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

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STS/CSIS, UC Davis – Food For Thought event ‘Technologies of friendship: In search for a diverse common world’

Next Wednesday, April 19th – 12:00 – 2:00 pm I will have the great pleasure and honour to show my work at a STS/CSIS Food For Thought event at UC Davis (many thanks to Marisol de la Cadena for her invitation!).

Venue: STS/CSIS Conference Room (SSH Building #1246) | For those of you around, please register here

Technologies of friendship: In search for a diverse common world

The intense co-existence afforded in Spanish indignados protests by public space occupations had the unexpected effect of forging unprecedented relations and forms of affective politicisation. This had a huge impact in the activism around ‘functional diversity:’ transforming a self-representational fight by independent-living activists to substitute ‘dis/ability’ and ‘residential care’ framings into a wider exploration on how to enjoy and do things together with previously strange others. Drawing on my ethnographic engagement in the activist design collective En torno a la silla (ETS) emerging in that context, I will explore the register of friendship to narrate the intimate entanglements developed thereon: reclaiming the means to increase the conditions of access between bodily diverse people they delved into processes of collaborative prototyping and spatial intervention to remediate disabling body-environment nexuses impeding them to develop stronger bonds; and crafted meetings and documentation interfaces to articulate or share the experiences there made available, making newer alliances possible. From the very beginning their aim was not just the ‘inclusion’ of ‘disabled people’ through newer ‘technical aids’, but the sheer experimentation with spaces of encounter, bringing to the fore what ETS referred to as ‘technologies of friendship.’ Far from referring to ready-made commodities enabling a distinctive and static ontology of relations, this term designates frail and careful cosmopolitical explorations of the appropriate forms of relatedness, a recursive material opening up of friendship between bodily diverse strangers who might otherwise never meet were it not for their troublesome search for inhabiting and forging a diverse common world.

Image credits

Sinergia” CC BY-NC-SA by negrescolor

IH, CCHS-CSIC | Seminario de Investigación: “Estados del cuidado: Para una genealogía del bienestar en crisis”

 

estados_del_cuidado

Miércoles, 15 de Marzo 2017, 12-13:30, en la Sala Gómez Moreno 2C del Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales del CSIC (C/Albasanz 26-28, Madrid), estaré presentando algunos elementos de mi trabajo etnográfico reciente y su contextualización.

Organiza: Grupo de Investigacíón “Mundialización y mundialización de la ciencia” (IH, CCHS-CSIC)

Estados del cuidado: Para una genealogía del bienestar en crisis

‘Estados del cuidado’ quisiera ser una indagación no sólo de las formas en que los estados han querido arrogarse las competencias y dotarse de infraestructuras para cuidar, sino también del estado en que queda el cuidado por los diferentes modos en que esto se hace. La presentación, aunque resonando sobre el material etnográfico de mi trabajo reciente, tendrá un cariz genealógico. En ella intentaré explorar el bienestar como un concepto y un conjunto de prácticas sociomateriales sometidos en la historia Euro-Americana reciente a numerosas crisis: en un sentido que incluye las derivadas de medidas de austeridad o de los modos de economización neoliberal, pero que quisiera también considerar otras muchas problematizaciones abiertas sobre los asuntos a dirimir o los sentidos de las diferentes transformaciones institucionales. Con la mirada puesta en algunos debates sobre el crítico estado desde su concepción del estado del bienestar español, así como en la historia de algunas de sus transformaciones recientes, quisiera sin embargo prestar especial atención a las formas en que diferentes radicalizaciones de colectivos y profesionales–vinculadas a espacios feministas y LGBTi, movimientos anti-psiquiátricos o relativos a la vida independiente y la diversidad funcional, conectados con un contexto más amplio de debates en el ámbito Euro-Americano–, han venido no sólo articulando ‘críticas’ a diferentes estados de ese bienestar (paternalista y/o asistencialista, expertocrático y/o familista, caritativo y/o institucionalizado, externalizado y/o autogestionado), sino también construyendo alternativas, arreglos o ecologías de soportes y apoyos que pondrían ‘en crisis’ ciertas maneras restringidas de entender el cuidado, ampliando los modos críticos en que pudiera entenderse el bienestar más allá de algunos de sus estados recientes.

