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)
Ensamblajes peatonales: Los andares a ciegas como prácticas tecno-sensoriales | Pedestrian assemblages: Blind people’s walks as techno-sensory practices
¿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.
How do blind people walk and cross the streets? This has been the guiding question, only simple at first glance, of our ethnographic study at the crossroads of Sensory Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies (STS), undertaken in the last six years in the city of Barcelona. In it we have followed different activists for the rights of people with “visual diversity” in their everyday urban displacements, and in their politicizations of urban infrastructures. Paying attention to the multiple and distributed agency that equips and dis/ables modes of moving about in the city, this question allows a description of the embodied, social, material and technical complexity that this mundane act entails. Our inquiry foregrounds two main elements: (a) the description of the sensory practices unfolded in blind walks; and (b) the description and close examination of the role played by non-human actors — animals and technologies — which constitute the “equipment” to walk as a blind person. Deepening urban anthropology’s material and embodied turn to the understanding of the circumstances of pedestrians, the present work wishes to highlight the relevance of considering pedestrian assemblages and the techno-sensory practices enabling particular types of displacements. A description around assemblages allows us to unfold a description of the city not as a place for the indifferent encounter of abled subjects, but as a complex ecology of supports and accompaniments to host bodily diversity.
El próximo 25 de noviembre de 6 a 7:30 pm30 de noviembre de 4 a 5:30pm [pospuesto por enfermedad] (CET) estaré impartiendo una sesión en el curso online de ANTIARQ (plataforma que busca crear espacios de complementariedad universitaria orientados a la producción de conocimiento interdisciplinar entre la Antropología y la Arquitectura) titulado EL URBANISMO COMO DISCURSO. ENFOQUES ALTERNATIVOS PARA RESIGNIFICAR LA PRAXIS
El curso consta de seis sesiones en donde analizaremos varias categorías empleadas de manera recurrente por los discursos promotores de las trasformaciones urbanísticas en la actualidad -tales como participación ciudadana, innovación tecnológica, sostenibilidad, accesibilidad universal, escala humana, etc.-, con la intención de analizarlas desde enfoques alternativos para evidenciar sus contradicciones, pero también como oportunidad para repensar los fundamentos de la práctica urbanística. Además, el contenido del curso rema a contra corriente de la proliferación de fórmulas urbanísticas que han surgido a raíz de la pandemia generada por la COVID-19, y que se difunden especulativamente como “mano de santo” para resolver problemáticas ligadas a la afectación entre el entorno urbano y las formas de sociabilidad que alberga, obviando e rol instrumental del urbanismo para el fortalecimiento de las políticas neoliberales, que son en última instancia, las que han dado innumerables pruebas de atentar sin reparos contra la reproducción de la vida –urbana-.
En la primera sesión se analiza la retórica proyectual del espacio público, ofertado como símbolo ligado a la democratización de la ciudad para ocultar la privatización de la gestión urbana y las políticas de control social. En la segunda sesión, se analiza el sentido de la participación ciudadana en el urbanismo neoliberal, evidenciando lo que opera tras su fachada de fácil consenso y sus efectos en la vida de los ciudadanos. En la tercera sesión, se presenta una mirada crítica de las ciudades inteligentes, poniendo de relieve la crucial implicación de las empresas de tecnología en las operaciones privatizadoras del espacio urbano, mostrando cómo los algoritmos suelen normalizar sus efectos de exclusión social para rehusar las contradicciones o conflictos, justificándolos como errores del sistema. En la cuarta sesión, se profundiza en el tema de la sostenibilidad y su conversión en un discurso vacío, al ser uno de los eslóganes necesarios para dar valor al producto ciudad como mercancía en el mercado global y nos invita a preguntarnos si urbanismo sostenible no es un oxímoron. La quinta sesión está enfocada en los retos pedagógicos e institucionales del diseño urbano en materia de accesibilidad universal, lo que supone no solo la democratización técnica de los procesos de diseño urbano, sino también la desestigmatización cultural de unos cuerpos considerados impropios. Finalmente, la sexta sesión pon en el centro del debate, la noción de ´escala humana´ empleada como coartada para el montaje de ciudades humanizadas, en donde ciertos usuarios o usuarias serán excluidos sistemáticamente del usufructo de las zonas reformadas por actuaciones urbanísticas.
Mi sesión: “Aprender a afectarse: la accesibilidad como reto pedagógico e institucional del Diseño Urbano”
Desde su eclosión en los ciclos de protestas civiles de los años 1970 en adelante, los activistas por los derechos de las ‘personas con discapacidad’ – actualmente ‘diversas funcionales’ – llevan luchando para que nuestras ciudades sean hospitalarias con la diversidad corporal. Esto no sólo ha supuesto articular procesos de desestigmatización cultural, buscando sostener la autonomía de unos cuerpos hasta ese momento considerados impropios. También, ha promovido el debate de la democratización técnica de los procesos de diseño urbano e infraestructural. En consecuencia, varias ciudades del Norte Global han desarrollado acciones para sensibilizar a arquitectos, ingenieros y funcionarios públicos, para que tales entornos pudieran existir, creando condiciones favorables para un diseño inclusivo de las infraestructuras urbanas. En no pocas ocasiones, este proceso de sensibilización requiere una profunda transformación pedagógica de las personas implicadas en el diseño y en el rediseño urbanístico. Este reto institucional y pedagógico que se analiza en esta sesión, implica un ‘aprender a afectarse’ por la diversidad corporal y visibilizar lo que ello supone desde la implementación de políticas de ‘supresión de barreras’ y estándares arquitectónicos, hasta problematizaciones en torno a enfoques ‘culturales’ y ‘multisensoriales’. Se expondrán ejemplos recabados desde un trabajo antropológico acerca de la transformación accesible de la ciudad de Barcelona, mostrando su constructo institucional en un intento de sensibilización de los técnicos municipales. Pero, también, se compartirá el impacto de este trabajo antropológico aplicado desde la docencia, como pedagogía experimental orientada a impartir otras metodologías de diseño desde la formación de arquitectos en la Universidad Politécnica de Múnich.
Lo aprendido en En torno a la silla, así como siguiendo a técnicos del Instituto Municipal de Personas con Discapacidad y formando arquitectos en Múnich me lleva a sugerir que esto supone una democratización técnica de los procesos de diseño urbano, así como la desestigmatización cultural de cuerpos considerados impropios.
Una democratización del diseño que antes que proveer soluciones para otros implica “aprender a afectarse” por los derechos, necesidades y aspiraciones de cuerpos diversos, experimentando con otras formas de hacer ciudades más hospitalarias.
Lo que contaré, por tanto, son tres modos de activar urbanismos posibles: prototipos, infraestructura pública y cursos de proyectos. En todos ellos late esa aspiración por fabricar, sensibilizar o convocar una ciudad poco común (la de los cuerpos impropios y los encuentros extraordinarios con la posibilidad de una otra manera de hacer ciudad)
Mi sueño sería que esto sirviera para poder trabajar en paralelo en una copia en castellano del libro en inglés, para poder abrirlo a discusión densa y profunda, pero las fuerzas son las que son y por eso me hace especial ilusión poder contar el argumento en forma seminario.
