an open, allegedly hierarchically flat, and voluntarily interdisciplinary network–was needed for many reasons. Allow me to briefly mention them…

First, because most of us were alone, like lost children, without any kind of institutional backing or context to share our interest in a rather minoritarian field in our surroundings; having to work within or under the framework of highly institutionalised disciplines. Hence, a network, as a form of relatedness, allowed building bridges between traditions, locales, and diverging modes of doing things which had many reasons to be in a potential dialogue: ANT, feminist technoscience studies, science and society, history of science and technology, innovation studies, etc.

Second, a network was quintessential to break even with the ‘Game of Throne-ish’ situation of post-Francoist academia or with the vast precariousness of means most of us have been plunging in since we started our ‘career’ as social scientists, a situation that has only got worse and worse, as you are all well aware. For this, a network with no membership, and allowing hybrid and impure connections, helped many people relate, and even articulate better their multiple belongings and commitments.

Third, this statute might have been part of a wider and even deeper stance that a more vernacular take on STS was needed, since this widely Anglo-Dutch discipline, hence dominated by many times foreign or strange political, historical and academic-institutional concerns was not really helping many of us to relate to our topics of interest, our surroundings, and even our incipient tradition of collective vernacular thought.

Very relevant in the form and composition of a mutable and changing network allowing diverse people ‘to keep on doing stuff’,[1] as well as in the types of debates there taking place, might have been the vicinity in its early stages with the ‘15M’ (the multifarious indignados events), and the gigantic experimentation that has been taking place in forms of collective action.[2] But also, the relevance and importance of ‘trans-feminist’, ‘functional diversity’, and ‘artivist’ ethical and political stances. As much as it had affected other spaces, this became an important vector in allowing for other forms of the possible, the say-able, and the thinkable… to name but a few of the attributes Jacques Rancière uses to define ‘politics.’

Using irony and play the very network even started to become a space for the recursive experimentation of STS, its ideas, and concepts affecting not only content but also its form. And throughout the years, the network has produced its own vernacular lingo: the very network being considered as a ‘prototype’ of other forms of academia,[3] or an interventionist and experimental space to ‘care for formats’[4] and ‘spatial modes of encounter’ with others.[5] A particularly distributed and uneven mode of searching to articulate the different ecologies of practices we have been inhabiting as researchers, activists, or regular lay people, together with others beyond academia.

I think spaces of the like should not necessarily be thought of as effects of situations of economic or financial crisis. I believe another kind crisis is much more important to account for why people feel the need to open up spaces of the like, according to the potentialities they might have: maybe the wider crisis of legitimacy of academia as an autonomous and disengaged endeavour–we could use here the much abused ‘ivory tower’ epithet–and, in particular, of scientific societies as infrastructures of collective thought and mutual support might be a more apt rendering.

If I had to define what the network has meant for me: This has been a space making available to think on our research situation in terms of both its form and content. That is, addressing the singularity of a particular thematic distribution of topics, as well as the commitment many people had in close dialogue with or even because of their belonging to activist spaces, but also forging relevant local concepts, formats as relevant modes of addressing not-only-conceptual or not-only-linguistic modes of expression, as well as a experimenting with the ‘how-to’ aspects of fostering dialogues with non-academic spaces.

But however ‘nice’ or ‘cool’ these dear spaces have always been; however much they allowed us to talk and do things in more vernacular terms, these never were spaces devoid of troubles, hierarchies or privileges. Besides, the rampant precariousness has not disappeared, and the network has only allowed people to keep connected even when they were losing their jobs or working under horrible conditions.

So, despite many attempts at translating the loss, these translations into the form of a network haven’t stopped the erosion of living under such conditions. I won’t deny the importance of attempts at articulating and finding ways to express it have made people feel less lonely in very complex times, but…

  1. A crisis with the institutionalised politics of  STS 

Anyway, many of us kept on searching. Some left, and some stayed either because they cared more for the non-career aspects of their lives, or because they couldn’t or wouldn’t or shouldn’t.[6] With no intention whatsoever of becoming a model or an example of anything, but just as a way to have an entry point into a wider argument, let me talk about my very personal case…

After a while, and thinking both that there was no exit and that I needed a change (for many reasons I cannot convey in public), I started searching for jobs abroad. After more than two years of search, I was lucky enough to be offered a well-paid job in an emergent institution, with very nice and clever colleagues, and with funding conditions granting me the opportunity to travel and share my work. Of course, I could here delve into many of the classic tropes of the 1960s migrating Spaniard to Germany, condensed in films and popular myths. And, for the most of the first year, I drowned in some versions of them, feeling really lucky but also really lonely because of what I traded to become an academic migrant (this is something many of you know better than I do).

