Article in Design Issues

Design Issues, Sum­mer 2017, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 25 – 36

Cover art for Design Issues, 33 (3) 2017

ABSTRACT — In his 2015 Research Through Design pro­voca­tion, Tim Ingold invites his audi­ence to think with string, lines, and mesh­works. In this art­icle I use Ingold’s con­cepts to explore an ori­ent­a­tion to design — one that threads through both Ingold’s ideas and Vin­ciane Despret’s vivid and mov­ing accounts of human-animal rela­tions. This is a think­ing and doing” through design that seeks to be expans­ive to the capa­cit­ies of humans and non-humans in rela­tion to one anoth­er.
I’m so pleased to finally have this art­icle pub­lished in Design Issues, and very grate­ful to Abi­gail Dur­rant, John Vines, Jayne Wal­lace, and Joyce Yee for all their help with edit­ing my text and the Spe­cial Issue: Research Through Design: Twenty-First Cen­tury Makers and Mater­i­al­it­ies.

In my con­tri­bu­tion, I’ve reflec­ted on Tim Ingold’s pro­voca­tion at the Bien­ni­al Research Through Design con­fer­ence, and tried to play around with open­ing up a more gen­er­at­ive kind of design. My exper­i­ment has been to put Ingold’s ideas of lines and mesh­works in con­ver­sa­tion with Vin­ciane Despret’s uplift­ing stor­ies of anim­als and becom­ings. A strange mix, but one that for me at least raises plenty of inter­est­ing ques­tions — and isn’t it more ques­tions we need?!

For an early draft of the art­icle see:  What lines, rats and sheep can tell us, Design Issues 2017

Vienna art, design, and architecture biennale

Anab Jain very kindly asked me to con­trib­ute a short piece to the pro­gramme for the Vienna art, design, and archi­tec­ture bien­nale.

With the motto:
Robots. Work. Our Future”

... 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.

Platypus blog post

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.

We need to exer­cise the ima­gin­a­tion in order to elbow away at the con­di­tions of im/possibility.

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…)

Paper at 4S 2017

I’m thrilled to have our paper sub­mis­sion accep­ted to the . Cyn­thia Ben­nett and I will be busily pre­par­ing our paper for the always amaz­ing event, this year in August/September in Boston.

A care for being
more (cap-)able

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.

4S is the Soci­ety for the Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence. The annu­al meet­ing details are here.

Do data publics work?

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.).

Pro­voked by Vin­ciane Despret’s W for Work”, in What would anim­als say if we asked the right ques­tions?”, my start­ing point was the ques­tion:

Are we think­ing well
with data pub­lics?


Vin­ciane Despret (2016). W is for Work. In What Would Anim­als Say If We Asked the Right Ques­tions”. Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota Press: 177 – 184.

Talk at RCA, Design Products

I had a very gen­er­ous slot for present­ing to some in Design Products at the RCA this week.

Slides from RCA Design Products talk Feb 2017

In this talk, I want to sug­gest we have spent too much time work­ing with the lim­its of cap­ab­il­ity — the lim­its of the per­cep­tu­al appar­at­us, the lim­its of cog­nit­ive capa­cit­ies, and the lim­its of how crit­ters (wheth­er human or non­hu­man) inter­act and relate to one anoth­er. Draw­ing on a fem­in­ist tech­nos­cience and using examples from recent field­work, I’ll aim to show that, togeth­er, we make ourselves cap­able. That cap­ab­il­ity isn’t lim­ited to some pre-given, indi­vidu­al state, but comes into being through (inter)action, through entangled rela­tions between act­ors of all kinds. This, I’ll claim, gives us a very dif­fer­ent way of think­ing about our rela­tions with tech­no­logy and espe­cially the prom­ise of AI and machine learn­ing. Rather than machines aim­ing to rep­lic­ate human cap­ab­il­ity, I want to pro­pose an expans­ive pro­ject that allows us the chance to ima­gine some­thing other-than’ finite cap­ab­il­it­ies, that sees cap­ab­il­ity as a becoming-with’, and lays open the pos­sib­il­it­ies for much much more.


