Reading Accounting for Slavery”

Rosenth­al, C. Caitlin. (2018). Account­ing for Slavery: Mas­ters and Man­age­ment. Har­vard Uni­ver­sity Press, Cam­bridge MA.

I’ve read a num­ber of Caitlin Rosenthal’s aca­dem­ic papers and have been anti­cip­at­ing this book for a while. The book doesn’t dis­ap­point. It cements and builds on her past work, and draws her insight­ful ideas togeth­er. Rosenth­al con­vin­cingly shows how the sys­tems of account­ing used in the (largely) ante­bel­lum South­ern States of the US served to man­age (and mas­ter) slaves, meth­od­ic­ally sus­tain­ing the viol­ence we know too well.

I par­tic­u­larly enjoyed Rosenthal’s care­ful exam­in­a­tion of the paper‐based records, show­ing in detail how forms, tables and cal­cu­la­tions objec­ti­fied people’s bod­ies as machinery in a cap­it­al pro­ject, in effect author­ising the bru­tal­ity. What I’d really like to see in any future work is how this line of inquiry ties into con­tem­por­ary slave stud­ies, with its strong and vital nar­rat­ive forms. This will no doubt present a chal­lenge, but one worth pur­su­ing.

Book cover for Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management - Caitlin Rosenthal
Account­ing for Slavery:
Mas­ters and Man­age­ment
Caitlin Rosenth­al.

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.


What are you reading?

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.

Tsing, A. L. (2015). The Mush­room at the End of the World: On the Pos­sib­il­ity of Life in Cap­it­al­ist Ruins. Prin­ceton Uni­ver­sity Press.
Ahmed, S. (2017). Liv­ing a Fem­in­ist Life. Duke Uni­ver­sity Press.

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 Yes to Life = No to Mining:”...

This strik­ing art­icle from Diane Nel­son — in SF Online’s spe­cial issue: Life (Un)ltd—has stuck with me over the last few weeks.

Nel­son, D. (2013). Yes to Life = No to Min­ing:” Count­ing as Bio­tech­no­logy in Life (Ltd) Guatem­ala. The Schol­ar and Fem­in­ist Online, 11(3).

Nel­son weaves togeth­er a com­pel­ling if some­what bleak story of min­ing in Guatem­ala and the impact it is hav­ing on small vil­lages and loc­al people. (more…)

On How Apple is Giving Design a Bad Name”

Thanks to Richard Banks for point­ing me towards this piece pub­lished on Fast Company’s site by Don Nor­man and Bruce Tognazzini (Tog):

The art­icle is a hard hit­ting cri­tique of Apple’s cur­rent design philo­sophy. More than this, though, the two long time inter­ac­tion design gurus set out a clear pro­ject for design, one that they see Apple hav­ing been instru­ment­al in but now devi­at­ing from. Their gen­er­al argu­ment is, on the face of it, pretty con­vin­cing. Yet dig­ging a little deep­er it’s one that I have prob­lems with. This post is really an effort to sort things out in my own mind. (more…)

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.