Curso en la Maestría en Psicología Social, Universidad de La República – “Experimentos austeros: Los arreglos del cuidado en crisis”

2014-06-07-12-42-29

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.

Resumen

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.

Contenido

0) Introducción

– 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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”)
  • Diseño abierto II: Movimiento maker, amateur experts, crowd-sourcing y emprendeduría neoliberal
  • Diseño abierto III: Critical making
  • 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.

 

Bibliografía básica

Agulló, C. et al. (2011). Cojos y precarias haciendo vidas que importan. Cuaderno sobre una alianza imprescindible. Madrid: Traficantes de sueños.

Akrich, M. (2010). From Communities of Practice to Epistemic Communities: Health Mobilizations on the Internet. Sociological Research Online, 15(2).

Brown, P. et al. (Eds.). (2011). Contested Illnesses: Citizens, Science, and Health Social Movements. Berkeley, CA: Univ of California Press.

Callon, M. (2008). Economic Markets and the Rise of Interactive Agencements: From Prosthetic Agencies to Habilitated Agencies. In T. Pinch & R. Swedberg (Eds.), Living in a Material World: Economic Sociology meets Science and Technology Studies (pp. 29–56). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Callon, M., Lascoumes, P., & Barthe, Y. (2011). Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy. (G. Burchell, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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. et al. (2013). Sociologie des agencements marchands : Textes choisis. Paris: Presses de l’École de Mines.

Estalella, A. & Sánchez Criado, T. (Eds.) (2017). Experimental collaborations: Ethnography through fieldwork devices. Oxford: Berghahn.

Muehlebach, A. (2012). The Moral Neoliberal: Welfare and Citizenship in Italy. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Murphy, M. (2012). Seizing the Means of Reproduction: Entanglements of Feminism, Health, and Technoscience. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Murphy, M. (2006). Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Pazos, Á. (2008). El otro como sí-mismo. Observaciones antropológicas sobre las tecnologías de la subjetividad. In T. Sánchez Criado (Ed.), Tecnogénesis. La construcción técnica de las ecologías humanas (Vol. 2, pp. 145–166). Madrid: Antropólogos Iberoamericanos en Red.

Rabeharisoa, V., Moreira, T., & Akrich, M. (2014). Evidence-based activism: Patients’, users’ and activists’ groups in knowledge society. BioSocieties, 9(2), 111–128.

Sánchez Criado, T., Rodríguez-Giralt, I., & Mencaroni, A. (2016). Care in the (critical) making. Open prototyping, or the radicalisation of independent-living politics. ALTER – European Journal of Disability Research / Revue Européenne de Recherche Sur Le Handicap, 10(2016), 24–39.

Sánchez Criado, T., & Cereceda, M. (2016). Urban accessibility issues: Technoscientific democratizations at the documentation interface. City, 20(4), 611–628.

Sánchez Criado, T., & Rodríguez-Giralt, I. (2016). Caring through Design?: En torno a la silla and the “Joint Problem-Making” of Technical Aids. In C. Bates, R. Imrie, & K. Kullman (Eds.), Care and Design: Bodies, Buildings, Cities (pp. 200–220). Oxford: Wiley.

Shakespeare, T. (2006). Disability Rights and Wrongs. London: Routledge.

Werner, D. (Ed.). (1998). Nothing About Us Without Us: Developing Innovative Technologies For, By, and With Disabled Persons. Palo Alto, CA: Health Wrights.

MCTS, TU Munich – Research Colloquium: ‘Tinkering with care’

Tutorial rampa portátil, En torno a la silla CC BY NC SA 2015

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.

Caring through Design?: En torno a la silla and the ‘Joint Problem-Making’ of Technical Aids

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Charlotte Bates, Rob Imrie, and Kim Kullman have edited the challenging compilation Care and Design: Bodies, Buildings, Cities (out November 2016 with Wiley-Blackwell).
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.”
Israel Rodríguez-Giralt and I contribute with the Chapter 11 “Caring through Design?: En torno a la silla and the ‘Joint Problem-Making’ of Technical Aids (pp. 198-218).

The idea for a wheelchair armrest/briefcase CC BY NC SA En torno a la silla (2012)

Abstract

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.