But everything seemed different: From growing accustomed to thinking together with friends, I had to re-learn how to address a situation I had also been searching for: being treated as a more individualised researcher with his own career. I was also many times feeling a bit isolated, since despite my hopes, goals and aspirations the ecology I had learnt to live and breath in was no longer accompanying me in my everyday life. This was of course very puzzling: From feeling the abundance of possibilities and freedom I had experienced, funding and job scarcity notwithstanding, to being sometimes dominated by a strange feeling of lack of possibilities and options in a place of comfort and financial abundance.

The funniest thing is I sought to allegedly bring to the job the more experimental democratic and collaborative takes on STS issues I had learnt to articulate in the space of this network. And in a way, the job I had to deliver, working in a chair for participatory technology design, teaching both to architects and future STSers, was to bring about some of the methods and formats I had learnt in my own work together with design activists. Of course, as a de-rooted academic migrant I could say my first mistake was forgetting about what I would need to change to address the local context, its issues and problems, something I knew nothing about. To make things worse I knew no German…

However paradoxical this might seem I was, again, ‘lost in translation’ since I had to face the many difficulties or sheer impossibilities of translating the modes of thinking and doing I had learnt in the previous years to a context I couldn’t relate to very easily. In fact, this stupid idea of believing I could do it has made me feel a great sense of loss in many a dark night.

I have also had to face my naiveté or sheer audacity in having forgotten that institutional spaces of alleged financial or funding abundance are not devoid of other problems of scarcity: a chronic lack of time created by the many commitments and compromises that ‘spending money reasonably’ entail; but also, the lack of a generic care for free processes of collective thought that an individualist focus on career and unit-centric demarcations might create; not to speak of the problems deriving from how well-greased hierarchies might operate in places of monetary power…

In any case, my biggest (yet very small for others), or maybe to say it better ‘attainable’ struggle to date has been how to relate to this situation. And, maybe, I could say that one of the things I have been trying to do is searching to translate the politics of the ‘activist design collectives’ I had been working with in the past into a pedagogic agenda for the architects and social scientists I have been teaching to…

Interestingly, the agenda we have been developing in the team, led by Ignacio Farías, has been very much aligned to that. In a way, I’d say we have become interested in addressing how to turn the STS programme of ‘technical democracy,’ or the technoscientific democratisations some of us had been doing research and engaged work on, into something like a ‘teaching technicians to behave otherwise’ programme. What a challenge…

But, indeed, a very interesting one working from the belly of the Bavarian beast–if you allow me the pun to talk about the leading German ‘polytechnic’ university at the core of one of the golden cradles of global corporate capitalism. In a way I’d say we have been searching to translate these STS-minded issues into a way of affecting the future technicians, professionals or experts. This could be nothing more than a small pedagogic stance of one of the older aims of the field: to intervene technocracy. Hence, in the last two years we have been experimenting with different trials, or should I say somewhat ‘learning failures’? Failures in devising a sound teaching programme that have also entailed a whole new learning process for us.

Allow me to indicate a few examples: I talk about failures in capturing the students’ attention or in making them care about some of these things beyond ready-made humanitarian gestures. Students seemed many times uninterested, since we were not helping them be more employable in the job market they search to work in. Also, our teaching methods, based on lecturing, reading and commenting, have proven deeply inappropriate. There have also been failures in establishing productive co-teaching relations with other architects, since our task might not be very legible to them. Hence, as an outcome, our attempts have many times been facing an overall tendency to ‘problem solving’ or suffering from the perpetual reenactment of ‘technical-social divides’.

But little by little we’ve transformed our expectations, in a search for collaborations elsewhere. In fact, our trials have helped us relate with other architects from other places who seem to use a kind of common language, and who are helping us to address how we could be putting modes of design ‘in crisis’ (I am particularly thinking here of Ester Gisbert and her inspiring ‘experiments with craft‘).

Indeed, that is the exploration we are searching to unfold in our last course, titled: ‘Design in crisis: Coming to our senses.’[7] In it, we are trying to make them aware of the multi-sensory aspects of design practice, searching to teach them through sensory experiments and practices, techniques, tools and devices that I have come across in my ethnographic work on inclusive urbanism. Hence, the aim is to make them collectively prototype a multi-sensory architectural toolkit (a toolkit for a blind architect!): a set of devices, methods, and skills necessary to re-equip their very architectural practice at the same time that we make them ‘come to their senses.’

So far, the results in their embodied transformation make me really hopeful that we might have found a potential prototype: or, to say it otherwise, a ‘line of tension’ to start addressing the issue, at least with our students coming from different European countries. We are also trying to document this experience in order to be able to share it and discuss it with some other colleagues from different countries to address that very issue: how to teach STS to designers or architects when you cannot properly ‘teach them’ the lingo nor the readings?

