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Naked Fieldnotes. A Rough Guide to Ethnographic Writing

Denielle Elliott & Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer have been for the last years working on a much-needed compilation on the art of fieldnotes, called Naked Fieldnotes. A Rough Guide to Ethnographic Writing. The volume has been recently published by Minnesota University Press.

In their words:

Unlocking the experience of conducting qualitative research, Naked Fieldnotes pairs fieldnotes based on observations, interviews, and other contemporary modes of recording research encounters with short, reflective essays, offering rich examples of how fieldnotes are shaped by research experiences. By granting access to these personal archives, the contributors unsettle taboos about the privacy of ethnographic writing and give scholars a diverse, multimodal approach to conceptualizing and doing ethnographic fieldwork.

As they expound in the introduction:

The practice of writing a fieldnote—­ what goes in, what is left out, who the audience is—­ is a difficult one to acquire, which is belied by the breadth of books and classes that purport to teach novice ethnographers to write fieldnotes. Like any writing, fieldnotes are the outcome of a learned sensibility that can be acquired only through the practice of writing […] This is one of the persistent challenges of teaching ethnographic methods, particularly when most of what students learn about ethnographic writing and fieldnotes is inferred from exemplary ethnographies. Students want prescriptive, generic expectations of what goes into a fieldnote and what a fieldnote should look like, thereby ensuring their writing of “good” fieldnotes; as an index of this sentiment, a few exceptional (p. x)

Growing out of the frustrations we have had as novice ethnographers—­ and that we have shared with our students—­ this collection of fieldnotes is intended to dispel the myths about the charismatic nature of fieldnotes and ethnographers by providing readers with a diversity of techniques, generic experiments, and objects and processes of ethnographic investigation so as to show how research and writing are always shaped by the sensibilities of researchers and the shapes of the ethnographic projects they are conducting. Fieldnotes are always experimental in their attempts to capture that experience. (p.xi)

I very much wish to thank them for their invitation to share one of mine, titled:

Munich, Blind Activism, Participatory Urban Design, November 2015

This note is part of my attempt at doing fieldwork with the Bavarian Association for the Blind and Partially Sighted (BBSB). It captures one of the organization’s in/accessibility explorations of a square in Munich on November 12, 2015. This took place after the square had already been finalized by the city administration, an anomaly in how to involve disabled people in design projects. As the blind activists already knew, the square presented many inaccessibility issues. Doing fieldwork in a very graphic-­intensive field like architecture requires one to think from the visual materials, so when I was handed the promotional brochure, including pictures and renderings, architectural diagrams, and an explanation of the urban intervention, I took a very fast decision: I put away my phone, which I used only to take my own pictures, mostly to remember the details they were talking about as well as the steps, and I opted to scribble on top of the brochure. I followed them for about three hours (from nine in the morning to noon) as they went about different aspects: the tactile differentiation of the creative pavements, the color differentiation of the pavements, and a few other things. My scribbled notes were rather nonlinear interjections, taken at different moments in the brochure. The pictures I took with my phone allowed me to have a sense of sequence afterward.

Recommended citation: Criado, T.S. (2024). Munich, blind activism, participatory urban design, November 2015. In D. Elliott & M. Wolf-Meyer (Eds.) Naked Fieldnotes: A Compendium of Raw and Unedited Ethnographic Research (pp. 59-70). Minnesota: Minnesota University Press | PDF

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Ageing Cities > Zine

How are cities and urban designers responding to the challenge of population ageing? How can we as ethnographers understand the social and material transformations underway in their efforts to shape ‘ageing-friendly’ cities or cities ‘for all ages’? These are two of the leading research questions of our ethnographic study project “Ageing Cities” on which we worked together in the academic year 2021-2022.

Our main concern has been to explore the distinctive intergenerational design challenges of what some architects and urban planners are beginning to call “Late Life Urbanism” (check the video of the final presentation).

Our exploration included an excursion in April 2022 to Alicante, Benidorm and neighbouring urban enclaves in the Costa Blanca (Spain). The area is relevant as ageing bodies and practices have become, since the 1960s, a sort of vector of urbanisation in the region: developing into what some geographers call “the Pensioners’ Coast.”

Considering the intriguing history of migration of this region, with pensioners from all over Central and Northern Europe (but also from other regions of Spain) relocating there, the “Pensioners’ Coast” is an interesting experimental ground to witness what happens when older bodies take centre-stage. Over the course of seven eventful and exciting days we had the chance to explore how sensitised urban designers from the area respond to the intergenerational design challenges these bodies bring in different ways.

In a joint endeavour with STS-inspired architectural researchers from the Critical Pedagogies, Ecological Politics and Material Practices research group of the University of Alicante, the visit allowed us to explore different approaches to architectural practice where older people have more active roles in the design and management of ageing cities (from cooperative senior cohousing to inter- and multigenerational housing projects, as well as accessible public space infrastructures, ranging from sidewalks to beaches and public transportation).