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CISP, Goldsmiths – ‘The New Experimentalisms’ workshop

CISP-Goldsmiths

I will be presenting the introduction to the forthcoming book ‘Experimental collaborations: Ethnography through fieldwork devices‘ (co-edited with Adolfo Estalella) at the The New Experimentalisms, a one day workshop at CISP/Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

Tuesday September 20th 2016, 10-5pm

Room RHB 137a

Organized by Michael Guggenheim, Dan Neyland, Alex Wilkie

Recent Science and Technology Studies (STS) work on experiments has provided a basis for rethinking the terms, practices and consequences of experimentation. This has opened up opportunities to question, for example, experimental controls, provocative containments, training and professional practice. This work has also broadened the traditional STS focus on scientific laboratories to also include economic, social scientific and commercial experimentation, exploring new territories of experimentation and their attendant means of reproducing the world.

At the same time, scholars in STS, Sociology, Anthropology and Design have pursued experiments not just as an object of study, but also as something to do. Here we find, for example, experiments with algorithmic walks, expertise and issues. An earlier critique of experiments as artificial and interventionist has given way to a new embracing of material staging of situations and problems.

Social researchers have come to acknowledge we can learn precisely because of the non-naturalism of experiments. Experiments have become legitimate forms to intervene in the world, and to invent new worlds.  In this way STS scholars have begun to think again about the realities in which they participate. In this workshop we will feature recent experimenters within STS with scholars who have analysed experiments in specific fields.

 

Programme

10.00: Welcome

10.15-11.30: Pelle Ehn (Design, Malmö):

democratic design experiments (in the small)

Commentator: Kim Kullmann (Sociology, Goldmsiths) 

11.45-1pm: Tomás Sánchez Criado (STS, Munich):

The Ethnographic Experiment, Revisited: Experimental Collaborations, or the ‘Devicing’ of Fieldwork for Joint Problem-Making

Commentator: Isaac Marrero-Guillamón (Anthropology, Goldsmiths)

1pm – 2pm: lunch

2pm-3.15pm: Claire Waterton (Sociology, Lancaster):

An Experimental Collective: Working Through Modalities and the Enrichment of Land and Water

Commentator: Jennifer Gabrys (Sociology, Goldsmiths) 

3.30pm-4.45pm: Tobias Bornakke Jørgensen (Sociology, Copenhagen):

Sensing Data: The Emergence of Sensor-Based Experiments in the Social Sciences

Commentator: Noortje Marres (Interdisciplinary Methodologies, Warwick).

Tinkering with documentation: Open design and ‘experimental collaborations’ in fieldwork

Tinkering

Picture CC BY NC ND En torno a la silla

Draft paper presented by @tscriado & @adolfoestalella at the #SCA2016 Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA)’s Spring Conference at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY).

PDF downloadable here | [First published at the #xcol website]

I. Urban para-sites

In this paper we would like to explore an ethnographic mode that takes the shape of experimentation in the field. We will draw on the ethnographies (Adolfo’s & Tomás’s) we have been carrying out in the last five years in urban contexts populated by urban activists, guerrilla architects, amateur tinkerers, and disability rights advocates located in Barcelona and Madrid. These projects account for the wave of urban creativity and civic invention that has spread out through these cities after the uprising of the ‘15M movement’ (the Spanish precursor of the Occupy movement).

Our ethnographic sites are populated by people struggling to transform the city: they do so building infrastructures, producing a vast amount of documentation that describes their own practices and exploring methodologies for the production of knowledge. Very often, these collectives invoke the trope of experimentation to refer to their relationship to the city. In a way, the locations we are describing might be aptly characterised as ‘para-sites’, following Douglas Holmes and George Marcus (2008) description of ethnographic sites populated by people whose research practices resonate with those of the anthropologists.

Even though ours has been a deep involvement in these sites, activist or militant registers and vocabularies would not be the best description of our practice. For lack of a better term, our engagement has been of an ‘epistemic’ kind. Indeed, during our fieldwork we both became gradually involved in the production of shared spaces of investigation, in the construction of material and digital infrastructures, and in the process of documentation, sometimes even taking a leading role, as we will describe here. We would like to suggest that our ethnographic projects were dragged into the experimental ethos of these projects.