So far so good. But who and how do we share it with in the very place where we work? Is there anyone at the end of the line? Oh dear, again ‘lost in translation’? Let’s hope for the best…

  1. From ‘translating the loss’ to ‘on-going re-specification’?

The previous two tales share something. They show two situations of a crisis with regards to what STS could be, and an attempt at changing its forms and contents, where we can witness the sheer complexities of seeking to generate overall conditions of change or transformations through these meagre trials and proposals: the joyful and horizontal politics of a prototypical network into transformations at the level of institutions, in the first case; or the contained, narrow, and humble teaching experiments searching to make ‘more sensitive’ architecture students who never felt they needed us–and nobody knows if they are ever going to use what we made them do, in the second one.

Translations that, no wonder, work somehow imperfectly and in strange ways. Yet, we have to resist the temptation of falling into despair, and believing that all we ever do is reaching dead ends. Could it be that the problem lies in how we address these issues as ones of ‘translation’? In a way, this was an old ANT tenet dwelling on the common Latin etymology of translation and treason, which has been captured beautifully in the Italian adagio traduttore, traditore, showing the difficulties and the many cases of untranslatability.

But I’d like to conclude in a less bleak tone, by briefly exploring another trope I think could help us address better what is at stake in these situations, or even find a way to discuss what STS might be allowing us to do when we want to intervene the form, format, and content of our ecology of practices and that of our counterparts in moments of feeling ‘lost in translation’.

In both cases what I think is a stake is not how to ‘scale up’ or merely ‘transpose’ methods, manifestos or ideas from one place to another but how to learn the local art of ‘re-specifying.’ What if that was our task, permanently, whenever we move from one place, discipline or context to another? That is, to re-specify our goals and aims, which means that we have to recalibrate, unlearn and relearn from the context in which we operate, as well as enter in situations that might change us forever, so that we could try to enact an opening.

In all fairness none of the two stories I told could be deemed as ‘failures.’ Indeed, they show that situations have a degree of play, however difficult it might be to find the appropriate tension in which they might become meaningful. Hence, to re-specify might be to open pores, networks, modes of being together and caring for each other’s arguments. Something like third spaces–that is, spaces that are neither fully academic nor fully non-academic, neither fully anthropological nor fully architectural, to use my examples.

What if we were to be always opening up spaces in-between? What if the only way in which our experiences from one place to another could work was to endlessly open up such third spaces of re-specification without wanting to take control of the situation? In a way that was the Zapatista issue: ‘changing the world without taking control.’[8] However, and precisely in that same Zapatista sense, I don’t mean any of this as an apostle of anything, since we would always need to re-specify even what the preachers say.

I feel that third spaces are always about the concrete and the singular, about what happens, what gathers us in a common experiential tissue. So they cannot be premised on what happened elsewhere. These third spaces should be put together grounding on what in the book In defence of school Masschelein and Simons call ‘free time’[9]–which, by the way, is the Greek etymology for the English term school, skholē. And that is what those third spaces, those pores or networks are all about: lending us time, giving time to each other to ‘re-specify’… Otherwise there’s no learning, because, in a way learning cannot but be to become another, to share our conditions of ‘study’ with others.[10]

These third spaces I am referring to might only work when they are characterized by their intimacy and a certain trust: the intimacy to fail and to err, together, in our re-specifications. And because of that they take an awful time to develop, and a lot of care, since they are constantly on the verge of being shut down. But the experimentation they afford might indeed open up potentialities, modes of doing and mutually sustaining each other in bleak times like this…

Could we now, here, open up one of these spaces? Hence, where do we start?


[1] As expressed by Daniel López in the video produced for the #3esCTS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpQh0k9mJRU

[2] See https://redescts.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/call-3rd-meeting-of-the-spanish-network-of-sts-escts/

[3] See https://easst.net/prototyping-an-academic-network-people-places-and-connections/

[4] See https://easst.net/article/caring-for-a-displacement-in-meeting-formats-report-on-the-4th-meeting-of-the-sts-spanish-network-4-6-june-2014-salamancathere-have-been-other-previous-reports-on-the-network-its-philosophy-and-i/

[5] See https://redescts.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/los-limites-de-la-academia-y-los-formatos-espaciales/

[6] See https://redescts.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/iv-annual-meeting-of-the-social-studies-of-science-and-technology-network-red-escts-call-for-papers/

[7] See http://www.iup.mcts.tum.de/index.php?id=108

[8] Cf. Holloway, J. (2005). Change the world without taking control (New edition). London: Pluto Press.

[9] Masschelein, J; Simons, M. (2013). In Defence of The School: A Public Issue. Leuven: E-ducation, Culture & Society Publishers (I wish to thank Ester Gisbert for her strong recommendation of this book!).

[10] Cf. Harney, S., & Moten, F. (2013). The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions.

Image credits

Postcard of Benjamin Baker’s human cantilever bridge model