— Karen Newman (@karen_new_) November 7, 2017
— Karen Newman (@karen_new_) November 7, 2017
Happy to have the short conversation I had with @danielarosner published in Interactions Magazine’s regular “What are you reading?” column. We experiment with a brief interchange about two wonderful books: Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World and Sarah Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life.
Below is the long-winded version before tidying and editing.
Here’s the abstract:
— Ernesto Priego (@ernestopriego) October 20, 2017
It’s been a thrill to join HCID and City and to be welcomed so warmly by many of you. In this talk, I’d like to introduce myself in a more deliberate way, spinning a thread through my career path that captures what’s important to me and what has helped me find my way.
Starting way back with work at Xerox, and then my twists and turns into academia and then industry again, at Microsoft, I’ll talk through punctuated moments in my research — about teenagers and their mobile phones; families living amongst their clutter; and neighbourhoods coping with communal life and data aggregates. What I’ll try to convey is how it’s been a thinking that has animated me throughout this work, a thinking not always with clarity and certainly a thinking with many knots and frayed ends, but nevertheless a thinking. A point I want to reflect on, then, is how ideas thread into our work, weaving together a lively tapestry. I like the way Carla Hustak and Natasha Myers use, involutions here as a “‘rolling, curling, turning inwards’ that brings distinct species together to invent new ways of life” (2013: 96).
Through my own involutions, I’ll try to use this talk to work my way to a thinking that has a generative mode — a mode with both an openness and an ongoingness to it that invites more, always more. For me, this is a mode of thinking that affects oneself and that demands a care, because it is not just about studying the worlds we inhabit, it is about making those worlds and the conditions of possibility that come with them. I suppose, above all else, this is a talk inviting a thinking of this kind that we might do together — it is to pose an open question about our thinking and about what worlds we might make possible.Hustak, C & Myers N. 2013. “Involutionary Momentum: Affective Ecologies and the Sciences of Plant/Insect Encounters.” differences 23(3):74 – 118.Stengers, I., & Despret, V (2015). Women Who Make a Fuss: The Unfaithful Daughters of Virginia Woolf. University of Minnesota Press.
I’m delighted to be starting a new job this September at City, University of London. I’ll be joining the lively Centre for HCI Design (HCID). Both Steph and Simone, the centre’s co-directors, have been amazingly generous in preparing me for my new role and discussing the directions we might take things in. I’ve also begun to rough out new lines of research with my soon to be colleagues and I eagerly anticipate setting things in motion. Naturally my challenge will be to keep a lid on my enthusiasm, leaving the energy to improve my teaching and engage a student cohort in caring about the entanglements between technology and social life — and the thrills and spills that come with such a care.
Of course, a decision like this, to leave a workplace I’ve been at for 14 years (almost to the day), comes with a sea of emotions. Many will know that over the years I’ve felt a little uneasy at Microsoft, most especially because of my position in an organisation that stands as one of the successes in a troubled time of capitalism. But why I joined Microsoft Research and why I stayed so long is for another time. Here, it is enough to say that for a time, quite a long time in fact, Microsoft Research felt a vibrant place to be. Surprising to some, perhaps, it kept the door open to ideas and as I would like to think of it other ways worlds might be made.
What I feel I do owe an explanation for is what at this moment leads me to ‘return to’ (as I like to think of it) an academic life. I am fortunate enough to have dear friends and colleagues who would want to know what route I’m hoping to trace in leaving a richly resourced corporate research environment to take on an academic position full with the duties of teaching, funding proposals, excellence frameworks, admin and — where the space can be made — a little research. Many close to me have exclaimed disbelief in even the contemplation of such a move, especially now when academia in the UK is more than ever driven (and riven) by forces tuned to measurement and market-place regimes. And of course, these logics and their accompanying dismay are not just pervasive in the UK, as Isabelle Stengers and Vinciane Despret write from their vantage point in Belgium:
So, amidst all this, what draws me into the academy and attracts me to HCID at City? Well, it may sound too full of contradictions, but it is the promise, the charged-potential it holds for an intellectual life, a life in which as Stengers and Despret exclaim, we are obliged to think:
I’m under no illusion that life as an academic retains much if anything of its monastic traditions, and I am honestly not at all interested in reproducing the elitism that feels inherent in those traditions. The draw for me is the possibility. With an academic life, I want to believe in an aggregate of rhythms and relationships that, no matter how fraught and trouble-prone, have at their core the fostering and nourishing of ideas, and the chance to think and to make a difference for the better. In this vein, there is so much to inspire me in Sarah Ahmed’s recent book, “Living a Feminist Life”; while I’m reluctant to water-down her powerful working through of feminism, I’ve found many things that resonate:
I am, then, compelled by the possibilities the academy and my new centre afford to open up spaces for thinking, to seed scholarly commitments, and have bodies (of all kinds) become more capable. In my studies, writing, teaching, mentoring, and yes even in those plentiful administrative duties I’ll have to wade through, I want to believe there remains the chance to wilfully “shake the foundations” , to resist a singular version of the world, with its “inescapable truths” ; I want to believe there is still the chance to have different ideas matter, different values matter, different bodies and voices matter, different matters matter. I like the way Bev Skeggs re-channels the anger she feels into an expression of hope and project of difference making, and it’s a similar channeling that I want to work with:
From this standpoint, it feels like there might be no better time to put one’s body into academic life. Understandably many are tired of the conditions, but for me it seems possibilities are being enlivened for more chances, more ways, more means to do otherwise.
