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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