Blok, A., & Farías, I. (Eds.). (2016). Urban Cosmopolitics: Agencements, Assemblies, Atmospheres. London: Routledge. Callon, M., & Rabeharisoa, V. (2008). The growing engagement of emergent concerned groups in political and economic life: lessons from the French association of neuromuscular disease patients. Science, Technology & Human Values, 33(2), 230–261. Callon, M., Lascoumes, P., & Barthe, Y. (2011). Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Hamraie, A. (2017). Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability.Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press. Latour, B. (2004a). Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Latour, B. (2004b). How to talk about the body? The normative dimension of Science Studies. Body & Society, 10(2–3), 205–229. Marres, N., & Lezaun, J. (2011). Materials and devices of the public: an introduction. Economy and Society, 40(4), 489–509. Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2017). Matters of care: Speculative Ethics for a More Than Human World. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press. Stengers, I. (2019). Civiliser la modernité ? Whitehead et les ruminations du sens commun. Paris: Les presses du réel. Vilà, A. (Ed.). (1994). Crónica de una lucha por la igualdad: apuntes para la historia del movimiento asociativo de las personas con discapacidad física y sensorial en Catalunya. Barcelona: Fundació Institut Guttmann.
In this intervention I summarise my particular urban anthropological interest in accessibility urbanism as a peculiar form of a technical democratisation of city-making. ‘Technical democracy’ is a term used in STS to discuss different approaches participatory forms of technoscience, where an expansion of expertise to knowledges beyond hegemonic technical ones has been approached and experimented upon. It has many versions, but nearly all of them are concerned with the need to reverse the effects of technocracy and expertocracy. This has been done in a wide variety of ways: from searching to make science and technology amenable for public discussion and deliberation to expanding the who and the how of technoscientific practice (for an overview, see Callon, Lascoumes & Barthe, 2011).
This concern is particularly important in a context of planetary urbanisation with its concomitant development of urban infrastructures. A concern with technical democracy becomes crucial when these urban infrastructures are not only heavily managed by all kinds of experts, but are redefining in uncertain ways the scopes and practices of urban modes of togetherness. Following also in this an STS concern, rather than as large technical systems, infrastructures should be appreciated as sites for the controverted relational re-articulation of social and material worlds: that is, particular forms of bringing together and apart agents, material entities, knowledges… Or, to say it better, relational configurations that foreground some of these agents, material entities, knowledges neglecting or, even, excluding others (Farías & Blok, 2016).
Precisely because of this, urban infrastructures are also the sites where new forms of the demos are emerging: Indeed, multitude of concerned groups and affected publics mobilise and undertake research around these highly technical issues; sometimes they train themselves to become quasi-experts in order to challenge expert control, when not searching to manage those urban infrastructures themselves. Contemporary urban infrastructures are one of the most crucial sites where an experimentation and a reinvention of particular forms of technical democratisation are taking place: not just because of how urban infrastructural design might need to be democratized, but also because of how we might be engaging in and designing infrastructures of urban democratization (Harvey, Jensen & Morita, 2016).
In what follows I will show you a few instances from my work on the technical democracy of accessibility urbanism. Since 2012, I have been doing research on urban accessibility issues in Spain and Germany, with a comparative European gaze: in particular, I have been studying and engaging in a variety of emergent publics mobilised around accessible design and urbanism. As a pioneering field in the democratisation of urban infrastructures, urban accessibility teaches us that in order to democratize infrastructures, we might need to engage in the experimentation with and implementation of different infrastructures for urban democratisation. As I will show: (a) To manage complex socio-technical issues like this one requires the creation of infrastructures for inclusive policy-making, engaging publics and concerned groups in different forms of participatory governance; (b) The democratization of modes of designing and doing urban infrastructures also implies setting up infrastructures for epistemic collaboration with emergent publics; (c) But as I will suggest, in closing, for any of this to make any sense, we also need to intervene expert education: experimenting with pedagogic infrastructures for the ‘sensitization of experts.’
II. Participatory Governance
Since the 1970s, and through different forms of contestation, disability rights advocates have been searching to create public concern on the discrimination they suffer, making their bodily experiences of exclusion palpable to articulate more inclusive urban infrastructures (Hamraie, 2017; Williamson, 2019).
Allow me to give you an example. In what was known at the time in Barcelona as the cripples’ revolt diverse small associations of people with disabilities united to hold public demonstrations demanding ‘a city without barriers.’ These protests paved the way for the creation of a newly democratic municipal institution governing these matters in a participatory fashion since the early 1980s (the Institut Municipal de Personas amb Discapacitat, or Municipal Institute of People with Disabilities, IMPD, in its last denomination): in whose ‘hybrid’ board politicians and technical staff are joind by elected representatives of people with disabilities (IMPD, 2019).
The IMPD was quintessential in re-designing Barcelona’s urban infrastructures in preparation for the 1992 Olympics: this hybrid institution engaged in a comparative search for urban accessibility and inclusive design policies around the world; it was also a fundamental site for the legal training of disabled representatives to address highly complex technicalities, as well as the experiential training of professionals. This combination of comparative policy analysis, together with experiential and technical forms of knowledge exchange was important to develop new urban standards, building and technical codes that became a model in the country; a lasting urban infrastructure developed thanks to the participatory engagement of disability rights advocates.
But what this case shows is that a public engagement in the field of urban accessibility cannot just be an issue of merely allowing people to take part in, or to give very vulnerable people the means to appropriate technical knowledge or to transform technologies through consumption and user-led innovation. In a context in which regulation tends to happen in the extrastatecraft form of market-based building standards, ISO or DIN (Easterling, 2014), public institutional infrastructures are crucial to bring together concerned publics and experts to regulate, and assemble together inclusive forms of policy-making. Not only to be able to deal with the legal technicalities that policy-making on these issues requires, but also to ensure their implementation and sustainability for neglected actors. This is far from being an easy task. And it has usually entailed shaking the grounds of the classic means by which experts produce knowledge about these bodies.
III. Documentation interfaces
In the last decades, emergent publics and concerned groups with accessibility urbanism have been crucially developing particular infrastructures to mobilise and articulate their experiential knowledges, many times mobilising spatial registers going beyond expert-based Euclidean notions (Hall & Imrie, 1999; Imrie, 1999). I have been addressing them as ‘documentation interfaces’ (Criado & Cereceda, 2016): that is, not only as situations to frame, elicit and discuss diverse bodily experiences and the environmental and material affordances to host them; but also as situations that produce a trace in different kinds of media, forms of record whereby their experiential knowledge is mobilized to have an impact in design situations, such as in: (1) video-camera records to show what it means to move using a wheelchair; (2) urban explorations with blind people to discuss in situ whether different pavement textures, light settings or colours can be distinguished; (3) not to mention the increasing use of digital platforms for the audio-visual documentation of inaccessibility experiences by all kinds of disability experts, such as collaborative mapping apps.
These documentation interfaces are also interesting empirical sites to understand how particular alliances between concerned groups and experts or technicians are attempted, sometimes way beyond state-run institutional frameworks. One of the most interesting domains for this techno-political experimentation are the many do-it-yourself initiatives, makerspaces and hacklabs emerging throughout the world, and seeking to ‘democratize’ the access to technical knowledge and the users’ engagement in prototyping. I have collaborated in such endeavours as part of my long ethnographic engagement between 2012 and 2016 with the Barcelona-based open design collective En torno a la silla: part of a wider DIY network in the country including engaged professionals and technicians as crucial allies for people with disabilities.
