I’ve been trying to think about capability for a little while and trying to make sense of how we become able. What I’ve wanted to get away from is an idea of ability that we feel defined or limited by — the presumed limits of ability dictated, supposedly, by our bodily and mental capacities.
Today I came across this lovely video of and by the artist William Kentridge. He expresses so much of what has engaged me in this subject matter, but with such eloquence and so vividly. Along with some captivating video, Kentridge asks:
“... can we be better than who we are, can we be other than who we are?”
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.
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?!
... 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.
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…)
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).
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:
I had a very generous slot for presenting to some in Design Products at the RCA this week.
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.
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.
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…)