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

New course in multispecies design

Visitors inspect animals in enclosures and pools, Taronga Zoo, c. 1916, by Sam Hood. (Courtesy of State Library of New South Wales)

Visitors inspect animals in enclosures and pools, Taronga Zoo, c. 1916, by Sam Hood. (Courtesy of State Library of New South Wales)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to design with, and for, animals instead of people? How would that change the way we understand them–and ourselves? What would we design?

I’m excited to be teaching a new course next term that will explore these and related questions.

CCDN384: Multispecies Design

Understanding relationships between people and animals is central to future ecological sustainability. This course introduces students to cultural, political and economic forces that shape our interactions with pets, livestock, and wildlife in order to critically and creatively explore how different kinds of design can foster animal, environmental, and human well-being.

This special topic course comprises a weekly lecture that introduces students to a variety of human-animal relations and their cultural, political, ethical, economic, and environmental implications. Weekly tutorials connect these relations and issues to narrative, image, product and service-based design practice. Students are expected to demonstrate their comprehension of these relations, issues, and practices through a pair of creative projects: one visual design and one object or service-based design.

Lecture: Thursdays 11:30-1:20
Tutorial: Thursdays 2:40-4:30

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.

On dogs and design ethnography

My colleague Sarah Baker and I are heading up the School of Design‘s new postgraduate Design Ethnography research stream, and we gave a brief presentation this week to new students.

When I was searching for less obvious examples of this kind of work, I came across a lovely project by Malavika Reddy and Taylor Lowe. The Story of The Story of Tongdaeng: A Tale of Unspeakability and Thai Politics is all about Khun Tongdaeng, the royal canine companion of King Bhumipol Adulyadej of Thailand. But, of course, this dog is much more than just a dog:

“Enter Khun Tongdaeng. Her mobilization through a variety of media is ripe with the unsayable. The Tongdaeng images and paraphernalia that flooded Bangkok in the early part of the decade “spoke” to, but also around the anxieties of the monarchy in a way that no amount of paternal speechifying could ever do. At the same time, the manifestation of Tongdaeng in a variety of objects makes connections between His Majesty and significant political economic developments of the day, including copyright regimes, branding, and the ongoing project to make Thais more ‘modern.’ Tongdaeng became a device that was seen to impart the King’s luster to these bureaucratic and business endeavors, ostensibly legitimating them. What follows then is a look at the politics of Thailand in the early 2000s, and the unspeakability at its heart, via the King’s favorite dog.”

Choosing a non-traditional social subject like a dog offers, I think, a unique and rich opportunity for both cultural and design research. This particular dog, as manifested through a published biography, commemorative statues and t-shirts, and the King’s annual greeting cards, exemplifies the material, visual and discursive elements found in all human-nonhuman assemblages–and presents a fascinating subject of, and for, design ethnography.

I highly recommend checking out the project for yourself, but what I wanted to highlight to the students, and draw attention to again now, is the use of visuals to re/present research.

For example, I love this updated version of a traditional ethnographic kinship chart:

Tongdaeng's Kinship Chart

And this collage does a good job of showing what a story of A Story can look like:

The Story of The Story of Tongdaeng

I particularly like the balance of written academic analysis and visual materials, and the design’s pop culture aesthetics are consistent with the cultural research, so I think it all comes together quite nicely. As Reddy and Lowe note: “Despite being spoken for by an excess of words and actors, there persists around Tongdaeng a critical silence,” and I think their project offers interesting visual possibilities for both engaging with, and responding to, this silence.

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