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Interview on our Counting Sheep research

BoneKnitter Sara Hendren has published a thoughtful and kind review on Gizmodo’s Abler website of the BoneKnitter speculative design ethnography project with Dani Clode.

Not only is Sara the kind of generous interviewer who brings out the best in her subjects, but her insightful questions also taught me something about myself and my work–and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Read: “Knitting bones with fact and fiction: A conversation with Design Culture Lab’s Anne Galloway”

“Galloway’s work is aligned with what’s often called speculative design, or design fiction. It is essentially creative cultural research, rooted in designed artifacts. The designs aren’t intended to solve user-based problems or needs; they’re not meant to result in manufactured products. They’re created instead to ask provocative questions, to pose future scenarios that are partly fact and partly fiction, and to form bridges between academic and popular debate around important technological, cultural and socio-political issues. Because these visions are based on people’s lived experiences, and created for public engagement, Galloway refers to what she does as ‘speculative design ethnography’.”

In the interview section, I discuss the rationale behind the BoneKnitter, our design process and Dani’s exceptional craftwork, and the broader research goals that underpin the Counting Sheep project.

Thank you, Sara!

UPDATE: Thanks to Alexis Madrigal for including this interview in The Atlantic: Technology‘s list of 5 Intriguing Things for May 16, 2014.

CFP: Adventures in Speculative Design Ethnography

CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS: IR15 PRE-CONFERENCE WORKSHOP

“Animals, Vegetables & Minerals Online: Adventures in Speculative Design Ethnography”

Full-day workshop @ IR15: Boundaries & Intersections, Bangkok, 22 October, 2014

Organisers: Anne Galloway & Jaz Hee-jeong Choi

MineralThis workshop will introduce participants to the practices of speculative design ethnography, support small groups in exploring its strengths and limitations, and encourage the application of relevant elements to individual research objectives. Drawing from a range of qualitative research traditions, speculative design ethnography comprises a continually evolving set of empirical and creative methods and public engagement strategies. Inspired by artistic provocations rather than corporate or government forecasting activities, “everyday” speculative objects, images, and narratives are created and used to critically examine and challenge common assumptions and expectations about near-future technologies, material, and sociocultural relations—including those related to the Internet. Focussing our attention on animals, vegetables and minerals offers a means to engage with matters of increasing social and cultural concern like future food systems, as well as to critically and creatively explore what happens when humans and nonhumans are put on more equal footing. This focus also allows researchers to explore the online worlds of nonhuman life, and consider the possibilities of nonhuman media production. A creative background is not required to participate, but imagination and interest are a must. We believe that multidisciplinary researchers working on everything from ethnographic methods, big data analysis, and online image-sharing, to internet infrastructure, locative media, and online publics will enjoy the opportunity to think, do, and make some fun and unusual things. Participants will be asked to indicate their interests in these areas, work in small groups to complete exercises, present original design concepts, and discuss everything within the larger group.

READ FULL WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION

Mobilities and Design Workshop

I’m really pleased to be participating (via video & Skype) in the Mobilities and Design Workshop at Lancaster University, 29-30 April, 2014.

The event is being live-streamed so you’ll be able to follow along, and this is what I’ll be talking about:

Why Count Sheep, and Other Tricky Questions About Speculative Design Ethnography

Governments around the world require livestock farmers to tag their animals and track their movements from birth to death. Mandated for the purposes of local biosecurity and global market access, electronic identification is also used to keep track of breeding information and health treatments. Combined with location technologies like GPS, and sensor technologies that can monitor individual animal health and external environmental conditions, livestock are now capable of generating and transmitting enormous amounts of data.

At the same time, farmers in the developed world respond to increased public concerns about animal welfare and environmental sustainability by developing new online forms of agricultural advocacy, or what they call “agvocacy”. The US-based AgChat Foundation, and its equivalents in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, use social media to promote greater public awareness of agricultural practices and connect producers and consumers through weekly online chats. A “farm to fork” traceability ethos underpins agvocacy efforts, and aligns well with technosocial imperatives related to the “Internet of Things” – or the ability to connect data-rich objects (including animals) to the Internet.

For the past three years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about sheep, talking about sheep, and hanging out with sheep or other people who care about sheep. I’ve done this because I’m interested in what the emergent technologies and politics I describe above might mean for our longest domesticated livestock animal, and for the people who continue to produce and consume them. In most ways, this has been standard STS-based ethnographic research: participant observation, interviews, etc. But the systems that I describe aren’t fully formed–and may not ever fully form as imagined–so I needed to come up with complementary research methods that could help me apprehend the future, or more correctly possible futures, and for that I turned to design.

This presentation will first outline the speculative design ethnography (SDE) methods developed, and outputs created, for the “Counting Sheep: NZ Merino in an Internet of Things” research project. (I encourage people to check out the design scenarios for themselves.) Then I will reflect on the challenges and opportunities of this kind of hybrid research practice, paying particular attention to how future visions act in the present to construct multiple publics and co-produce knowledge. Finally, using preliminary responses to our work, I will consider the potential of SDE as a public engagement strategy, and the role of disinterested or disagreeable publics.

Related reading

Galloway, A. 2013. “Emergent Media Technologies, Speculation, Expectation and Human/Nonhuman Relations.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 57(1): 53-65.

