It’s been a thrill to join HCID and City and to be welcomed so warmly by many of you. In this talk, I’d like to introduce myself in a more deliberate way, spinning a thread through my career path that captures what’s important to me and what has helped me find my way.
Starting way back with work at Xerox, and then my twists and turns into academia and then industry again, at Microsoft, I’ll talk through punctuated moments in my research — about teenagers and their mobile phones; families living amongst their clutter; and neighbourhoods coping with communal life and data aggregates. What I’ll try to convey is how it’s been a thinking that has animated me throughout this work, a thinking not always with clarity and certainly a thinking with many knots and frayed ends, but nevertheless a thinking. A point I want to reflect on, then, is how ideas thread into our work, weaving together a lively tapestry. I like the way Carla Hustak and Natasha Myers use, involutions here as a “ ‘rolling, curling, turning inwards’ that brings distinct species together to invent new ways of life” (2013: 96).
Through my own involutions, I’ll try to use this talk to work my way to a thinking that has a generative mode — a mode with both an openness and an ongoingness to it that invites more, always more. For me, this is a mode of thinking that affects oneself and that demands a care, because it is not just about studying the worlds we inhabit, it is about making those worlds and the conditions of possibility that come with them. I suppose, above all else, this is a talk inviting a thinking of this kind that we might do together — it is to pose an open question about our thinking and about what worlds we might make possible.
* My title is inspired by Isabelle Stengers and Vinciane Despret who borrow the phrase “Think we must” from Virginia Woolf, and use it to ponder generatively on their lives in the academy.
Hustak, C & Myers N. 2013. “Involutionary Momentum: Affective Ecologies and the Sciences of Plant/Insect Encounters.” differences 23(3):74 – 118.
Stengers, I., & Despret, V (2015). Women Who Make a Fuss: The Unfaithful Daughters of Virginia Woolf. University of Minnesota Press.
“... to keep unpacking, revealing, opening and unconcealing, we need also to think differently. Alongside unpacking and connecting we need to argue for different worlds to those which dominate us.”
I’m delighted to be starting a new job this September at City, University of London. I’ll be joining the lively Centre for HCI Design (HCID). Both Steph and Simone, the centre’s co‐directors, have been amazingly generous in preparing me for my new role and discussing the directions we might take things in. I’ve also begun to rough out new lines of research with my soon to be colleagues and I eagerly anticipate setting things in motion. Naturally my challenge will be to keep a lid on my enthusiasm, leaving the energy to improve my teaching and engage a student cohort in caring about the entanglements between technology and social life — and the thrills and spills that come with such a care. (more…)
From Joanna Latimer and Beverley Skeggs article, The politics of imagination: keeping open and critical.
“... can we be better than who we are, can we be other than who we are?”
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.
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.