Being able to work together in those settings entails implementing and managing infrastructures of documentation, requiring particular events and digital platforms. These infrastructures, in turn, have allowed intensive learning experiences of collaborative doing and making creating the conditions whereby alternative urban accessibility arrangements can be critically explored and tried out. Yet, despite the crucial importance of DIY forms of engagement for the democratisation of design they are far from being a ‘solution for all’. As we’ve also learnt, these engagements are extremely exhausting and time-consuming for people who also need many social and technical supports to take part in them. Also, without some degree of institutionalisation they prove fragile. Hence, they do not necessarily serve the purpose of bringing into existence safe, economically sustainable, and lasting urban infrastructures for personal autonomy and independence. Nevertheless, they are very relevant as documentation interfaces: that is, as infrastructures of epistemic collaboration where not just a redistribution of technical skills is being attempted, but where an exchange of knowledges becomes possible.
IV. Expert Education
But engaging in infrastructures of more inclusive policy-making or epistemic collaboration are not the only forms in which to create conditions of technical democracy. In closing, I would like to highlight another strategy that we could learn from accessibility issues: perhaps a more important one that we tend to overlook, even though it might open up fertile avenues to play a crucial role as scholars in technical universities like this one. What if democratizing technical decision-making did not just require citizens or lay people to become experts or hackers, but that professional experts in the private and public sector would be aware of the limits of their own expertise? What if technical democracy had to do with building pedagogic infrastructures to train these experts to open themselves to other forms of sensing, knowing and valuing?
Indeed, most urban designers do not usually receive proper accessibility training. This hinders the use of existing accessibility codes and policies. Beyond that, understanding the singular experiences and conditions of diverse bodies neglected by design disciplines is something that needs to be learnt by doing. When confronting with these issues many designers have to ‘retrain’ themselves, challenging their own expertise. For this they need to develop other skills as another kind of practitioners: not only inventing or adapting multi-sensorial gadgets to make possible co-design situations, but also creating collaborative devices to learn from disability advocates what it means to be different kinds of bodies. To make this process easier would require intervening early on in formal training and curricula, as in the ground-breaking experiments of Raymond Lifchez incorporating accessible concerns in design studio teaching (Lifchez, 1986): where disability rights advocates rather than being treated as end users in projects addressed at them were engaged throughout the duration of the course as design consultants of any kind of projects students were working on.
This became a key concern when having to teach at the Department of Architecture at the TU Munich between 2015 and 2018, together with my colleague Ignacio Farías (Farías & Criado, 2018). We realized that the space of the classroom and the training of future design professionals were largely unattended but critical aspects of the project of ‘technical democracy.’ In fact, training professionals to commit to other forms of producing knowledge and making things might be crucial to make more democratic forms of science and technology possible. But this requires inverting the so-called ‘deficit model’ of participation that aims to enhance the public engagement in science and technology: that is, we need to address the potential knowledge deficits of experts.
In the nearly three years we worked there, we plunged in the development of a series of teaching experiments called Design in crisis. In them we felt the need for STS to move from the ‘expertization of laypersons’–a classic public engagement trend, such as in citizen science–to the creation of pedagogic infrastructures for the ‘re-sensitization of experts.’ One example of what this might mean could be the ManualCAD:
“a portable game for architectural design in which both blind or visually impaired architects, and architects who have the sense of sight can participate and create together.”
Taken from https://designincrisis.wixsite.com/designincrisis2017
It was developed by students in the MA in Architecture in a studio project I taught in 2017. After a several weeks’ intensive training to raise awareness of the need to re-appreciate the multi-sensory features of the built environment they had to undertake a group assignment: to collectively prototype a new architectural toolkit for a blind architect. This led them to explore and do research about multi-sensory devices, methods, and skills. Rather than a solution for an almost impossible challenge, the device they came up with was an interesting object to ask good questions or, rather, to open up design as a problem: A tool, perhaps, to re-learn what it might mean to engage in non-visual forms of architecture?
After engaging in this and many other similar teaching experiments, I have come to believe that for technical democracy to take place in city-making, it has to be always reinvented in specific terms from within the technical practices of experts, sensitizing them through different pedagogical experiments and interventions to be another kind of professionals, more open to the wide diversity of actors they could be designing with.
Callon, M., Lascoumes, P., & Barthe, Y. (2011). Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Criado, T. S., & Cereceda, M. (2016). Urban accessibility issues: Techno-scientific democratizations at the documentation interface. City, 20(4), 619–636.
Easterling, K. (2014). Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space. London: Verso.
Farías, I., & Blok, A. (2016). Technical democracy as a challenge to urban studies. City, 20(4), 539–548.
Farías, I., & Criado, T.S. (2018). Co-laborations, Entrapments, Intraventions: Pedagogical Approaches to Technical Democracy in Architectural Design. DISEÑA, 12, 228–255.
Hall, P., & Imrie, R. (1999). Architectural practices and disabling design in the built environment. Environment and Planning B, 26, 409–426.
Hamraie, A. (2017). Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press
Harvey, P., Jensen, C. B., & Morita, A. (Eds.) (2016). Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion. London: Routledge.
IMPD. (2009). Barcelona, una ciutat per a tothom : 30 anys treballant amb les persones amb discapacitat. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona, Institut Municipal de Persones amb Discapacitat (IMPD).
Imrie, R. (1999). The body, disability and Le Corbusier’s conception of the radiant environment. In R. Butler & H. Parr (Eds.), Mind and Body Spaces: Geographies of Illness, Impairment and Disability (pp. 25–44). New York: Routledge.
Lifchez, R. (Ed.). (1986). Rethinking Architecture: Design Students and Physically Disabled People. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Williamson, B. (2019). Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design. New York: New York University Press.
Estando en Helsinki para el NORDES tuve el placer de charlar con Mariana Salgado en Diseño y Diáspora sobre el cuidado como una activación de otros diseños posibles: aquellos que aparecen pensando desde la diversidad funcional en En torno a la silla o desde el re-aprender a diseñar para todxs.
Diseño y Diáspora: El podcast de diseño social en español y portuñol. Conversaciones entre una diseñadora y Otros: a veces amigos, a veces investigadores en diseño, la mayoría de las veces diseñadores trabajando en innovación social o en practicas de diseño emergentes. Desde Helsinki, con ganas por Mariana Salgado.
#79: Diseñando para la diversidad funcional
En esta charla Tomás Criado nos cuenta sobre su trabajo en el ámbito del diseño desde la antropología. Él es antropólogo con especialización en STS (estudios de ciencia y tecnología). Trabaja en la Universidad de Humboldt en Berlín (Alemania). Nos explica conceptos como el cuidado, la diversidad funcional y las tecnologías de la amistad. A la vez describe algunos proyectos de diseño concreto en los que se comprometió luego del 15M, en España. Nos convoca a pensar el diseño desde la incertidumbre y entender los vínculos que se producen en procesos de diseño colaborativos. Al final de la entrevista también hablamos de la enseñanza de diseño a partir de un proyecto donde exploró con alumnos el diseño en situaciones de crisis.
