Halfway to the Future

Speak­ing at the Mixed Real­i­ty Lab’s Halfway to the Future, in Not­ting­ham. Very spoilt to have talked along­side a remote but still thor­ough­ly present and inspir­ing Lucy Such­man.

EASST 2018 Presentation

Abi­gail Dur­rant and I gave our paper “Mod­el­ling Cells in/with risky comak­ings and devi­ous worlds” at EASST last week, in the fab­u­lous Fem­i­nist Fig­ures panel.

Mod­el­ling cells in/with risky comak­ings and devi­ous worlds

We use String Fig­ures and Invo­lu­tion­ary Momen­tum to “read against the grain” of a con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous biol­o­gy char­ac­terised by reduc­tion. Work­ing through the design of a tool that mod­els cel­lu­lar sta­bil­i­ty, we spin a yarn of “affec­tive­ly charged” rela­tions between researchers, cells and technologies.
Draw­ing from her foun­da­tion­al stud­ies of biol­o­gy, Eve­lyn Fox Keller (2009:301) writes of a com­plex­i­ty and con­nect­ed­ness that might just char­ac­terise our “devi­ous” world(s). She has traced threads through biol­o­gy for over 40 years, draw­ing atten­tion to—amongst oth­er things—how it has often resist­ed the explana­to­ry pow­ers con­ferred upon its coun­ter­parts in oth­er nat­ur­al sci­ences. A prag­mat­ic approach has dom­i­nat­ed, she extols, in which unknowns have been a part of biology’s messy reality.
Look­ing ahead, to the deep­en­ing entan­gle­ments between biol­o­gy and com­pu­ta­tion, we find con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous imag­i­nar­ies sur­round­ing cel­lu­lar life to be test­ing this lin­eage. Certainly—as Keller her­self has reflected—computation makes pos­si­ble very par­tic­u­lar modes of under­stand­ing, ones con­form­ing to the “reduc­tive, mech­a­nis­tic, and adap­ta­tion­ist log­ics” that char­ac­terise a pre­vail­ing neo-Dar­win­ism (Hus­tak & Myers 2013:77).
In this paper, we wish to cut across what on the face it appears to be biology’s nar­row­ing move. By ‘look­ing askew’, we hope to ask more about biol­o­gy and whether or not it is being ren­dered com­pu­ta­tion­al. Exam­in­ing a project invest­ed in the com­pu­ta­tion­al chal­lenges of mod­el­ling cel­lu­lar sta­bil­i­ty, and rely­ing on the “risky comak­ings” (Har­away 2016:14) between actors, algo­rithms and com­pu­ta­tion­al tools, we stay com­mit­ted to the trou­bles enlivened by knot­ted rela­tions. We use two fem­i­nist fig­ures, Haraway’s String Fig­ure, and Hus­tak and Myer’s Invo­lu­tion­ary Momen­tum, to (re-)tell a sto­ry of unfold­ing rela­tion­ships between researchers, cells and tech­nolo­gies, spin­ning a yarn of “affec­tive­ly charged” (Hus­tak & Myers 2013) relays and knot­tings that resist sin­gu­lar figurings.
Har­away, D.J., 2016. Stay­ing with the trou­ble: Mak­ing kin in the Chthu­lucene. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press.
Hus­tak, C. and Myers, N., 2012. Invo­lu­tion­ary momen­tum: Affec­tive ecolo­gies and the sci­ences of plant/insect encoun­ters. dif­fer­ences, 23(3), pp.74–118.
Keller, E.F., 2009. Mak­ing sense of life: Explain­ing bio­log­i­cal devel­op­ment with mod­els, metaphors, and machines. Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press. 

Audrey, Anyone?

I just dug out my old Audrey, a com­put­er appli­ance designed for the home released in 2000 and then canned in 2001. What a shame to think a device with such thought­ful­ly designed soft­ware and hard­ware was so quick­ly rel­e­gat­ed to the dust-pile of e‑history. Any­way, see­ing Audrey remind­ed me Lau­rel Swan and I pre­sent­ed a paper on Audrey at 4S in 2005 titled “Audrey, Any­one?” The abstract is below. We did man­age to inter­view some of the orig­i­nal design­ers on the team includ­ing Ray Win­ninger. How­ev­er, things got the bet­ter of us and we nev­er wrote it up in fin­ished form. Here’s the abstract we wrote:

Wikipedia has an entry, here.
A short chap­ter we came across in doing back­ground research on Audrey is Leslie Regan Share’s “The gen­der­ing of a com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy: the short life and death of Audrey”, in Out of the Ivory Tow­er: Fem­i­nist Research for Social Change, edit­ed by: Mar­tinez, Andrea and Stu­art, Meryn. Toron­to: Sumach Press.