With this Zine we wish to share some of our main reflections, learnings to engage ethnographically with late life urbanism in Costa Blanca (or should we say eng-age?). The Zine could be taken as a long thank you note and a memoir of our encounters with different initiatives. But we also see it as a relevant intergenerational gift of sorts, lent to future urban researchers on these topics.


Lo-Res PDF | Hi-Res PDF

Editorial team

Adam Petráš, Anna Maria Schlotmann, Christine Maicher, Doreen Sauer, Erman Dinç, Maximilian Apel & Tomás Sánchez Criado

Design and typesetting

Maximilian Apel

CC BY NC ND November 2023 Institut für Europäische Ethnologie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

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Reassembling Ageing, Ecologising Care?

Upon Patrick Laviolette and Aleksandar Bošković’s invitation, I have written the Anthropological Journal of European Culture’s Editorial Response to Issue 32(1) on Materialities of Age & Ageing.

Reassembling Ageing, Ecologising Care?

Welfare states and market actors across the world have transformed what ageing as a process and being old as an embodied identity might be today, through a wide range of equipment, services and infrastructures. This ‘material’, when not ‘materialist’ drive is the object of analysis of the proposals gathered in AJEC‘s 32(1) special issue, which features different case studies aiming to foreground hitherto under-analysed ‘age-related matters’ to offer conceptual and ethnographic proposals to better understand what the editors call ‘landscapes of ageing and pressing gerontological concerns.’ The backbone of this special issue addresses how ‘material culture’ works in anthropology might be affected by what in other neighbouring disciplines like STS and Ageing studies is being addressed as a ‘socio-gerontechnological’ approach: that is, a joint attention to how ageing is a material process, as well as how materials inscribe or support peculiar meanings or ontologies of ageing.

Drawing from the recent experience of teaching the StudienprojektAgeing Cities: The Crisis of Welfare Infrastructures’ – and particularly reflecting on a field trip where we visited Benidorm and other ageing enclaves in the Costa Blanca (Alicante, Spain) – in my editorial response I wish to take issue with the need to widen this material agenda around ageing bodies and their situated enactments, thinking beyond classic ‘material culture’ objects of study – the home and everyday technologies – and venturing into wider and more convoluted urban arenas, with their variegated scales and material entities. These problematisations, I believe, would force us to provide less metaphorical uses of ecological vocabularies, hence addressing the challenges that these materialised ‘landscapes’ entail for to our conceptions and practices of care: perhaps pushing us to consider the very environmental effects of ageing-friendly modes inhabiting and terraforming, and the new forms of care these landscapes – deeply affecting, in turn, ageing processes — might need?

Recommended citation: Criado, T. S. (2023). Reassembling Ageing, Ecologising Care? (Editorial Response to Issue 32(1) on Materialities of Age & Ageing). Anthropological Journal of European Cultures32(2), v-xii | PDF

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Studienprojekt “Ageing Cities” > Presentation at the IfEE’s Institutskolloquium on Collective Access

Next Tuesday 19.07.2022 2:30-4pm (CET) please join us for the presentation of the Studienprojekt Ageing Cities by Maximilian Apel, Erman Dinc, Christine Maicher, Adam Petras, Doreen Sauer, and Anna Maria Schlotmann, the wonderful group of people with whom I have had the immense luck to work with in the last year.

In this year we’ve been exploring ethnographically how cities & urban designers are responding to the challenge of population ageing, and how we could understand as ethnographers the social & material transformations underway in their efforts to make ‘ageing-friendly’ cities (check the syllabus of the project)

In this choral presentation we aim to show our findings, searching to answer these questions through specific cases, most of them taking place in Berlin (on variegated issues like intergenerational and intercultural gardens or queer housing projects; the urban activism of the gray panthers; the controversies in public space design, focusing particularly on the conflicts of bike infrastructure; and VR projects to enable urban displacement or travel for older people living in residential care homes).

The picture describes a steep street from Alicante. The left part shows the sidewalk, where an older woman with her walker can be seen from behind. The middle part of the picture displays the bike infrastructures. The right part the street and parking spaces. Framing it from both sides there are 4-storey buildings.

The course has also included an excursion in April 2022 to Alicante, Benidorm and neighbouring urban enclaves in Costa Blanca (Spain). This is a very relevant area because of how ageing concerns have turned, since the 1960s, into a vector of urbanisation in the region – developing into what some geographers call “the pensioners’ coast.” But also, and perhaps more importantly, they have sensitised urban designers from the area to respond to these intergenerational design challenges in different ways. In a joint endeavour with STS-inspired architectural researchers from the Critical Pedagogies, Ecological Politics and Material Practices research group of the University of Alicante, this visit allowed us to explore different approaches to architectural practice where older people have more active roles in the design and management of ageing cities.

