Reading “Critical Fabulations”

When we real­ly need it — amidst so much dark­ness and gloom — Daniela Ros­ner has woven togeth­er an inter­ven­tion­ist design with a crit­i­cal fem­i­nist view to pro­duce some­thing so full of promise. The gen­er­a­tive the­o­ris­ing set out in the works of Don­na Har­away, Anna Tsing, Saidiya Hart­man and so on (all such out­stand­ing fig­ures in con­tem­po­rary fem­i­nist schol­ar­ship) is put into prac­tice through an assort­ment of design inter­ven­tions. The design work is clev­er­ly pre­sent­ed through a range of dif­fer­ent voic­es and per­spec­tives, alto­geth­er show­ing Rosner’s impulse to work cre­ative­ly. But the book is much much more than this, it is about the sto­ries we are able tell in doing design and because of design. It is about a design prac­tice done dif­fer­ent­ly — redo­ing design so that the absences and alter­na­tive imag­i­nar­ies come to life.

Rework­ing the Meth­ods and Mar­gins of Design

Photo of 10 copies of Critical Fabulations book

What I real­ly enjoyed in read­ing this book is that it offers a way for those of us in design to think with the kind of hope­ful schol­ar­ship com­ing out of fem­i­nist the­o­ry. For so many, schol­ars like Har­away are a chal­lenge to read, but not only does Ros­ner make this schol­ar­ship acces­si­ble, she spins some­thing new into the ideas. She takes Haraway’s ‘spec­u­la­tive fab­u­la­tions’ and pro­vides very tan­gi­ble ways to think ‘with’ sto­ries, and think ‘oth­er’ and ‘more than’ with sto­ries. Her design inter­ven­tions (con­sti­tut­ing a patch­work across the book) pro­vide exem­plary ways of both under­tak­ing design and also think­ing with it. The cen­tre­piece, the work Ros­ner has done with oth­ers on weav­ing the Apol­lo mission’s ‘core mem­o­ry’, speaks then to both a design­er­ly prac­tice for doing tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion and a way to do design in respon­si­ble, sen­si­tive and open-end­ed ways.

Beyond recount­ing her exem­plary design prac­tice, Ros­ner does a love­ly job set­ting the stage in the ear­ly parts to the book. We learn how an instru­men­tal­ist design pre­vails in today’s sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, and yet Ros­ner shows it didn’t always and doesn’t have to be this way. I liked, in par­tic­u­lar, her inter­weav­ing sto­ry of Har­away’s biog­ra­phy and Lucy Suchman’s pro­found influ­ence on sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, which serves to draw out some­times com­mon and some­times con­trast­ing view­points. This stitch­ing togeth­er of some arguably very dif­fer­ent threads pro­duces a live­ly tapes­try of ideas for Ros­ner to work with, show­ing imme­di­ate­ly her com­mit­ment to a gen­er­a­tive work­ing with the rela­tions between design and techno­sci­en­tif­ic innovation.

I can’t wait to see how this book impacts prac­tice and the future wave of design­ers aim­ing to make a dif­fer­ence. I for one will be adding it to my class readings.

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