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.

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

“The promiscuity of interaction”

This is a brief com­ment on a meet­ing Bar­ry Brown and I host­ed at Microsoft Research Cam­bridge, titled .

“Inter­ac­tion as a a promis­cu­ous con­cept”: it’s Stu­art Reeves’ phras­ing that nice­ly cap­tures the sen­ti­ment of our small meet­ing’s dis­cus­sions. The col­lec­tion of short talks and the empha­sis giv­en to talk­ing (and not just lec­tur­ing), gave rise to a lan­guage of crit­i­cal but pos­i­tive reflec­tion. Rather than delib­er­at­ing on an ‘after’ or ‘post’ inter­ac­tion turn or wave in HCI, inter­ac­tion was seen to still offer a great deal. The con­sen­sus (led by posi­tions from David Kirk, Abi Dur­rant , Bill Gaver and Stu­art) was it pro­vides us with a device or machin­ery in com­mon, and, con­cep­tu­al­ly, there remains much to do with the word that keeps us open to new domains and indeed new (design) pos­si­bil­i­ties. Here, I’m remind­ed of Isabelle Stengers use of the phrase a “tool for think­ing”. It cer­tain­ly appears inter­ac­tion (still) pro­vides us with just such a tool.
And yet I felt there was a shared frus­tra­tion (more…)

See this post as one source for the discussion.
Kind­ly attend­ed by, Andy Bouch­er, Bar­ry Brown, Rob Comber, Anna Cox, Abi Dur­rant, Bill Gaver, Elisa Giac­car­di, Kat Jung­nick­el, Dave Kirk, Airi Lampinen, Eric Lau­ri­er, Lucian Leahu, Chris­t­ian Licoppe, Dave Mar­tin, Mike Michael, Mar­i­an­na Obrist, Stu­art Reeves, Yvonne Rogers, Francesca Sal­vadori, Anja Thieme, Tony Weis­er and Alex Wilkie.
Stu­art has post­ed the notes to his talk here. He has sug­gest­ed this as a com­pli­men­ta­ry read­ing: Ander­son, B. and Shar­rock, W. (2013). Post­Mod­ernism, Social Sci­ence & Tech­nol­o­gy.
Abi ref­er­enced the piece “Edge Town” by Hook­er and Kitchen (2004), in her short talk. She has also sug­gest­ed E. M. Fos­ter’s ‘The Machine Stops’ for fur­ther read­ing. As she explains: [t]his is because this novel­la con­veys the ideas we dis­cussed about mak­ing-and-describ­ing the macro and micro fea­tures of a world (of com­plex medi­at­ed inter­ac­tions) and, dare I say, the ‘local and glob­al’.  (With the 1:1 scale fea­tures of  inter­ac­tion being the stuff that design­ers can real­ly work with. It man­ages to con­vey the com­plex­i­ty of a socio-tech­ni­cal sys­tem through depict­ing a few moments of rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple inter­ac­tion with ‘the machine’.  The sto­ry also presents tru­ly entan­gled human and non human bod­ies and their pol­i­tics, ethics, depen­den­cies, faith — and deals more specif­i­cal­ly with impli­ca­tions around trans­paren­cy with­in those medi­at­ed inter­ac­tions. This is despite being of it’s time and assum­ing cer­tain dif­fer­ences between peo­ple and the nat­ur­al world, and ‘man and machine’.
See, Stengers, I. (2013). Intro­duc­to­ry notes on an ecol­o­gy of prac­tices. Cul­tur­al Stud­ies Review, 11(1), 183–196.

Reading Sloterdijk’s Spheres, alongside Stengers and Barad

Aman­da Win­dle has kind­ly invit­ed me to par­tic­i­pate in her small seminar:

Informed mat­ters
Dig­i­tal media materialities.