Galloway, A. 2013. “Towards Fantastic Ethnography and Speculative Design.” Ethnography Matters, 17 September, 2013.

New term, creatures, design & cultural critique

I can’t believe it’s autumn already! Where did the summer go?

Anyway, here’s what we’ve been up to and a glimpse of what’s to come:

Mata Freshwater (of Grow Your Own Lamb fame) and I have been working on something very creaturely… and sometime before the end of the month, we’ll be adding this final speculative design ethnography scenario to the Counting Sheep website. If you haven’t taken the survey yet, don’t worry, there’s still time to tell us what you think!

I also had the pleasure of a two-week visit with theologian and associate professor of religion, Trevor Bechtel. I first met Trevor at the Digital Genres Conference at the University of Chicago in 2003, and we still share an intellectual interest in technology and a great love of animals. You can check out the fascinating collaborative creative work he does through the Anabaptist Bestiary Project, and Trevor and I spent a lot of time drinking flat whites and talking about speculative design and objects of grace–so I hope we’ll be able to share more about that in the coming months.

As the winner of a VUW Summer Scholarship, Chris Nimmo joined the team to kick off our new project: The Great NZ Cat Controversy. Chris searched all the interwebs to create an archive of online public engagement with Gareth Morgan’s Cats to Go campaign – including articles like “Morgan calls for cats to be wiped out“, Facebook groups like “Cats against Gareth Morgan,” and memes like the one below by Jackson Wood- and then he did a comprehensive discourse analysis of the content. (Hint: it’s all about pets vs pests.)

Gareth Morgan by Jackson Wood

We’ll be creating a project page and making this archive available online soon, but right now we’re looking for someone to create an awesome actor & issue map from his findings–so if you’re interested in working with us, please get in touch. In another month or so, we’ll also get started on the design ethnography phase of the project – so stay tuned for that too.

Otherwise, I’ve been busy thinking and writing and plotting. You can check out this ethnography + design interview with me at Savage Minds, and I’m now drafting something for my much admired Superflux colleagues. On the academic front, I’ve recently submitted some research funding proposals, a journal article, a conference paper, and a workshop proposal, so will hopefully be able to share more about all that shortly.

But most recently, the bulk of my efforts have gone into teaching prep, and this term I’m teaching a third year course on design and cultural critique. I’ve assigned Dunne and Raby‘s new book, Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction and Social Dreaming as required reading for the course, and am really looking forward to discussing it with students. Course themes include critical theories of everyday life, the critical potential of speculative fiction and design, how to use culture to critique design, and how to use design to critique culture. Students have two major projects to complete: a research essay on what is “critical” about critical design, and a critical design project that embodies their idea of cultural critique. I’m really excited to see what they come up with!

And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to congratulate Catherine Caudwell on submitting her PhD thesis: Into the Furby-verse: The Narrative Production of Electronic Companions. Her examination isn’t until April, but we’re confident that we’ll be calling her Dr Caudwell soon!

November is Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo)

I’m allergic to joining clubs or movements, and loathe academic productivity imperatives, but I’ve just finished the year’s teaching and have this problem:

A Million Thoughts by Marc Johns

So I’ve decided to find my own way of participating in Academic Writing Month 2013.

First of all, I’ve got some fieldwork to do in November, and since that will continue until teaching starts again in March, I’d really like to establish a sustainable writing routine for the summer. I’ve got some creative writing that needs to be finished in the next couple of weeks, and some journal writing that needs to be sent to peer review by February. I’ve also got a research proposal to draft.

Obviously I can’t get all the journal and proposal writing done in November, but I can definitely get it started. In #AcWriMo-speak that leads me to:

Goal 1: Establish summer writing routine

Goal 2: Edit two short stories

Goal 3: Write one short story

Goal 4: Prepare full draft of one academic article

Goal 5: Draft research project aims, objectives & outcomes

I figure that the first goal is actually the hardest – and most important – for me. I want to block off three hours each weekday morning for writing, making exceptions only when unavoidable. (I also figure this will still allow me to get in at least one hour of academic reading each day!) This schedule could never happen during teaching, so I’ve got fingers (and toes!) crossed I can make it work now. Of course I’m a bit nervous that I’m out of practice and this will feel like going to the gym after holidays: a special kind of torture. So to help me out, I’ll also be participating in weekly Shut Up and Write sessions that my lovely colleagues have organised.

The second and third goals involve creative writing, which I find requires a substantially different mind-set than academic writing even though it’s part of my research. I’ve decided to focus on this first because it has a hard deadline and is mostly done already, and because getting it done should make room in my brain for more traditional academic writing.

The fourth goal is going to test Inger Mewburn’s strategy for How To Write A Journal Article in Seven Days. (I’m actually pretty excited about this task!) And the fifth goal mostly involves getting some thoughts out of my head and onto paper in some sort of structure that is intelligible to others. I’ll need their feedback before I write up the full proposal, and this seems a useful way to start.

With all my goals sorted, I’m left with the “accountability problem.” I can’t bring myself to officially sign up for the month – audit culture saddens me – but I think I can manage weekly #AcWriMo reports on Twitter. And who knows? I might write something here at some point too.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t care if I succeed in all these goals. I know I won’t miss my creative writing deadlines, and the rest will work itself out eventually. Using the month to find a new work rhythm is all I really want, and if this helps in any way I’ll be happy.

Let's Go by Marc Johns

 

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