The Nordic Design Research Society (Nordes) organises its 8th biannual conference next 3–4 June 2019 at the Aalto University in Helsinki (Finland), under the timely topic ‘Who cares?‘, whose call looks fantastic:
What do, or should, we care about in design and design research today? Underpinning the question are issues of culture and agency – who cares, for whom, and how? Taking care, or being cared for, evokes the choice of roles, and processes of interaction, co-creation and even decision-making. Caring, as a verb, emphasizes care as intention, action and labor in relation to others. Care can be understood as concern for that beyond oneself, for others and, thus, human, societal and even material and ecological relations are at stake. The question of care is also a call for questioning relationships, participation and responsibility, democratic and sustainable ways of co-existing. From this expansive societal standpoint, we could even ask who cares about design? And what should we do about it? The 8th biennial Nordes conference poses the question, “Who cares?”, exploring related questions, issues and propositions concerning responsibilities, relationships, ways of doing and directing design today.
In the 2019 Nordes conference, we draw inspiration from notions of care as a lens through which to reflect upon and critique as well as potentially to refocus and redirect design and design research. Care might be understood in relation to philosophical lines of inquiry in other disciplines exploring theories, politics and ethics of care. Care might be understood concretely in relation to the ideals and infrastructures of welfare and healthcare systems, or service interactions. Care might be understood personally as a mindset seeking out what is meaningful for people, and for life, and with design as reflective and skilled action concerned with improving things and preferred situations.
Thanks to the generous invitation of the organising committee I will have the immense honour to act as one of the keynote speakers, contributing to one of the main themes of the conference: ‘How to care?’ (Care and care-ful materials, methods and processes in design and design research) – For this, I will be sharing my anthropological work on and my different modes of engagement with inclusive design (see the text of my intervention below)
HOW TO CARE?
Keynote speech, 3.06.2019, Helsinki (published online on 9.04.2020)
Before anything, I would like to warmly thank the organizing committee of the NORDES conference for their kind invitation to speak here today.
When I received your proposal I thought this was a fantastic occasion to attempt to think collectively on how to care in and through design practice. But also, an occasion to think through the recent popularization of the term.
Why such a recent fuzz about ‘care’, you might ask?
As the organizers of the conference have aptly identified, care has indeed begun to pop up in many design domains and situations beyond the arena of social and health-care services. And the concept is now being vindicated when discussing particular modes of architectural and design practice: ranging from participatory approaches to discussions around the ecological crisis as requiring designers of all kinds to engage in ‘critical care’.
Care, hence, has become a politically and morally-laden vocabulary for designers to engage with issues of energy transition, environmental concerns and social inclusion. This interesting expansion of the term is indeed bringing about interesting new repertoires of action for designers, but also newer problems: it is sometimes used as an all-purpose and generic term. Having worked in the vicinity of different uses of this term by professional and amateur architects and designers in the last decade, I have trained myself to pause a bit whenever I hear it being used.
To me, care as a concept has a very specific origin in the feminist politicizations searching to make palpable our constitutive vulnerability and to grant value to the ecologies of support and interdependence put in place to sustain our lives. As such, this term not only highlights the practices that can lift what might be heavy, might serve to protect and support. But also it is a fraught terrain with a very thorny legacy of asymmetries and further violence: sometimes, when coupled with a clear-cut knowledge of what needs to be done and how, care could also be a way of imposing understandings of what it might mean to lead a good life or a good death. Perhaps the best thing we might keep in mind is that, as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.
Hence, in what follows I will invite you to share a reflection that, at best, will try to incite you to think on your own practices on how to bring forth more careful modes of designing, rather than attempting to tell you what to do. My aim is to lure you in considering that rather than having clear and straightforward ideas on what caring might mean, perhaps to care is always an intervention into the very meanings and ways in which practicing care could be possible and desirable, or not.
In the last decade I have been practicing what I call hyperbolically an anthropology of, through and as inclusive design–having worked on a wide variety of settings where care was vindicated as a domain or concern, from telecare for older people to urban accessibility infrastructures, and in a wide variety of engagements as an anthropologist, from providing ethnographic input to design processes, to working in activist collectives or formally training architects.
Drawing from my work, I will sketch out different versions care: namely, as (i) domain of intervention, as (ii) a method (of inclusion or participation), as (iii) a mode of inquiry, and I will close (iv) advocating that perhaps the best way in which we could mobilize care would be as a way of activating the possible, what is not here yet, what could be otherwise, hence weirding our understandings of care in design, enabling to speculate with alternative knowledge distributions and materialisations of togetherness not based on clear-cut understandings of the good nor consensus and commensurability. Perhaps this is what we might need, to navigate the uncertain conditions of the present.
I. Care as a domain
Most people think that to care about care as designers relates to a particular domain of intervention: namely, that of care services and technologies. Indeed, since the 1990s and as a result of the fear of what some call the ‘silver tsunami’–the alarming prospects of population ageing and its alleged catastrophic impact in welfare systems and everyday informal chains of support–, many designers felt the call to engage in conceiving services and products attempting to bring solutions to this conundrum. Largely conceiving their role as that of technologizing or, more specifically, digitalizing these relations, the last decades have seen the advent of many promising devices and platforms, commonly advertised as solutions bringing a technical fix to care burdens. The list might be long: telecare, AAL, robotics, etc.
After my initial involvement in understanding the prospects of this technologisation, I learnt that despite the great investment put into them, these innovations sit on very problematic grounds: These projects and services tend to work articulating and bringing into the mix private actors, such as insurance companies, perpetually claiming that this could lead to more efficient ways of caring for care. However, the potential for their widespread use still resides on the state sustaining via pensions or direct payments the lives of a vast majority of vulnerable populations. An economy of hope that piggybacks on social states and their incentives to grant solutions for those who could not afford them.
After the 2008 crisis, this machinery was exposed at least in many countries of the European south, and it began to show darker contours: in deflating economies, and in the advent of a crisis of welfare systems, the technologisation of care and the prospect that we will all be taken care of by 1m€ robots seems to me rather flawed.
These innovations usually travel within the closed circuits of a handful of countries of the rich North; not only they do not substitute informal care, which is usually rendered even more invisible as an essential work for them to operate as solutions. Not to mention that we know very little of their polluting footprint. Indeed, making an educated guess, critical work on e-waste, such as Josh Lepawsky’s Reassembling Rubbish, indicates that we should include in the calculations of the impact of many digital innovations their environmental effects: not just in terms of its post-consumer polluting externalities, but also those related to the extraction of materials and their production. In fact, if we held all these things in sight, most of our understandings of welfare tend to be premised upon a human exceptionalist, colonial and extractive project of techno-centric innovation.
Welfare, seen in this light, is revealed as a deeply unsustainable machinery. I don’t mean to say that innovation in that sector is not important or even crucial, precisely to tackle our many social and environmental challenges, but we need to think hard beyond the present-day regime of innovation, revising the promise that nitty-gritty technologisation and hardcore digital infrastructuration will automatically bring the common good, as it risks not only creating further social divides when social states cannot work to redistribute wealth, but also further damaging our environment.
How to do it then?
II. Care as method
Against this background, a popular register for care in product, service and urban design has tended to reinvigorate it as a concern around inclusive methods or means of designing: namely, a worry for non-tokenistic forms of participation and inclusion of concerned publics in the creation and articulation of a wide variety of social and material arrangements. Care, then, here reads as an agenda for processes so that users’ voices, wishes or needs could be heard, discovered, interrogated, made available, shared and discussed in the hope that we could find a more inclusive common ground. In the desire to be more careful, more standpoints should be brought into the equation.