The sem­i­nar is sum­marised as follows:

Con­sid­er­ing Peter Slo­ter­dijk’s ren­der­ing of a Hei­deg­ger­ian ‘being-in’ this infor­mal sem­i­nar will be a sit­u­at­ed read­ing. The dis­cus­sion will be locat­ed at the Roy­al Soci­ety of the Arts to spa­tial­ly think through an approach to Peter Sloterdijk’s ‘spher­ol­o­gy’ across dis­ci­plines. How, where and with what mat­ter­ings do we embark our dai­ly read­ings is no triv­ial mat­ter? Sloterdijk’s writ­ing can both inform and trou­ble read­ers and so the adja­cent read­ings from and will open up fur­ther ques­tions and provo­ca­tions. Sloterdijk’s recent pub­li­ca­tions have been aimed at a design audi­ence (name­ly archi­tects) and with his media the­o­ry the fol­low­ing dig­i­tal media ques­tion will be pro­posed.  With a broad­ly expe­ri­en­tial and per­for­ma­tive approach in mind the dis­cus­sion will loose­ly con­sid­er spher­ol­o­gy in this respect:

  • This for­mu­la­tion opens to the some­what irrev­er­ent ques­tion (fol­low­ing Slo­ter­dijk’s own irrev­er­ence) of how his think­ing can be turned into an app or an appli­ca­tion (app dis­plac­ing appli­ca­tion dis­plac­ing the­o­ri­sa­tion dis­plac­ing philosophi­sa­tion, the last term bare­ly being a word)?
  • How might Sloterdijk’s work be repar­a­tive­ly ques­tioned through a fem­i­nist enquiry? How might Sloterdijk’s metaphors engage us intra-actively?

I’ve sketched out my response to the lat­ter: (more…)

Barad, K. (2003). Posthu­man­ist Per­for­ma­tiv­i­ty: Toward an Under­stand­ing of How Mat­ter Comes to Mat­ter. Signs: Jour­nal of Women in Cul­ture and Soci­ety, 28(3), 801–831.
Stengers, I. (2013). Intro­duc­to­ry notes on an ecol­o­gy of prac­tices. Cul­tur­al Stud­ies Review11(1), 183–196.

Reading “Counting, accounting, and accountability: Helen Verran’s relational empiricism”

Just read Martha Ken­ney’s “Count­ing, account­ing, and account­abil­i­ty: Helen Verran’s rela­tion­al empiri­cism”.
The arti­cle is cur­rent­ly avail­able through the Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence Online­First ser­vice. Inten­tion­al­ly or not, it sits nice­ly with oth­er arti­cles brought togeth­er to exam­ine .

Ken­ney, M. (2015). Count­ing, account­ing, and account­abil­i­ty: Helen Ver­ran’s rela­tion­al empiri­cism. Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence, 1–23.

Ken­ney’s arti­cle is very much a homage to Helen Ver­ran and her won­der­ful book Sci­ence and an African Log­ic. She pays spe­cial atten­tion to Ver­ran’s efforts at decom­po­si­tion and frames these through a lens of account­abil­i­ty. Care is giv­en by Ken­ny to dif­fer­en­ti­ate this kind of account­ing from that of “con­tem­po­rary neo-lib­er­al bureau­cra­cies” that run the risk of strength­en­ing “the aca­d­e­m­ic cul­ture that priv­i­leges cri­tique and rev­e­la­tion over oth­er, more sub­tle and cre­ative, approach­es.” (more…)

See, for exam­ple, Mar­tin, A., Myers, N., & Viseu, A. (2015). The pol­i­tics of care in techno­science. Social Stud­ies of Sci­ence, 1–17.

Back to interaction (a reply to Barry)

I’m grate­ful to Bar­ry Brown for his com­ments on my short Inter­ac­tions piece, “After Inter­ac­tion”.
Bar­ry, as always, you’ve forced me to think more care­ful­ly about my mean­der­ings. Indeed, my inten­tion was to append a short reply to your com­ment, but your ques­tions have demand­ed more and, pre­dictably, words have got the bet­ter of me. This post, then, is my long-wind­ed response. Thank you for giv­ing me the chance to expand on my thoughts.

First, let me respond to your crit­i­cisms regard­ing the inter­min­glings of humans and non­hu­mans. (more…)

On Counting

Kat Jung­nick­el kind­ly invit­ed me to a two day meet­ing as part of her con­tin­u­ing series of Trans­mis­sions and Entan­gle­ments events. Amidst oth­ers work­ing through new meth­ods and process­es, here’s what I had to say for myself on count­ing:

What is it to count and to be counted?
One way I have made sense of my work over the last 10 years at Microsoft has been to see it as a way of get­ting to grips with count­ing and in some ways com­ing to terms with being counted.