Our ethnographies have been infused by these forms of experimentation: Somehow, our fieldworks seem to have incorporated in a recursive gesture the epistemic experimental practices of our counterparts in the field, as we seek to describe today. Thus, drawing on Tomás fieldwork we describe the distinctive practice of tinkering of an activist design collective called En torno a la silla. Working among tinkerers that extremely value the production of documentation, Tomás fieldwork turned into a tentative practice of tinkering with documentation. Describing his fieldwork in these terms (as a form of fieldwork tinkering), our attempt here is to provide a tentative descriptive vocabulary to account for this ethnographic mode we call ‘experimental collaborations’.

II. Tinkering in/with fieldwork

Barcelona, it’s the morning of February 8th 2013. We’re in the bedroom of Antonio’s house. I (Tomás) am struggling to adjust a semi-professional Canon EOS 60D camera that a good friend has lent me to shoot a video. The plan according to the rather informal script we have discussed is to re-enact for the record how the armrest-briefcase we have designed in the last months for Antonio’s wheelchair works. I take some shots of Alida disassembling the former armrest and assembling the new gadget to Antonio’s wheelchair. Later on we start improvising and moving around to demonstrate different uses of the briefcase. Since I am not a professional I struggle with the light settings in the inner parts of the house. The next month is really busy for us and I slowly learn to edit these video materials using an amateur software package.

After I have it, two months after shooting the video we three meet at Antonio’s house to discuss it using his big TV screen and my laptop. They like it and have nothing to comment, even though I spot and make them pay attention to some of the mistakes I’ve made with the light settings and the shots, to understand whether we should be recording it again. After some talk we decide that we cannot get stuck, that it’s good enough and we have to move on since this is only a very small thing of the many other projects that En torno a la silla is working on.

However, given that the video only shows the processes of disassembling, reassembling and use, Alida also wants to work to produce some exhaustive hand-drawn sketches to create a downloadable text and image tutorial showing the technical detail: how to build it and why, what were the main technical challenges in the conception and production, as well as showing detail on important pieces, such as the joystick-briefcase junction. We will work on that in the following weeks. That day the discussion leads us to upload the video to YouTube, later embedding it in a blog post, also adding a couple of high quality pictures, and collaboratively write on the spot the explanatory paragraph telling what the gadget is.

En torno a la silla was originally put together in the summer of 2012 in Barcelona by Alida – architect with a large experience in activist collectives in the city–; Antonio – mathematician, powered wheelchair user and one of the most renowned independent-living activists in the country–; and Rai – an anthropologist graduate who works as a wood craftsman and who also has a large experience in activist collectives in the city–. En torno a la silla was set up as a project seeking to prototype an open-source wheelchair kit to ‘habilitate other possibilities to the user.’ The kit consisted of three elements: a portable wheelchair ramp, a foldable table, and the armrest-briefcase described in the vignette.

The group started to work on the fabrication of these technologies in October 2012. We came to use the Spanish term cacharrear –to tinker– to talk about what we were doing. None of us were expert designers of technical aids, and neither of us were trained craftspeople in the many skills that the gadgets we have started learning to fabricate required. What we called tinkering was always characterised by playful learning processes, a rather mundane exploratory practice of searching for inspiration from tutorials, sketching and fabricating, sometimes searching for help from specialists in a given craft.

But I would like to explore a different nuance of the term tinkering, grounding on STS literature, where scholars like Karin Knorr-Cetina (1981) or Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (1997) have qualified the technoscientific practices of reasoning and laboratory experimentation as particular forms of tinkering. Tinkering is also an apt metaphor to foreground not only experimentation as an ‘opportunistic’ and open-ended reasoning practice, but also the important role of tweaking and setting material and spatial infrastructures in knowledge production: An arrangement that, if successful, might allow experimenters to pose new questions that they did not have in advance.

En torno a la silla also wanted to engage in another particular form of tinkering: from the onset they were worried about producing an open documentation of the process wishing to make it public so that their prototypes might be replicated by or serve as inspiration to others. When I approached the project for the first time in search for a case study for my postdoctoral project on participatory design in care technologies they were sharp in relation to my role: “You can’t be an observer here”, an imperative aligned with the motto of independent-living movement whose philosophy pervades En torno a la silla: “Nothing about us without us.” So when I started hanging around with them I was quickly dragged into their exploratory material and documentary practices of fabrication in a way that I would like to suggest infused my ethnographic practice with an experimental gesture.

