Drafting “Research Methods and Critical Writing for Design”

I had some time to begin to develop the graduate research course I will teach in Design, Winter quarter 2017. This is a draft (and only a draft):

Course Description

This graduate research seminar in Design intends to pose two interrelated challenges:

  • First, if one can identify something as a problem for designers to address, then how come the discipline has not addressed it? In other words, with an eye toward history and society, this course asks you to place your concerns as a designer into a context as to why those concerns come to matter (“matter,” as in a matter of concern, but also physical matter, i.e. become tangible).
  • Second, how can ‘research’ help elucidate why design has or has not resolved a certain ‘problem’? Put differently, through critical readings and discussion that address issues of (but not limited to) race, class, gender, disability, sexuality, and the past, we will explore what does (and, importantly, doesn’t) trouble the discipline of design. To do this, we will seek to theorize research itself in order to refine our methods of research.
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NASA/Ames Research Center, 7/14/1989, Virtual Environment Reality workstation technology (helmet & gloves)

Explained in a different sense, this course sets up the proposition that the production of knowledge is not a linear progression, and thus the kinds of certainties we are convinced about are, in fact, contingent; these contingencies relate back to how we go about deciding what can—and cannot—constitute research.

Or, as somewhat elucidated in the infamous words of Donald Rumsfeld, “(…)as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” In his own perplexing imagination, what Rumsfeld accidentally was getting at was, at the core, that sensing an unknowability demands not only problematizing its other, knowability, but in effect, unknowability itself. He posed, in short, a puzzle about the nature of evidence or data, and how to go about collecting it.

A few additional key points… This course will also ask MFA students to think of design and research as two domains that continually co-make each other, never leaving one behind for the other, and thus, we will seek to trouble research through modes of thinking like designers, while also seeking to trouble design by subjecting it to research practices, understanding such practices in the broadest possible way we can.

To do this, we seek to look outwards; to research how designers have posed questions and sought answers, and in parallel, how different fields of knowledge go about performing research (and “perform” is another important keyword to think about, too). Students in the course will be expected to do both, such that they learn about the history of design and to read authors seeking clues to how they designed their research.

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I don’t have the final readings for the course yet, but the long list includes an eclectic mix of theorists, historians, anthropologists, designers, artists, geographers, etc. The list includes Shannon Mattern, Reyner Banham, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, Marisol de la Cadena, Hugh Gusterson, Minh Ha T. Pham, Alberto Corsín Jiménez, David Gissen, Anne Galloway, Arturo Escobar, Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, Sunaura Taylor, Anna Tsing, Alison Kafer, Orit Halpern, Natasha Dow Schüll, Keller Easterling, Shiloh Krupar, Simone Browne, Louise Amoore, Rashad Shabazz, Bruno Latour, Shannon Cram, Michelle Murphy, Mimi Thi Nguyen, Fred Turner, and Felicity Scott. Any suggestions for the long list are welcome.

My idea is to maybe assign two readings (or two modules of shorter readings, perhaps) and divide the class into two readings groups per week. We’ll have, then, two rounds of discussion and one group has to listen to the discussion of the other group, and take notes. Students will take turns submitting summaries and notes. The last segment of each week will be reserved for general questions and suggestions around the progress of student research projects.

The course will also include a workshop on human subjects protocols with someone from the Research office on campus. We will also discuss proposal writing. Students will develop their own projects and submit a final essay, which could be a draft section for their final thesis.

It is possible that there will be some field trips to research spaces on campus, but it is not a guarantee.

 

Event — Nov. 10 colloquium: “Black and Blight” with Andrew Herscher

“Black homes matter.”  In the summer of 2015, this affirmation was painted on a fence erected by community members and volunteers from Detroit Eviction Defense next to a house whose owner was facing eviction.  What can architectural history offer to a reading of this affirmation?  This study explores the intersection of race, space, and housing in the American city by focusing on “blight”: a term that has been deployed to characterize urban difference from the early 20th century into the present. Posed as “blight,” the uneven urban development endemic to capitalist urbanism was often refracted through white supremacist politics and framed as a “problem” that could be “solved” by city planning, zoning, urban renewal, and other technical means. In so doing, studies of and actions against “blight” masked contradictions in capitalist urbanism and spatialized race in uneven urban development. 

More info here

General outline for Technology in American Lives

Posting this here, quickly, for discussion and feedback… I have been developing the final reading list for Winter quarter, AMS 5, Technology in American Lives, in preparation of the final syllabus. I previously posted about the course here. This is a test. This is only a test. N.B. The readings are geared toward an intro level course.

[JANUARY]

BEGINNINGS

10 – What is a technology? What are “American lives”?