I’m hop­ing to fine-tune and do a little tidy­ing of these ideas for this talk at the Know­ledge Lab (Insti­tute of Edu­ca­tion) later this month.


Surfacing Small Worlds through Data-In-Place

Very happy to have anoth­er pub­lic­a­tion from the monu­ment­al Ten­ison Road pro­ject, this time in the Journ­al of Computer-Supported Cooper­at­ive Work (CSCW).

Lind­ley, S.E., Thieme, A., Taylor, A.S. et al. (2017). Sur­fa­cing Small Worlds through Data-In-Place. Com­puter Sup­por­ted Cooper­at­ive Work.

An exten­ded engage­ment with a com­munity and its data



We present find­ings from a five-week deploy­ment of vot­ing tech­no­lo­gies in a city neigh­bour­hood. Draw­ing on Marres’ (2012) work on mater­i­al par­ti­cip­a­tion and Massey’s (2005) con­cep­tu­al­isa­tion of space as dynam­ic, we designed the deploy­ment such that the tech­no­lo­gies (which were situ­ated in res­id­ents’ homes, on the street, and avail­able online) would work in con­cert, cut­ting across the neigh­bour­hood to make vis­ible, jux­ta­pose and draw togeth­er the dif­fer­ent small worlds’ with­in it. We demon­strate how the mater­i­al infra­struc­ture of the vot­ing devices set in motion par­tic­u­lar pro­cesses and inter­pret­a­tions of par­ti­cip­a­tion, put­ting data in place in a way that had rami­fic­a­tions for the recog­ni­tion of het­ero­gen­eity. We con­clude that redis­trib­ut­ing par­ti­cip­a­tion means not only open­ing up access, so that every­one can par­ti­cip­ate, or even provid­ing a mul­ti­tude of vot­ing chan­nels, so that people can par­ti­cip­ate in dif­fer­ent ways. Rather, it means mak­ing vis­ible mul­ti­pli­city, chal­len­ging notions of sim­il­ar­ity, and show­ing how dif­fer­ence may be pro­duct­ive.

See more on the CSCW site here. See an early draft here.

Paper presented at 4S/EASST meeting

At the com­bined 4S/EASST meet­ing this year, Sarah Kem­ber and I presen­ted a paper titled:

Writerly (ac)counts of finite flour­ish­ings and pos­sibly bet­ter ways of being togeth­er

As Sarah’s intro­duc­tion to the paper out­lined, our co-writings were an attempt to think with the emer­ging strategies of fem­in­ist count­ing, account­ing and re-counting.

Below, I present my part to the co-authered piece. It’s long, so I put it here more for the record than any expect­a­tion it will be read. I must add that the ideas I present draw on work done by . Without her energy and always thought­ful invest­ment in the field site, this reflec­tion would not have been pos­sible: (more…)

... work­ing from Newcastle’s Open Lab

Interview with Nora Young on CBC Radio Spark Show

I was inter­viewed just over a week ago by Nora Young, for the great Spark pro­gramme, aired on CBC Radio One.

In short, I try to give Nora a sense of how AI could open up some rad­ic­ally dif­fer­ent pos­sib­il­it­ies if we were able to approach intel­li­gence dif­fer­ently. I try to cap­ture how we might see intel­li­gence not in restrict­ive human terms (as stable cog­nit­ive capa­cit­ies in the head/mind), but as some­thing always emer­gent, always enacted and tied to the many unfold­ing rela­tions we find ourselves entangled in. I see this to be a gen­er­at­ive ori­ent­a­tion to AI, build­ing on ideas from Donna Har­away, Isa­belle Stengers, Vin­ciane Despret, Sarah What­more and many oth­ers grap­pling with the pos­sib­il­it­ies of us extend­ing our cap­ab­il­it­ies, of being some­how more-than-human.

If you’re in Canada, the pro­gramme is broad­cast this com­ing Sunday after­noon at 1:05 PM loc­al time (in most parts of Canada) and again on Wed­nes­day at 2:05 PM. Altern­at­ively, my seg­ment of the show is avail­able here, titled:

I want to give a spe­cial thanks to Mar­cus Carter and the Uni­ver­sity of Melbourne’s Social NUI Centre for allow­ing me to share their amaz­ing work with Oran­gutans.