In showing all of this we not only wish to tell specific stories, but want to share our conceptual and methodological explorations, and the many questions this process brought about around the contested scripts and the distinctive intergenerational challenges of late life urbanism projects

This will be the last session of the Instituskolloquium of the Institut für Europäische Ethnologie (HU Berlin), which this semester had as a theme ‘Collective Access‘.

Here you could view the video recorded from Zoom
accessibility caring infrastructures design intraventions events experimental collaborations functional diversity & disability rights legal more-than-human open sourcing participatory & collaborative design of care infrastructures policies techniques & ways of doing urban and personal devices

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

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

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

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

accessibility caring infrastructures design intraventions events experimental collaborations functional diversity & disability rights independent-living intravention open sourcing participatory & collaborative design of care infrastructures re-learning design technical aids urban and personal devices

Aprender a afectarse: la accesibilidad como reto pedagógico e institucional del diseño urbano

El próximo 25 de noviembre de 6 a 7:30 pm 30 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

Del 16 al 26 de noviembre 2020

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.


Este es un argumento en corto de un proyecto de libro en que ando trabajando, titulado “An uncommon city: Bodily diversity and the activation of possible urbanisms” (Una ciudad poco común: La diversidad corporal y la activación de urbanismos posibles).

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.

Referencias bibliográficas

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.

Lecturas para la sesión

2021. Anthropology as a careful design practice?Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 145 (2020): 47–70
2019. Technologies of Friendship: Accessibility politics in the ‘how to’ modeSociological Review, 67(2): 408–427 (‘Intimate Entanglements’ monograph, edited by Joanna Latimer & Daniel López).
2016. Urban accessibility issues: Technoscientific democratizations at the documentation interfaceCITY, 20(4)pp. 619-636 (article co-written with Marcos Cereceda for the special issue on ‘Technical democracy as a challenge for urban studies‘, edited by I. Farías & A. Blok)

Vídeo de la presentación


accessibility caring infrastructures design intraventions ethics, politics and economy of care events intravention objects of care and care practices open sourcing participatory & collaborative design of care infrastructures re-learning design technical aids urban and personal devices

Democratising Urban Infrastructures: The technical democracy of accessibility urbanism > Power to Co-Produce Webinar

I was kindly invited to take part in the webinar POWER TO CO-PRODUCE: Careful power distribution in collaborative city-making, hosted on September 14th 2020 by Burcu Ateş, Predrag Milić, Laura Sobral and Sabine Knierbein at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKUOR), Technische Universität Wien. As part of a session on ‘co-production practices’, I shared 15′ of my research on Democratising Urban Infrastructures: The technical democracy of accessibility urbanism (see full text below).

Call | Programme


The technical democracy of accessibility urbanism

I. Technical democracy and city-making

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

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.

accessibility caring infrastructures collectives design intraventions ethics, politics and economy of care experimental collaborations functional diversity & disability rights independent-living open sourcing press releases re-learning design technical aids urban and personal devices

Diseño y Diáspora #79: Diseñando para la diversidad funcional

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. 

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Erfahren: Experimente mit technischer Demokratie in Entwurfskursen

Séverine Marguin, Henrike Rabe, Wolfgang Schäffner and Friedrich Schmidgall have recently edited a compilation in German featuring interesting and relevant work in different creative disciplines foregrounding modes of experimenting.

Titled Experimentieren. Einblicke in Praktiken und Versuchsaufbauten zwischen Wissenschaft und Gestaltung (published open access by Transcript Verlag) the scope of the book is as follows:

Forschen und Gestalten sind experimentelle Vorgehensweisen, die darauf ausgerichtet sind, etwas Neues, noch nicht Existierendes hervorzubringen. Sie haben beide Projektcharakter, denn sie führen an einen Nullpunkt des Wissens. Doch welche Strategien und Verfahren sind es, die aus diesem Nichtwissen, diesen Vermutungen und Ideen zu konkreten Ergebnissen führen?

ForscherInnen aus 23 Wissenschafts- und Gestaltungsdisziplinen berichten in diesem Band über ihr Experimentieren und geben Einblicke in ihre Praktiken und Versuchsaufbauten. Er bietet damit eine Bestandsaufnahme zeitgenössischer Experimentalkulturen im Spannungsfeld zwischen Wissenschaft und Gestaltung und skizziert eine Praxeologie des Experiments.

Ignacio Farías and I contribute to the volume with a chapter, where we adapt and translate into German some of the insights from our pedagogical experiments with technical democracy’ at the TU München’s Department of Architecture.

