2.1. Conceptual Drivers
PKI aims to challenge and enrich the constrained norm of body-typical to include hypermobility, physical disability, and the evolving abilities of the mature or ageing body. The project interweaves: embodied engagement, choreography, motion capture, structured textile research, material and spatial explorations, garment and object construction and public engagement in an emergent co-design process.
The aim is to understand:
How to give people the feeling of being in someone else’s body, someone with perhaps very different abilities and constraints.
How designers might effectively prototype advanced material interactions, where the characteristics of the materials in question might not yet be concretised.
How designers and scientists might effectively cross-fertilise research-in-process with public opinions around the social, ethical, personal, political and cultural implications of what life would be like if yet-to-be-concretised technologies were readily available, and part of people’s lives.
The objectives are fourfold, to:
Develop new forms of embodied and wearable interactions that challenge participants’ notions around terms such as: ability, disability, body typical and normative or normal.
Expand the ways that we, as design researchers, engage with technological potential.
Investigate how design actions might afford productive cross-fertilisation of social imaginaries and concerns with scientific development, and
Ascertain whether, or how, doing so might productively influence perceived social relevance of research.
These aims and objectives are explored in parallel in, with and through a participatory, embodied Research through Design (RtD) process that crafts our inquiry into graspable, wearable and otherwise em-body-able
form. Em-body-able artefacts can be engaged with through the body—no matter their form or scale. They may be micro or macro, self-contained or systemic, or otherwise materially, physically or conceptually challenging in terms of what humans typically grasp or wear form (c.f. Section 3
). Considered interim outcomes, our forms are tested in participatory actions that rely on em-body-ing design—situating ideation, engagement, interaction and evaluation in, with, and through the experiential human body—to access embodied participants’ extra-discursive capacities. This approach anchors dialogue in the personal, social, political and environmental, and enables conversations to take place that otherwise might elude articulation.
2.2. Theoretical Drivers
We describe our method as crafting RtD, informed by participatory, speculative and critical design, New Materialism and Feminist Technoscience. The research is thus informed by theories of practice, practice, and philosophies relating to Science and Technology Studies (STS), which destabilise and thereby move the thinking- and research-in-practice forward.
We use an applied action-reflection approach to RtD [6
] (pp. 189–192), where the emphasis is on the research objective of creating design knowledge, rather than a project solution. We have a Scandinavian-inspired approach to participation: collaborating with people who might eventually be served by as-yet-unimagined designs, as co-creators in the process [7
]. The resulting research-in-practice is constructivist in its unfolding. Materials, making, collaborator and participant feedback are drawn on in a hermeneutic cycle based on creativity and self-reflection: information and findings are used to move forward, but also revisit previous considerations (c.f. [8
]). What emerges is a speculative and indeterminate progression reminiscent of what Tim Ingold [9
] terms wayfinding in comparison to navigation: feeling one’s way rather than using a map. This way of working affords a continual feedback mechanism that is open, flexible and responsive. It enables us, like craftspeople, to calibrate the motions of our actions in direct response to the actions just performed, and thereby advance towards where the research, design enquiry, and participant reactions lead at each moment.
The resulting design actions constitute an emerging hybrid of narratives that inform and are informed by the research concerns. They use embodied, post-disciplinary and disruptive strategies [10
] to engage varied social and technoscientific imaginaries. Thinking-through-making
are key attitudes within this process. As is using the socially familiar context of crafts [11
] to engage participants to bring difficult to articulate concepts to the scale of the body. Bringing attention to the body in diverse ways supports diverse publics to find language for complex topics. It enlivens imaginaries and invites creative (re)positioning of everyday, intimate experiences into what Rosi Braidotti [12
] (p. 41) calls posthuman assemblages: where the human perspective is but one among many. We thus are carefully, and continually constructing dynamic ‘research–assemblages’—comprised of researcher, respondents, data, methods and contexts—as a way to “assess, critique and potentially engineer [new] research methods and methodologies” [13
] (p. 11) by continually shifting the relationship between researcher, researched and audience.
This approach acknowledges that a capacity for ‘agency’ extends beyond human actors to include materials and the relationships between the human, non-human and inanimate [14
]. It thus opens our research–assemblages to new forms of reading, wherein we evaluate our materials by their capacities to affect [17
] (p. 3), and assists us to radically destabilise how we might otherwise support, and
read participant actions in a co-design context. Instead of focusing on the reactions of our human participants, we can bring focus to all of the forces (or affects) operating at the level of actions or events [13
] (p. 27), including those in which our human collaborators play a relatively minor role. There are “no structures, no systems and no mechanisms at work in new materialist ontology; instead there are events; an endless cascade of events comprising the material effects of both nature and culture that together produce the world” [18
] (p. 7) This way of thinking opens the way to responsively craft the different—human and non-human—elements in our research process. By taking ‘things’ seriously, we can “recognize more fully how these [things] come to be constituted and thought in and through particular worlds in which ‘we humans’ are but one nominated set of players” [19
] (p. 115). According to Lindström & Ståhl [20
], such an approach: “means not only to open up the body, but also to open up technology as materials that are related in somewhat stabilized ways, but which can be rearranged”. By paying “attention to the discursive and material, in one move, through recognizing relationality and coconstitution of agency” we can go beyond only considering the concerns of the user [20
In PKI we are thus speculating possible aesthetics for new material technologies that might help us to think in different ways. Feminist technoscience and new materialist ontologies assist us to think these new ways through our design research practices. They thereby provide potent lenses through which to engage with our unknowns.