III. Tinkering with documentation

Hence, I joined the project taking the responsibility of the documentation process shortly after it had began. This happened given that the ethnographic skills and interests that I had been displaying in our first encounters were thought to be useful for the project. But this also entailed a considerable effort, since I had to test and try a whole set of technologies to take care of documenting the design and fabrication processes. The regular notepad gave way to the use of Evernote software on my smartphone since I needed to take pictures and make quick notes. In other occasions I jotted down exhaustive minutes including verbatim quotes using my email that I would send others, and I later learnt to use WordPress blogs and many plugin services to manage the different aspects of the project’s documentation.

Indeed, I had to fabricate a shared environment to document and circulate the fabrication process. Testing digital platforms, discussing the records in joint meetings, collecting material from different sources and combining the appropriate media format for the records, I experimented with the documentation in a similar way to how the project struggled to fabricate an environment for the wheelchair. My fieldwork recursively became a tinkering ethnographic space. Tinkering ‘around the wheelchair’ indeed involved a twofold dimension: both material and documentary; that is, we had to explore the open source design of gadgets while testing the appropriate techniques and record genres to open up their process of fabrication.

At some moments in meetings where I was in charge of taking the minutes the distinction between design documentation and field notes blurred: taking the minutes of meetings later forwarded by email to the group I sometimes turned them into ethnographic notes of sorts, using verbatim quotes as well as remarks on personal impressions of emotional climates or situations. In other occasions it was the other way around: my very personal field notes were turned into the documentation of the process of fabrication, being scanned or shared for the common record after the fact. Often this double-register made very difficult to keep my record practices untouched. The distinctive written genre of my field notes seemed to blur with documentation, but my ethnographic practice blurred too. This went beyond a mere experimentation with literary styles.

IV. Experimental collaborations

Tomás’s collaboration tinkering with documentation unearthed an experimental moment in fieldwork. Tinkering with documentation took Tomás into a close relationship of collaboration with his tinkering counterparts through an open process of documentation and reflections. A collaboration that was neither a militant nor an ethical gesture, but an effect of the shared space of joint tinkering practices, both material and documentary.

My ethnographic experience (Adolfo’s) in the field has been similar to Tomás’s. I would say that during my work with urban activists and guerrilla architects I was also trapped by the experimental ethos of my counterparts. In a way close to Tomás’s experience, I felt that I was transgressing the norm and form of the ethnographic fieldwork I had learned and I felt the need of an appropriate conceptual vocabulary to account for my fieldwork practice.

Our joint discussions sharing the oddity of our experiences led us to work on an edited compilation focusing on similar experiences, where we refer to this particular ethnographic mode as a form of ‘experimental collaboration’, one whose relationality in the field is articulated (and described) in terms of collaboration (and not only participation); and in which the epistemic figure describing knowledge-production invokes experimentation (instead of only observation). But our invocation of experimentation is not new to anthropology.

Our invocation of experimentation is not completely new to anthropology. The reflexive turn of the eighties inaugurated a wave of writing experiments that addressed a deep reconsideration of authority and authorship, and explored different representational forms and textual genres or expanded authorship beyond the single ethnographer to include fieldwork counterparts. In recent times, an experimental invocation has been increasingly translated from the space of ethnographic representation to the fieldwork. Experimentation, hence, is invoked as a way to renew the norm and form of ethnographic fieldwork.

Our description does not invoke experimentation metaphorically. On the contrary, our fieldwork account foregrounding tinkering with documentation seeks to explore a vocabulary that is faithful to the empirical practices that we have found in the field and have infused our own production of knowledge. We have thus explored a descriptive vocabulary around tinkering but many more singular conceptual empirical languages could be developed to account for other anthropological forms of experimental collaboration in the field.

We are tempted to say that experimentation has always been an art part of the ethnographic repertoire in fieldwork, an epistemic practice that however has not been foregrounded in the tales of the field that have narrated our empirical practice in terms of participant observation and sometimes using the register of rapport or the instrumental management of relations in the field ‘participating in order to write’ (Emerson et al., 1995: 26-29). We have tried in this account to test a different tale of the field, one that describes our fieldwork through the mode of experimental collaboration.