These issues are, for instance, constantly made to emerge in attempts at building urban accessibility infrastructures. Let me share an example: all over Europe a new pedestrianized paradigm has popularized, the ‘shared street’. It is premised upon a gigantic infrastructural transformation of squares and sidewalks using more durable and hard-surface materials, with the idea that if the zoning of street uses–and with it the differences in patterns and heights–was dropped, pedestrians and bikers would be safer, because cars would have to slow down, and pay attention to their surroundings. However, with mounting cases of older or blind or deaf people being hit by cars or motorbikes all over the place, many find these spaces paradoxically much more dangerous than before. Yet, finding a solution by consensus doesn’t look very promising here. Perhaps for these spaces to allow for good forms of pedestrianization the views and needs of some must prevail over others, for this to be a lasting good, and protective solution.
As this example shows well, participation is much more complicated than just bringing all concerned people in or back into the design fabric. Composing a common ground tends to be very complicated when we are not only in the business of the concertation of already known interests of well-articulate parts of a whole–that is, when we are not dealing with mere stakeholders–, but when we operate with wicked problems affecting us in strange and emergent ways, for which we have no simple nor common definitions of the problem, and therefore much less solutions, and where the process might need us to take part not as a clearly recognizable part of a whole but engaging in more agonistic, critical, and dissent-oriented design practices.
What about those whose views are not that articulate, those whose ways of being and acting do not make of them adequate liberal subjects in the social-democratic search for consensus? What about ‘the part of those without part’, to paraphrase philosopher Jacques Rancière?
In situations like this, to care might not be to enact consensus through the concertation of interests. This doesn’t work when we have incommensurable positions, and when we’re in a situation of uncertainty. How to care, then?
III. Care as a mode of inquiry
What these situations show is that care, rather than a clear path towards a solution, should be addressed as a domain of problematisations, in the sense that Foucault gave the term: that is, as problem spaces whereby we probe into and articulate competing and sometimes opposing versions of the world through particular material and semiotic assemblages.
In that vein, care as a mode of inquiry became an analytic in feminist initiatives: As a descriptive tool, it conveyed the importance not only of invisible or undervalued work — that is, the everyday reproductive tasks of supporting fragile and interdependent beings in both informal and formal settings — but also of affects and emotions going against the grain of modern societies obsessed with efficacy, justice and rationality. As a category of political intervention, it helped give value and articulate a wide variety of forms of interdependence.
These two meanings can be appreciated in the notion of care famously coined, almost thirty years ago, by Berenice Fisher and Joan C. Tronto as “a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible.” (Fisher and Tronto 1990, p. 40)
Many designers have been involved in producing conditions for such a feminist inquiry, in projects of mapping, visualizing and debating alternative cartographies of interdependence and invisible labour.
These projects search to make exclusions and forms of supports visible so as to debate alternative arrangements, also opening up discussions on the very effects of making visiblet.
The feminist legacy of care also points out at the requirement to practice care even though we might not know how to do it, even though we might not be fully sure of how we’re doing it, even though we might constantly be in a search for better ways of being and living or dying together, and even though we might fail most of the time.
Recent feminist works in STS have indeed readdressed care as searching to engage in understandings of ‘doing the good in practice’, to paraphrase Annemarie Mol; not only to dispute generic understandings of how, what or who to care for and why– in fact, care tends to be an art of the singular and the practical, rather than of the generic and the universal–, but also in some other occasions so as to not forget the violent prospects of care interventions. Highlighting the importance to remain, to rejoice, to learn from being troubled from the ways in which we care, not searching to explain them away.
As such, it resonates with the particularly lucid call by Michelle Murphy for a politics of care that unsettles its often-hegemonic histories, as well as contemporary alignments and circulations. Perhaps that might be the best way of caring: not taking for granted how to do so, doubting without ceasing to find ways to act, remaining aware of the potential exclusions it might bring to the fore, so as to find ways to retrace our steps and act towards more just modes of togetherness. And for this, care concerns with practices that stress not just the finitude of our particular bodies and their vulnerabilities, but also their openness and unfinishedness.
Seen in this light care, then, care could be understood as a way of protecting the constitutive vulnerability of being in a way that doesn’t easily conflate to the certainty of who these beings are and what their contours might be: securing hence our ways of remaining open to the unknown, perpetually ‘assembling neglected things’ as María Puig de la Bellacasa has so vehemently put it.
But how to do it, then?
IV. Care as activating the possible
Perhaps the current situations of planetary distress have made us aware that care is now more than ever an issue affecting us all. And yet, although vulnerability and the need to find supports cuts across social divides care risks becoming a too generic a term if not considering the different forms and gradients of intensity to exposure and carelessness.
My warning is raised in a context in which care is also vindicated for the worse in the brutal responses: with its connotations of good will and humanitarianism, care can be problematic if not extremely violent analytic for many collectives and ecologies of practice. For instance, refugees or other collectives subject to social are tend to oppose a vocabulary that renders them into passive subjects of someone else’s attention.
Yet, this problematization or troubling of the care analytic might have become more generic today, when the likes of Trump or Salvini regularly word out “we must take care of our own” as an exclusionary project, be it in the building of more steep and brutal borders or preventing rescue ships from having a safe port in the Mediterranean.
When care is invoked in violent nationalist, supremacist and macho projects of cocooning against our own constitutive otherness; but also when care is vindicated as an expert vocabulary of professional certainty, some of us feel we might need another word.
However, care is too important to be abandoned to its own fate. It is precisely under the influence of these brutal, palliative and reparative understandings of care–that is, those that want to keep things as they are, or restore things to an imagined or aspirational Valhalla of how nice things once were, that we should insist in vindicating and pluralizing care. As I see it, in such a context, care might be understood as a task of what philosopher Isabelle Stengers might call ‘activating the possible’: a way of making available what isn’t there yet, what could be otherwise.
Practiced in this unsettled way, care might be expanded even, not only to many other-than-human and more-than-human ecologies but also beyond the regular modes of politicizing care in all too human affairs.
One of the most interesting places for the recent renewal and expansion of careful design practices have been the many community-making endeavours that emerged after the doomed landscape of the 2008 financial crisis. In Spain, for instance, the indignados protests gave way to a wide variety of crowd-sourced, low-tech and DIY community explorations–analogous to others that appeared in many other locales–exploring forms of activist design with hackers, makers, maintainers, and menders experimenting with recycling, re-use and up-cycling, activating design as a practice bringing forms of care by other means.
Revitalising the critical debates of the 1970s these projects started to show how design practice, as a sometimes technocratic and consumerist-driven modernist endeavor, might as well be part of the many problems of our contemporary predicaments rather than a solution.
As a reaction to these modes of practicing design, these initiatives have created conditions for shared and distributed expertise going well beyond the technocratic pact of social utility of design: whereby designers act as experts in the closure of political and social conflict through solutions–services or products–for the common good, sometimes asking different groups their opinions, or enrolling social scientists like yours truly in learning about users and uses through methods like ethnography or participatory fora.
To me, the most interesting thing is that many of these projects reveal care as a project of what in STS is known as ‘technical democracy’, when searching to remain open to uncertainty, dissent and probing into complex yet collaborative modes of inquiry, with the aspiration to bring forth divergent ecologies of support.
Indeed, these different design enact other roles for designers: as facilitators of ‘socio-material assemblies’ or ‘design things’, as Thomas Binder, Pelle Ehn and colleagues would call them: staging and infrastructuring problems and different modes of engagement in design after design; or as bringing forth critical, speculative, poetic and more explicitly adversarial forms of design practice that elicit and provoke material modes of collective interrogation around design and its effects.