So, I suppose I find myself embarking on a life in the academy — and what feels like coming home — because I want to put my weight behind the small but growing call to resist, and at the same time — with one-step-at-a-time — work with those building the conditions for reparation. HCID, with its focus on and involvement in design, fits in here because it provides a space for making matter to think with, and for inventing methods that are not just responsive but responsible. To me, HCID feels open, open to thinking imaginatively with technologies and open to making a difference. It’s this “keeping open” that I see as the invitation.
Anab Jain very kindly asked me to contribute a short piece to the programme for the Vienna art, design, and architecture biennale.
— VIENNA BIENNALE (@VieBiennale) April 22, 2015
... the Biennale sets the developments in robotics and AI against the future of work and labour. I’ve used this as an invitation to consider two ‘modes’ of capability:
When it comes to judging the capacities of humans and nonhumans, we are drawn to two modes of existence. In one mode, we are compelled to see capability as residing within an actor, as an intrinsic quality of their being. A favourite determinant is the brain-weight to body-weight ratio; another is genetic predisposition. We have devised all manner of tests to isolate human and nonhuman capacities: IQ tests, rats mazes and Turing tests among them. Naturally, humans come out on top using most counts.
In the second mode, we observe actors excel in their achievements. We allow ourselves to be surprised and delighted by exhibitions of capacity that exceed our expectations (and that contravene the first mode in so many ways). To find evidence of this mode, one need only turn to that vast repository of record and observation, YouTube, and witness the viewing numbers for titles like “species [x] and species [y] playing together”, “species [x] and species [y] unlikely friends”, and so on. As these titles suggest, capability is often recognised here as accomplished with others — with other objects, other actors, other critters.
Speculating on human capacities — on what humans might be capable of and how they might work in the future — I find myself asking, as the animal studies scholar Vinciane Despret does, which of these modes is ‘more interesting’ and which ‘makes more interesting’. Which of these modes invites us to speculate on new fabulations of actors of all kinds, of actors becoming-with each other, of becoming other-than-humanly-capable, of becoming more capable?
I am taken by the mode that views capability as collectively achieved and that invites those conditions that enlarge capacities through on-going interminglings. The future of work, through this mode, will be dictated not by the limits of being human, but by how we might best attune ourselves with others, how we might become more capable together.
The Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology & Computing (CASTAC) and Rebekah Culpit kindly gave me the opportunity to write a piece for Platypus (the CASTAC blog).
Titled “Becoming More Capable”, the blog post sketches out some of the early ideas I’ve been thinking with in connection to dis/ability. Specifically, it takes up a generative (feminist inspired) position, that understands capability as collectively achieved, as a ‘becoming-with’. The Platypus post is here, or see a longer un-edited version below.
Ingunn Moser & John Law (1999: 174)
What is it to be capable? How might we elbow away the conditions that limit ability, to become more capable? (more…)
Cynthia Bennett and Alex Taylor
In this paper, we begin with Ingunn Moser’s and Maria Puig de la Bellacasa’s generative notions of care and use them to expand how we understand capability. Drawing on fieldwork with blind and vision impaired people, we turn our attention to a materially enacted, unfolding ‘sense-ability’. This is a sensing that puts (cap)ability and care together, that understands ‘seeing-in-the-world’ as a practical affair that is, at once, knowing, effecting and affecting with others (humans or otherwise). Thus, we show not only that care can contest an ‘instrumentalism’ in forms of knowing and doing — by ‘re-affecting objectified worlds’ (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2011: 98) — but also give a greater clarity to how care can be, in practice, entangled in practice. This sense-ability seeks to be active, enlivening how we become capable; it is figured to be worked with, not finite and dictated by assumed bodily limits, but open to becoming-with and becoming-more. Borrowing from Vinciane Despret, this sense-ability is “to gain a body that does more things, that feels other events, and that is more and more able…” (2004: 120).
Despret, V. (2004). The Body We Care For: Figures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis. Body & Society, 10(2 – 3), 111 – 134.
Moser, I. (2011). Dementia and the Limits to Life. ST&HV, 36(5), 704 – 722.
Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2011). Matters of Care in Technoscience. Social Studies of Science, 41(1), 85 – 106.
— Data Publics (@datapublics) April 2, 2017
I presented at the Data Publics conference last weekend, at Lancaster University. Got lots of helpful feedback to some early thoughts on publics (thinking with some of my old favourites, Despret, Haraway, Marres, Stengers, etc.).