References

Emerson, R. M., Fretz, R. I., & Shaw, L. L. (1995). Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Holmes, D. R., & Marcus, G. E. (2008). Collaboration Today and the Re-Imagination of the Classic Scene of Fieldwork Encounter. Collaborative Anthropologies, 1(1), 81–101.

Knorr-Cetina, K. D. (1981). The manufacture of knowledge: An essay on the constructivist and contextual nature of science. Oxford: Pergamon.

Rheinberger, H.-J. (1997). Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Care in the (critical) making: Open prototyping, or the radicalisation of independent-living politics

ETS

New article forthcoming in Alter – European Journal of Disability research, Revue européenne de recherche sur le handicap 10 (2016), pp. 24-39 (Special issue on Care & Disability, edited by E. Fillion, M. Winance, A. Damamme).

Care in the (critical) making: Open prototyping, or the radicalisation of independent-living politics

Written in collaboration with Israel Rodríguez Giralt & Arianna Mencaroni

ABSTRACT

In this paper we reflect empirically on some collective attempts at intervening the ways in which care for and by disabled people is being devised and carried out in Spain in austerity times. We highlight the novelties and challenges of the way in which these projects seek to tackle the current crisis of care through different forms of self-fabrication of ‘open’ and ‘low cost’ technical aids. We analyse them as forms of ‘critical making’ expanding the repertoire of independent-living and disabled people’s rights politics to the experimentation with technological production. Through the deployment of an empirical example of the prototyping process by the Barcelona-based activist design collective En torno a la silla we show how open prototyping constitutes a major challenge for the radicalisation of the independent-living movement’s precepts of control and choice, displaying the matter of care arrangements and making available its transformation.
KEYWORDS
Care; arrangements; independent living; critical making; prototypes

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This research is part of an ongoing and very interesting discussion on careful design practices with our En torno a la silla mates (Alida Díaz, Antonio Centeno, Marga Alonso, Núria Gómez, Rai Vilatovà & Xavi Duacastilla) as well as the very nice people we have learnt to think with in the construction of its interactive documentary. To name but a few: Alma Orozco, Joaquim Fonoll, Mario Toboso, Carlos ‘Txarlie’ Tomás, Montse García and the Functional Diversity Commission at Acampada Sol. These ideas have also been extremely well taken care of and re-elaborated in the course of discussions and passionate politico-ethnographical reflections on design and care with Adolfo Estalella, Asun Pie, Blanca Callén, Carla Boserman, Daniel López, Jara Rocha, Marcos Cereceda, Manuel Tironi & Miriam Arenas.

FUNDING

This work was supported by the Spanish National R&D Programme 2012-2014, Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness under the research project: Expertise, Democracy and Social Mobilisation (EXPDEM): The Political Action of Groups Concerned with the Promotion of Independent-Living in Spain(CSO2011-29749-C02-02); and the Alliance 4 Universities postdoctoral grant for Tomás Sánchez Criado’s individual project A study of participatory and collaborative design experiences of care and independent-living technologies(ExPart, Oct. 2012- Oct. 2014).

Full text: UNCORRECTED DRAFT | PDF

En torno a la silla’s special TV feature with English subs

En torno a la silla“, the collaborative design collective seeking to self-fabricate and self-manage the production of DIY and P2P technical aids for independent living in which I collaborate ethnographically since 2012, was featured in La2’s (Spanish National TV network) “La aventura del saber“, broadcasted originally on April 13th 2015. Now with English subtitles!

We speak of the collective “En torno a la silla”, composed by a heterogeneous group of people seeking to collaboratively fabricate taylor-made prototypes with functionally diverse people in order to experiment with personalized solutions seeking to meet the needs of each wheelchair user. All this to make a more accessible city. The live footage used in the broadcasting was shot by Arianna Mencaroni for the webdocumentary “Off catalogue”

I will be showing it tomorrow July 1st 2015 at the inauguration of TUM’s Munich Center for Technology in Society (where I will be working as Senior researcher within Ignacio Farías’s reseach group ‘Infrastructure & participation‘).