As I see it, these divergent design practices elicit a wide variety of repertoires of caring for the possible, precisely because they operate against how anthropologist Arturo Escobar defines modernist design practices, as operating under the ontological occupation of modernity and its natural and cultural, expert and lay clear divides. Indeed, these projects enact or activate the possible because they practically carve out alternative ontologies of the world and relational modes to the classic modernist ones, however unknown, unfathomable or scary they might seem at first. Indeed, caring for the possible in these endeavours is far from being an easy task.
Activating things: En torno a la silla
But allow me to exemplify. From 2012 to 2016 I actively participated in a collective space of this kind in Barcelona: an exploratory activist design initiative called En torno a la silla, a wordplay in Spanish signalling an attempt at situating ourselves around, en torno, wheelchairs, sillas, so as to activate other possible environments, entornos, for them. And have been searching ever since to learn from our hyperbolic aspirations, fraught methods and experimental practices to open up inclusion not as a solution but as a problem-space.
En torno a la silla emerged after the indignados protests of 2011, after the recognition that we had no spaces to meet in bodily diversity, and that we might need to make or carve out those spaces so as to keep knowing each other. It started operating as a collective including an architect, professional craftspeople, members of the independent-living movement in Barcelona and me in the role of a documenter.
What gathered us was the intention to prototype a toolkit to turn the wheelchair into something beyond a chair that moves with wheels, but rather as something akin to “an agora that produces agora”: that is, a political and collective space that brings further people in. This was not a participatory design project where designers lured us to work with them in their own solutions or aims, but a collaborative space of inquiry through making where all present contributed in different ways.
For instance, we discovered a lot in the process of creating from scratch a portable wheelchair ramp: not only that we needed to elicit a lot of knowledges about our partners’ bodily diversities and their different types of wheelchairs; but also to think through the technical modes of folding, transportation and unfolding, or the right materials for it to make sense. We also learnt a lot from using it, from the particular effects it created, and the conversations it opened up.
Upon using it the first time in an accessible bar, and publicizing the result on our blog, a debate with colleagues in the independent-living movement ensued; we were accused of undermining the collective struggle by proposing an individual response, but we tried to remain true to what the experience had allowed us: being together in places that had not been imagined for us, opening up an encounter with the people populating them by the sheer act of irruption.
We learnt that the ramp was no solution, but a way of unfolding the problem of inaccessibility in particular situations. And in the joyful way in which we always operated, we started doing it more purposefully: calling the practice that there ensued one of a-saltos, playing with the double meaning in Spanish of jumpy walking, as we were entering places after a jump, as well as one of assaulting, irrupting and disrupting the static normalcy that those places enforced.
Rather than being a project whereby designers cared for known needs and conditions, the intense 4 years that En torno a la silla worked at full steam was rather a process of learning together to care for forms of mutual access, and mutual exploration of whomever wanted to live in bodily diversity, making but also repurposing and recycling all kinds of materials to do so.
This is the reason why we speak in a weird way about what we discovered busy doing: as we came to understand, were not designing technical aids for the of inclusion of the disabled, but caring for the emergence of technologies of friendship, as we called them. That is, spaces of encounter without clarity of purpose beyond the very desire to keep on finding ways of relating at the hinges of unrelatability. Our open approach to design became in time for us a form of inquiring into the conditions of mutual access in bodily diversity.
But working in conditions of ontological occupation, to reiterate Escobar’s appreciation, tends to make things difficult for these attempts at sustaining critical, collaborative and speculative initiatives search to pry open other modes of relating and living together. Many of these projects prove extremely fragile and vulnerable. How could we care for them?
In the last years, much efforts have indeed been put to sustain the liberation of modes of designing that these practices entail. One of the most notable examples has been a concern to infrastructure and generate conditions of exposure to a wide variety of knowledges, through the critical involvement in open-access publication platforms and open-source infrastructures. In opening up to other knowledges and in making them available there lies a hope that we might create alternative resources for alternative modes of living together.
En torno a la silla’s legacy, for instance, remains in the open-source platform that I allowed to put together, with a careful attention to the documentation of our processes of doing and thinking in tutorials, accounts of processes or events, or poetic reflections. However, this liberation of design and its knowledge also needs a welcoming ecology. And for this we need to be aware that open design and its knowledges tend to be framed when not diminished by particularly market-centric and expertocratic conditions of circulation, subject to many disputes in deeply asymmetric contexts of variegated expertise, in many circumstances putting these strategies of opening in danger.
The fraught prospects, hopeful versions and capitalist deformations of the sharing economy are, indeed, here a case in point. As I see it, care here becomes a practical issue for designers whenever searching to test experimental modes of inclusion into the fabric of products, services, platforms, cities or environments. This way of understanding care, then, might demand from us to become activators, so that this openness might flourish. And, for this, to care might mean to open up experimental pedagogic spaces.
Activating pedagogies: Design in crisis
I especially learnt of the difficulties not just to sustain this openness but to create situations of openness when I moved to Germany in 2015. I started working from the belly of the Bavarian beast–if you allow me the pun to talk about the leading German technical university at the core of one of the golden cradles of global corporate capitalism, teaching architects and other types of designers more formally in the chair of participatory design, where I was hired to bring what I had learnt in my variegated engagements in Spain.
From the beginning I faced 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 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…
Hence, for most of the first year, I was constantly accompanied by a sense if failure: a failure to carve out openings in a hierarchically conceived academic culture; a failure to capture the students’ attention beyond ready-made humanitarian gestures, facing an overall tendency to understand their role as one of ‘problem solving’ and perpetually reenacting technical-social divides, demanding from the social professionals that we provided information about users and uses or methods to deal with the problematic prospects of ‘the social’.
Indeed, and much to my dismay, students and colleagues seemed many times uninterested. But I also realized that perhaps my teaching methods were the problem: lecturing, reading and commenting proved deeply inappropriate.
Under such circumstances, I realized that the best thing one could do is to attempt to put the students’ design in crisis, forcing them to engage in processes of learning to unlearn, to undo, or even to undesign the trained habits, goals and practices of modernist design ontologies, and its market-centric and deeply unsustainable effects. But how to do so? Indeed, such was the premise of a radical pedagogical approach in a series of design studio settings called ‘design in crisis’ put forward together with my colleague Ignacio Farías, which lead to a collective reflection on ways in which STS could be made to matter to design and architecture students in the edited volume Re-learning design, published by the Chilean bilingual journal Diseña.
In our particular approach, we sought to design studio practice, searching to sensitise future designers to other forms of understanding their practice, exposing and confronting them with somewhat impossible tasks that force them to engage in other learning process, as well as exposing them to the potential exclusionary effects of their practice.
That became our aim in a series of design studio projects that we framed under the title Design in Crisis, where we tried to work on creating experimental situations that should function as operating a reflection on our student modes of designing, although
the idea was also to show that this was feasible to make students aware that, however crazy or strange our proposals were, the briefs responded to ‘real’ situations where their particular mode of designing should be readdressed.
In Design in Crisis 1 we made them design at great speeds a series of architectural solutions in a fake competition to provide solutions for a series of humanitarian disasters, such as the refugee crisis, then devoting 3 months to undoing and unfolding the problem of their proposals, making them confront their projects in a wide variety of ways with those who might suffer from them.