12 – Mumford (1934; 2010), Technics and Civilization, Ch. II –OR– Langdon Winner (1980), “Do Artifacts Have Politics”

ELEMENTS AND EXTRACTION

17 – Brechin (2006), “The Pyramid of Mining,” Imperial San Francisco

19 ­– Cronon (1992), Rails and Water, Nature’s Metropolis [&/OR excerpt from Voyles’ Wastelanding]

BODIES AND EMBODIMENTS

24 – Laura Briggs (2003), “Debating Reproduction: Birth Control, Eugenics, and Overpopulation in Puerto Rico, 1920-1940,” from: Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico

26 – Nayan Shah (2001), from: Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown –OR– Kim TallBear (2013), selection from: Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science [or journal article]

SITUATING AND SITUATEDNESS

31 – Simone Browne (2012) “Everybody’s Got a Little Light Under the Sun: Black Luminosity and the Visual Culture of Surveillance” (article) –OR– excerpt from book, Dark Matters

[FEBRUARY]

2 – Susan Schulten (2012), “Slavery and the Origin of Statistical Cartography” (likely selection) from: Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America

*MIDTERM WEEK*

7 – DOCUMENTARY OR FILM SCREENING

9 – EXAM DUE

TECHNOSPACES

14 – Michelle Murphy (2006), “Building Ladies into the Office Machine” (likely selection), from: Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers

16 – Natasha Dow Schüll (2012), excerpt from: Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

Optional reading from Shannon Mattern

RESEARCH/POWER

21 – Janet Abbate (2000), (probably) “White Heat and Cold War: The Origins and Meanings of Packet Switching” from: Inventing the Internet 

Additional readings from: Kazys Varnelis, The Centripetal City; Ingrid Burrington in The Atlantic

23 – Jack Kloppenburg (1990; 2005), First the Seed the Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology, 1492-2000 –OR– Alondra Nelson (2016), The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

DISCARDS

28 – Alexa Dietrich (2013), selection from: The Drug Company Next Door: Pollution, Jobs, and Community Health in Puerto Rico –&/OR– Pellow and Park (2002), The Silicon Valley of Dreams: Environmental Injustice, Immigrant Workers, and the High-Tech Global Economy

Additional reading from Maya Weeks

[MARCH]

2 – Shiloh Krupar (2013), selection from: Hot Spotter’s Report: Military Fables of Toxic Waste

Additional reading from Shannon Cram

THE WORD ITSELF

7 – Langdon Winner (1980), “Do Artifacts Have Politics” –&/Or Leo Marx (2010), “Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept”

9 – Wendy Faulkner (2001), “The Technology Question in Feminism: A View from Feminist Technology Studies”

CLOSINGS

14 – Antoine Picon (2000), “Anxious Landscapes: From Ruins to Rust”

Conclusions and evals.

16 – Exam Review

 

Link

Rightlessness: Hunger Strikes, Force-feeding, and Testimony at Guantánamo

Event on Oct. 6, 4p.m. Hart 3201

A. Naomi Paik will address themes raised in her new book, Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in U.S. Prison Camps Since World War II, which grapples with the history of U.S. prison camps that have confined people outside the boundaries of legal and civil rights. Removed from the social and political communities that would guarantee fundamental legal protections, these detainees are effectively rightless, stripped of the right even to have rights. Specifically, this talk will focus on both the bodily practices of and discourses surrounding prisoner practices of self-harm and the U.S. state’s efforts to preserve life, in particular, its force-feeding of hunger strikers at the current Guantánamo camp. By interpreting the testimonies of hunger strikers, Paik examines the prisoner body as a site of power and struggle waged between the U.S. state and the prisoners, who attempt to seize their own form of habeas corpus, taking their bodies back from the camp regime, by inflicting self-harm.

AAG 2017 CFP: Crisis-modes: logics, practices and re-articulations

It’s that time of year – the run-up to the American Association of Geographers conference, with a flurry of paper calls and session organizing. I’m really happy to announce something that Melissa Fernández and I have been cooking up as part of a larger collaboration that she kindly initiated with enormous energy.

The collaboration starts with the idea, one could say, of “de-exceptionalizing” the crisis. That is, if unilateral colonial administrative decisions —here, we started thinking about the fiscal control board the U.S. Congress imposed on Puerto Rico— are presented as exceptional measures to avert a “humanitarian” crisis, then what are the actually-existing, common contexts of such governmentalities? We focused a lot of our attention on how such crises function beyond the legal jargon that underpins them. What are the emotional sensibilities that transform the abstraction of calculable debts into something material — something present in people’s lives that they understand through crisis logics and not merely as an individualized effect?

Secondly, we also had many hours of discussion around the importance of crisis in urban transformations, and started to talk about many communal and artistic modes of resistance that took the urban condition as a right to fight for. However, the paper call is not strictly urban by any means and in fact, we hope to bring attention to many geographic contexts where crisis-modes transform, restrict and violate rights, belongings, and relations.

Last but not least, we also spent a lot of time talking about the circulation of notions of home/land; the transposition of home to diasporic contexts, given the migration of dispossessed subjects to find a base elsewhere… And the ways in which imaginations of home worked to manage labor discipline, political participation, moral obligations, gender norms, and acceptable identities in new wage contexts for crises exiles.

Anyway, the call explains best what we came up with…

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Harvard Design Magazine no. 42: Run for Cover!

c4_hdm42More mailbag stuff! — This one arrived last week: Harvard Design Magazine no. 42: Run for Cover!

