Thanks to the organisers for their invitation to this super-workshop on Access & Tinkering: Designing Assistive Technologies as Political Practice organised by the DFG-funded Dis-/Abilities – Nicht-/Behinderung und Medien im Kontext der Digitalisierung | Dis/abilities and Digital Media network.
There I will present on Friday 17, 2021 at 1:30pm-3:00pm CET at paper I am working on with Israel Rodríguez Giralt, called “The Pharmakon of Collaboration: Activating Research with the Independent Living Forum” (Chaired by Anna-Lena Wiechern).
In this paper, we think with a concrete set of research practices afforded by a long and intense exploration of independent-living activism in Spain. At that time of the main indignados mobilisations in 2011, we started a collective research project on the topic. In an explicit gesture towards forms of ‘emancipatory research’ (Oliver, 1992), the project was conceived from the onset including different activist members in its advisory board, as co-researchers. We aimed to prevent researchers from ‘speaking for the other’ (Ruby, 1992) and to create instances of friction and shared reflection.
In the course of these years we attempted to practice a wide variety of modes of research ‘speaking nearby’ (Minh-ha, 1992) if not explicitly ‘with’ them: hence engaging in a wide variety of collaborative forms of research with actors that were always treated as ‘epistemic partners’. Building on this, the paper analyses the impact this exploration had on us as researchers: or, to be more specific, on our ways of engaging with independent living activism, and to consider how this might inspire our ‘experimentally collaborative’ or ‘activated’ ways to engage in other activist settings (Estalella & Criado, 2018). For instance, we will describe how we were activated to share common spaces of discussion and debate or even presentation (in scholarly and activist workshops but also in academic events), plunging in ‘joint problem-making’: that is, collaboratively engaging in exploratory material and textual undertakings, such as in the collective En torno a la silla, attempting environmental interventions and remakings of wheelchair users and their surroundings.
Far from telling a ‘happy’ or ‘utopian’ tale, we wish to remain attentive to the affordances as much the problems this collaborative research activation brought and opened up. For this, we will draw from Stengers’s conceptual work around the pharmakon–an ambivalent entity that for the Greeks oscillated between a drug and a poison, depending on doses, components, modes of preparation and administration. Following her concern to remain attentive to the practicalities of different research devices and tell technical stories “about the kinds of traps that each had to escape, constraints the importance of which had to be recognized” (Stengers, 2015: 132), we would like to close reflecting about the impact these collaborative undertakings had on us and on the people we were working with; and how this experience might contribute to (re)assess collaborative and engaged research from its frictions.
By drawing on STS, Crip Technoscience (Hamraie/Fritsch 2019) and approaches from participatory design research and practice, this event discusses body-technology relations from inter-, transdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives. We argue in favor of extending the concept of materiality beyond the borders of the physical object to include practices and relations and consequently, want to question common concepts of norm, normality, and normativity. Because these notions are not only entangled with artefacts but also with their design and the practices they involve, which include bodies embedded in historical, cultural, infrastructural and institutional contexts. Thus, they can be considered situated (Haraway 1988). As a result, questions and demands for inclusion and social participation, too, become virulent (Star 2017, 1999; Winner 1980) and have been problematized as politics of assistive artefacts (Mills 2012). In sum, we propose to re/frame technology and body (differences) as interacting entities within societies.
The event aims to think critically through a theoretical framework in the context of dis/abilities that recognizes assistive technologies as political as well as situated interconnections. On this basis, we endorse to reflect on infrastructures of design for questions of inclusion and participation – cross-cultural, inter- and transdisciplinary. Reflecting on open source practices in medical and assistive technologies (e.g. 3D printing) will allow us to question the effects of heterogeneous interests, economic implications and everyday affordances of socio-material assemblages produced within the frameworks of participatory design research.
Tom Bieling (Hamburg), Melike Şahinol (Istanbul), Anna-Lena Wiechern (Lüneburg), Robert Stock (Berlin)