However, we realized that we might need to train them to practice these confrontations, and for this, in the following versions, we devoted great lengths to train them in multi-sensory approaches to design, then producing toolkits for an alternative architectural practice: in Design in Crisis 2, for instance, we confronted them with the impossible task to design a toolkit for a blind architect, which led them to develop a tool they called ManualCAD, a multi-sensory tool for co-design processes; and in Design in Crisis 3 the challenge we confronted our students with was to re-learn green space co-design by creating a set of devices–simulation and co-working suits, pipes and chemical substances– to establish enter in a relation with the beavers populating the river Isar, attempting to enable them to participate on its renaturalisation.
The outcomes our students produced might be conceived as potential toolkits for a different kind of architectural design practice. Despite being ‘gadgets’ these toolkits should not be seen as closed ‘objects’, nor well-packaged ‘plug-n-play solutions’.
Quite on the contrary, being accompanied by an open documentation of all the shaky learning outcomes the groups had been through in becoming a group, they function as a re-learning device of sorts: as pedagogical devices performing an ‘intravention’ into architectural practice with the potential of having an impact on our students’ future professional practice and allowing others to follow their steps.
Intraventions, hence, whereby students were exposed to forms of designing more carefully, activating the possibility of alternative architectural modes of designing.
But En torno a la silla or Design in Crisis are just some of the many examples of a potential design practice understood as a form of care for the possible. That is, a form of designing so as to activate other forms of designing. But I am sure you could contribute with many others.
In times of planetary distress and complex future prospects for any form of living together, perhaps we need render ourselves amenable to activating our modes of designing in unforeseen ways.
As I would have liked to propose, perhaps the best thing we could do is to decidedly engage in the design of situations to explore different speculative engagements, demanding from us to engage beyond the strict role of ‘advocates’ or ‘activists’: sites, venues or forums to problematize the worlds we live in by making and provoking distinct registers of appreciation of complex conditions in a wide variety of aesthetic registers and design genres, from the parodic to the fictional. Hence acting as ‘careful troublemakers’, un-doing or un-designing the conditions of those whose actions have the potential to be harmful, so that we could attempt to create uncertain practical openings into the possible, where we might experiment and learn to engage in alternative and hopefully better ways of living together.
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
Desde el 3 al 17 de diciembre tendré el grandísimo gusto de poder estar en Montevideo, donde daré un curso y participaré en un laboratorio (esto último junto a Isaac Marrero) en la Maestría en Psicología Social de la Facultad de Psicología de la Universidad de La República, que por intermediación del queridísimo colega y amigo Gonzalo Correa (con quien tenía muchas ganas de poder tramar algo en común desde hace tiempo) ha financiado mi pasaje transatlántico y mi estancia. Agradezco enormemente el esfuerzo económico para hacer realidad el viaje y espero sólo poder compensarlo con las ganas que tengo de aprender de las realidades montevideanas y aportar en la medida de lo posible desde el trabajo que he venido realizando en los últimos años.
El curso tendrá lugar los días 5, 6, 7 y 8 de diciembre por la tarde y lleva por título “Experimentos austeros: Los arreglos del cuidado en crisis” (algo que en algún momento he pensado pudiera convertirse en el borrador de un libro o al menos de un intento de un argumento de amplio espectro–algo que quisiera poder reescribir y co-escribir con mis compas de En torno a la silla–, y agradezco enormemente la oportunidad brindada no sólo de poder presentar y discutir mi trabajo sino de tener un espacio experimental para ensayar el argumento en tan buena compañía).
Dejo por aquí la información detallada del curso.
Este curso plantea una aproximación a las transformaciones contemporáneas en el cuidado y el auto-cuidado, prestando especial atención no sólo a sus aspectos sociales (roles de género sexualizados) o vinculados al trabajo corporal, sino a los arreglos e infraestructuras materiales. De forma más concreta, y siguiendo diferentes perspectivas dentro de la antropología de la ciencia y la tecnología, el curso pretende mostrar las democratizaciones tecnocientíficas desarrolladas en años recientes por el Movimiento de Vida Independiente (MVI): una particular forma de activismo encarnado que pone en el centro los soportes corporales, la interdependencia como fundamento para el auto-cuidado y la experiencia de la diversidad corporal. Empleando numerosos casos y el contexto de un estudio etnográfico llevado a cabo en Barcelona desde 2012–uno de los momentos de mayor efervescencia creativa y activista de la España de las medidas de austeridad, en una profunda crisis económica-financiera, institucional-democrática, moral, etc.-, el curso busca abrir un diálogo sobre los modos de teorización y de conceptualización de las infraestructuras vernáculas del cuidado, las formas de conocimiento que movilizan o las sensibilidades que concitan estos activistas del MVI. Y, particularmente, de qué manera sus “experimentos austeros” pudieran estar explorando o poniendo en práctica conceptos y modelos alternativos de bienestar.
– Una aproximación a las transformaciones contemporáneas en los arreglos socio-materiales del cuidado desde un estudio etnográfico en la España en crisis -económica-financiera, institucional-democrática, moral, etc.-, participando activamente en el colectivo En torno a la silla.
– Apunte sobre el método: Conceptualización vernácula y antropología de la ciencia y la tecnología.
– Dos grandes líneas temáticas:
Cuerpo y formaciones socio-subjetivas fragmentarias y en formación: Una antropología pensada desde los soportes corporales y socio-subjetivos (Do kamo de Leenhardt y la revisión de Pazos, 2008) de la experiencia de la diversidad, lo que permitiría abrir un diálogo sobre las infraestructuras corporales/urbanas, las formas de conocimiento que movilizan y las sensibilidades que concitan.
El cacharreo y sus arreglos como modo de materialización vernácula del cuidado, aspecto nuclear de esta historia.
1) El cacharreo como radicalización de las infraestructuras del auto-cuidado frente a la institucionalización y el cuidado familiar
– Discusión sobre el cuidado y el auto-cuidado:
El estado del bienestar español en discusión (1977-2006): el IMSERSO y su intento frágil y tecnocrático por ir más allá del asistencialismo, el familismo y el corporativismo; las leyes sobre discapacidad; la gran reforma de la “ley de dependencia”, el SAAD y el debate institucionalización vs. cuidado en el hogar (e.g. teleasistencia)
El Movimiento por la vida independiente (MVI) I: Disability Rights Movement y discusiones del concepto de cuidado / auto-cuidado
El MVI II : La creación del Foro de Vida Independiente y Divertad (FVID) y la diversidad funcional como concepto auto-representacional vernáculo del modelo social de la discapacidad; un foro en internet vs. el asociacionismo corporativista de la discapacidad (grandes asociaciones sectoriales y asociaciones de padres)
Las Oficinas de Vida Independiente (OVIs) y el asistente personal (AP) como figura de la interdependencia en discusión: el debate feminista de “Cojos y precarias haciendo vidas que importan”
Tecnología y MVI: entre el derecho a escoger las tecnologías o hacer lobby para su rediseño mediante pagos directos (Lifchez, Ratzka, Wienner, Werner) y la auto-fabricación
Radicalizaciones del cuidado: De las “comisiones de diversidad funcional” del 15M a Funcionamientos de Medialab-Prado y el surgimiento de En torno a la silla (ETS)
2) El cacharreo como activismo encarnado
– Figuraciones epistémicas y articulaciones relacionales en el activismo encarnado:
Democratizaciones tecnocientíficas y activismos encarnados: foros híbridos (Callon et al.), comunidades epistémicas (Akrich & Rabeharisoa), grupos concernidos (Callon & Rabeharisoa), epidemiología popular (Phil Brown et al.) y activismo basado en la evidencia (Akrich & Rabeharisoa et al.).