In this issue, Demilit (of which I’m a member) has a piece on “thinking with suspicious packages,” an intervention into the discourse around tactical and informal urbanism(s). It draws from our research on urban securitization and electronic networks, particularly by using walking methods to intimately sense the city.

The piece begins:

Report suspicious activity. If you see something, say something. Do not leave bags unattended. These are the instructions for acceptable cohabitation in the secure city. But objects mediate between bodies. People are allowed to put materials into new and unexpected configurations, as long as such arrangements do not inspire fear or dread.

Objects in space must have an author or an owner who speaks for them, lest they leave interpretation up to undue speculation. Unknowability is insecurity.1 However, the alarmist idea of the “suspicious package” may unlock a different politics of urban life, one premised on sensuous materialism rather than security theater.2

Suspicious packages, or “suspacks,” as we have started to refer to them, are perplexing.3 They are material things that inspire dark thoughts in urban subjects, far surpassing what can be deduced from their ordinary thingness. Suspended in a state of possibility, suspacks flood the synapses with mental triggers like few other creations can. In other words, the suspack is matter in semiotic flux. A suspack is not (yet) a bomb or weaponized debris in motion, but neither is it a plain box. If it were a bomb, we would call it a bomb. If it were poison, we would label it with warnings. If it were a delivery, it would belong somewhere else—on a truck en route to its destination, say. But sometimes (most of the time, in fact), a box is just a box and an unattended suitcase is simply luggage that was misplaced. Suspacks are a little-understood entity—not quite a fixed category or a marketable commodity—that defies the certitudes of designed products.

The entire piece is up at the HDM website, along with many other excellent pieces. Our big thanks to editors Jennifer Sigler and Leah Whitman-Salkin for their careful work, and to the staff who handled corrections and bios. We’re continuing to expand this investigation into the suspicious package (and I gave a recent panel talk on this at the Regional Studies Assoc, North America conference).

Received: A Universe of Fragile Mirrors from the Pérez museum

Photo on 8-4-16 at 3.04 PM #4

Beatriz Santiago Muñoz: A Universe of Fragile Mirrors Exhibition Catalog

In “Ecologies of Practices in a Post-Military Cinema,” an essay for the exhibition catalog, I draw on my research with artists in Puerto Rico working internationally. Here, I discuss the relationship between walking practices in post-military landscapes and the video art of Beatriz Santiago Muñoz (BSM).

For several years, I participated in “walking seminars” (and hope to do so again) with Santiago Muñoz and artists, students, and many other makers, farmers, and activists.

In this essay (published in English and Spanish), I think about the ongoing, in-process creations that BSM fuses into video but that are not limited to the medium. In the activities of walking and art-making, a process of worlding (a term I borrow from Marisol de la Cadena) emerges. In this worlding, learning, making, and translating into art are intermixed beyond the point of being separable again — new worlds are created within the husk of the expired colony.

I also took this writing as a chance to think more deeply about the politics of walking and about the methodology of sensing through the activation of space—an activity that I argue is productive of new modes of life. There’s a lot more to explain, and the essay itself creates more questions I want to keep thinking about, but anyway, I’ll post a PDF of the essay after the exhibition closes later this year.

The catalog is a gorgeous publication in its own right, designed by Olga Casellas / Tiguere studio, and includes writings by the artist and curators. It can be ordered here. My huge thanks to Bea for inviting me to work on this project and asking me to join the walking seminars; and thanks to: María Elena Ortiz, the exhibition curator, who provided excellent feedback on the essay, and she also supervised copy edits and translation by Cherry Pickman into Spanish. Thank you!

beatriz_santiago_muoz_post_military_cinema_still_2014_lores

A still from Post-Military Cinema, 2014 HD color video with sound. 11 min.

maneuver event

Nibia Pastrana Santiago, choreographer and dancer, sends her new zine, “maniobra, bahía o el evento coreográfico.” Nibia’s work as a movement artist frequently scrutinizes the biases, knowledges, and metaphors of geographical thought. One often sees in her work a desire to trouble choreographic practice by playing it off of ideas about making or marking territories—and often trying to transcend or break these controls by doing, as she says, nada (nothing) or as little as possible, practicing “immobility,” in her dance.

maniobra 2

In this small notebook, Nibia documents some kayaking trips to understand the operations of the port of San Juan. Additionally, she collects different documents and images in a low-fi format to try to archive some of the activities of the port, “a definite volume but no fixed shape,” as she suggests in this 2015 performance.

nibia

Navigation and choreography, compared. On this page I landed on (reading is also navigation), she is thinking about time, distance, velocity… How these are situated and established. What outlooks and sensibilities do these impose?

Relatedly, one might look at this expansiveness of field work as part of a performance practice to think more about what Shannon Mattern is cautioning in this new, must-read, exciting piece, “Cloud and Field,” for Places. But at least on a quick pass, this sort of field work that Pastrana engages in produces more of what Mattern calls “those aberrations” in the “cloudy vision” of the infrastructures around us. Rather than a didactic orientation of the manufactured world, Puerto Rican artists are exploring ways of disorienting; of uncommoning what’s common in their everyday.