Erfahren: Experimente mit technischer Demokratie in Entwurfskursen

CC BY NC ND 2017 Design in Crisis 2: Coming to our senses (Sofia Ruíz, Irene Landa, Sophie Razaire, Emilie Charrier, Léo Godebout and Lambert Drapeau, Technische Universität München, 2017)


In diesem Aufsatz erzählen wir von pädagogischen Herausforderungen, denen wir an einem der größten deutschen Institute für Wissenschafts­ und Technikforschung (STS), dem 2013 an der Technischen Universität München gegründeten Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS), begegnet sind. Konzipiert als „integratives Forschungszentrum“ mit Lehrstühlen an verschiedenen Fakultäten, will das MCTS nicht nur verschiedene STS­Traditionen unter einem Dach zusammenbringen, sondern auch mit Formen der Kollaboration und Intervention in den Natur- und Technikwissenschaften experimentieren. Zwischen 2015 und 2018 lehrten wir an der Fakultät für Architektur, wo wir einen vom STS geprägten stadtanthropologischen Ansatz zu aktuellen Herausforderungen technischer Demokratisierung vertraten. Im Folgenden möchten wir experimentelle Strategien aufzeigen, die bei den Entwurfskursen für Masterstudierende der Architektur zum Einsatz kamen. Unsere Experimente hatten ein zentrales konzeptionelles Anliegen: die Bedeutung und die Möglichkeiten von technischer Demokratie für die Ausbildung zukünftiger EntscheidungsträgerInnen in Sachen gebaute Umwelt entfalten.

Published in Experimentieren. Vergleich experimenteller Kulturen in Wissenschaft und Gestaltung Repair (pp. 57-70). Bielefeld: Transcript | PDF

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Technologies of friendship: Accessibility politics in the ‘how to’ mode

Thanks to the joyful invitation by Joanna Latimer & Daniel López–possibly two of the best editors in the planet, capable of hosting the nicest people and make all of us enjoy wonderful and lively debates–, I am honoured to take part in their absolutely flabbergasting Sociological Review monograph ‘Intimate Entanglements’ with an impressive line-up. Do not miss this one!

The monograph focuses on rethinking the relation between “the abstract and general connection between entanglement and knowledge-making by grounding it within specific socio­material relations”, proposing us to pay special attention to intimacy not as a category of the local and experiential as opposed to the scientific or universal. Instead, as the editors suggest, “by foregrounding what is often made invisible in extant accounts of how knowledge is done, the authors explore how a focus on affect restructures possibilities for more situated knowledge, that involves non-anthropocentric modes of relatedness in a wide range of substantive domains and communities of practice”.


My own humble contribution to this collective effort is a particular ode, entangling intimately with the practices and spaces of ‘mutual access’ we pried open when searching to inhabit En torno a la silla.

Technologies of friendship: Accessibility politics in the ‘how to’ mode


This text is an ethnographic account of a singular, Barcelona-based activist endeavour called En torno a la silla (ETS): a do-it-yourself and open design and making collective engaging in a very peculiar form of accessibility politics beyond a ‘disability rights’ framework. In it, I entangle intimately with ETS’s relational interventions, in the form of making and documentation processes. What animates me is a political engagement with the practice of ‘re-description’, paying attention to the singularity of what relational vocabularies and practices bring to the fore. In describing the context of its appearance, as well as several of the collective’s endeavours, I address ETS’s relational register. Rather than being a clear-cut activist group with the aim of materialising the ‘inclusion’ of ‘disabled people’ through ‘technical aids’, ETS engaged in producing what they called ‘technologies of friendship’: frail and careful material explorations opening up interstitial relational spaces of ‘mutual access’ between bodily diverse people. Through circulating tutorials, poetic accounts, digitally and in workshops and presentations, ETS’s technologies of friendship became also ways of addressing how relations can be materialised and reflexively described, making available in its wake ways to re-enact them. Thus it produced an inspiring ‘how to’ accessibility politics: a material-political concern with the speculative opening up and materialisation of conditions for the very happening of relations, relating at the hinges of unrelatability.

Published in the Sociological Review, 67 (2) 408–427 | PDF


This article has benefited from a series of kind spaces functioning as ‘technologies of friendship’ in themselves. I would here like to warmly thank: Isaac Marrero Guillamón and the 2016 Goldsmiths’ Anthropology ‘Research >< Practice’ seminar series; Gonzalo Correa and the 2016 MA in Social Psychology students at the Universidad de la República in Montevideo; Marisol de la Cadena and the attendees at a 2017 UC Davis ‘STS Food for Thought’ event; Joanna Latimer, Daniel López, and the commentators at the 2018 ‘Intimate Entanglements’ workshop in York; and a 2018 seminar of the CareNet group in Barcelona, all of whom greatly helped me finetune the article’s main ideas. I dedicate this account to my friends from En torno a la silla, in the hope that this could serve to bring ourselves closer to yet-to-be-found intimate others.