Lo social, lo técnico y lo subjetivo en el activismo encarnado I: “tecnologías del yo” y “política de la amistad” (Foucault)
Lo social, lo técnico y lo subjetivo en el activismo encarnado II: “Regímenes de im/perceptibilidad”, “immodest witnessing” y “seizing the means of reproduction” (Michelle Murphy)
Lo social, lo técnico y lo subjetivo en el activismo encarnado III: La pregunta por “cómo vivir en común” (Barthes)
El cacharreo como “interfaz documental” y como “tecnología de la amistad” en ETS
3) El cacharreo y la experimentación austera con los arreglos del bienestar en crisis
– Discusión sobre infraestructuras del estado del bienestar, su gubernamentalidad y sus agenciamientos mercantiles:
Una vida de catálogo: El catálogo orto-protésico como un dispensario público subvencionado de ayudas técnicas producidas por actores privados; el catálogo como espacio de gestión gubernamental y mutualización mediada por el estado; el catálogo como “dispositivo de mercado” o “agenciamiento mercantil” que in/habilita particulares agencias económicas (Callon et al.)
Alternativas institucionales al dispensario: El caso del INTI de Argentina y el encuentro Tecnologías de Bajo Coste del CEAPAT español
Modelos del estado del bienestar (Esping-Andersen) y regímenes del cuidado (J. Jenson et al.) y mitos fundacionales del estado (Taussig)
Antropología del estado del bienestar sureuropeo como proyecto permanentemente inacabado (Muehlebach y el relato más allá del debate Mauss/Douglas o Foucault/Rose sobre el estado del bienestar y sus formas de gubernamentalidad; la singularidad del gran proyecto de estado postfranquista-Expo, Barcelona ’92- y sus continuidades con el franquismo, la relación con la arquitectura y el desarrollo urbano; la “ley de dependencia” como gran nuevo relato de la España moderna: “el cuarto pilar del Estado del bienestar”)
El bienestar entra en crisis: impagos, medidas de austeridad, co-pagos, retrasos y la neo-vulnerabilización de “los vulnerables”
Experimentos austeros cacharreando con el concepto y las infraestructuras del cuidado: Diversitat Funcional 15M, Primavera Cacharrera, Pornortopedia/Yes We Fuck, Cacharratón y Red Cacharrera (analogía con la iniciativa mexicana PROJIMO); la austeridad como fragilidad material y vulnerabilidad de los soportes y de su sostén relacional; la imposibilidad de constituir un agenciamiento mercantil (agentes que no se pueden convertir en emprendedores, productos no vendibles, acceso a materiales poco nobles y/o reciclados, etc.)
4) El cacharreo y el diseño abierto como construcción conjunta de problemas
– Discusión sobre el significado y la función social del diseño y su apertura en un contexto de cultura libre:
Diseño crítico, especulativo y adversarial
Diseño participativo/colaborativo: Formalismos democráticos y la revolución de los usuarios
Diseño abierto I: Documentar la auto-fabricación y la arquitectura de la necesidad (“Architecture without architects”, “Whole Earth Catalogue”, “Cultura materiale extraurbana”, “Rikimbili”, “Handmade urbanism”)
El cacharreo de ETS como un hacer vernáculo, cuidadoso y frágil a la vez, centrado en construir problemas conjuntamente sobre el diseño y la economía de las ayudas técnicas.
5) El cacharreo documental y la experimentación etnográfica
– Discusión sobre experimentación etnográfica:
La etnografía en los sitios antropológicos de la contemporaneidad: Para-sitios y comunidades epistémicas (Rabinow et al.; Marcus & Holmes)
Colaboración epistémica: diferentes modos de co-laborar (Riles, Fortun et al., Tsing et al., Kelty et al.)
Experimentación y observación: Breve excurso sobre el uso de estos conceptos en historia de la ciencia, STS y antropología
Dispositivos de campo y el sitiar/situar el campo
Cacharreos documentales: Inscripciones, elicitaciones, realizaciones, elaboraciones y representaciones de/del campo
Colaboraciones experimentales: ETS como lugar del cacharreo etnográfico.
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On Tuesday, 25 Oct 2016, Dr. Tomás S. Criado (MCTS) will give a talk on “Tinkering with care: Austere experiments with alternative welfare infrastructures” at the MCTS (TU Munich) Research Colloquium.
The event will take place at MCTS, Augustenstr. 46, seminar room 270 and start at 5:00 pm.
The MCTS Research Colloquium is designed to present recent Science and Technology Studies projects as well as to stimulate discussion on the various research activities by MCTS scholars and their guests.
Abstract for the talk
Once considered the primary institutional expression of care in the global North, the Welfare State and its infrastructures are now under great strains. Apart from neoliberal attempts at streamlining ‘the social’, different versions of Welfare across Europe have also been contested by disability rights movements due to their articulation around ‘dependence’. In this presentation, I will show a particular set of experiments at tinkering with such articulations of care and citizenship in particularly ‘austere’ times. Indeed, I will reflect on the practices I have been studying ethnographically in the past years in Spain, involving activist self-management or auto-fabrication of self-care devices by independent-living collectives. This is a response to both recent legal developments, the inadequacy of standardized market products, the increasing lack of funds, and the cracks in the public services, such as the system of provision of technical aids–a particular care regime I will generically refer to as ‘the catalogue’. As part of my involvement with different collectives tinkering, in their own idiom, with care arrangements, I will narrate the collaborative design practices and the strategies of different independent-living activists and engaged professionals attempting to bring into existence alternative and more caring forms of envisioning, materializing and valuing these arrangements. In sheer contrast with the state/corporate expert-based ‘catalogue’ of products and services, tinkering with care for these groups entails engaging in austere and fragile self-experimental design practices where alternative epistemic, economic and political ‘regimes of co-production’ (experience-based, collaborative, and self-produced) are tested and demonstrated. In describing this, I will not only try to ethnographically take issue with the understandings of welfare ‘otherwise’ they bring to the fore, but also with how they might help us address, in a more vernacular light, the different notions of care being developed recently in STS.
In their words, the book: “connects the study of design with care, and explores how concepts of care may have relevance for the ways in which urban environments are designed. It explores how practices and spaces of care are sustained specifically in urban settings, thereby throwing light on an important arena of care that current work has rarely discussed in detail.”
In this paper, we engage with the practices of En torno a la silla (ETS), which involve fostering small DIY interventions and collective material explorations, in order to demonstrate how these present a particularly interesting mode of caring through design. They do so, firstly, by responding to the pressing needs and widespread instability that our wheelchair friends face in present-day Spain, and, secondly, through the intermingling of open design and the Independent-Living movement’s practices and method, which, taken together, enable a politicisation and problematisation of the usual roles of people and objects in the design process. In the more conventional creation of commoditized care technologies, such as technical aids, the role of the designer as expert is clearly disconnected from that of the lay or end user. Rather, technical aids are objects embodying the expertise of the designer to address the needs of the user. As we will argue, ETS unfolds a ‘more radical’ approach to the design of these gadgets through what we will term ‘joint problem-making,’ whereby caring is understood as a way of sharing problems between users and designers, bringing together different skills to collaboratively explore potential solutions.