What do tools do (for you) in Experimental Knowledge Infrastructures and Practices?


Donato Ricci - médialab | SciencesPo, Paris - donato.ricci@sciencespo.fr

Jamie Allen - Critical Media Lab | FHNW, Basel - NSCAD University, Halifax - jamie.allen@fhnw.ch

Submission deadline: September 20, 2019

“The exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience… As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice.”    David Foster Wallace (2005)

“Every human tool relies upon, and reifies, some underlying conception of the activity that it is designed to support. As a consequence, one way to view the artifact is as a test on the limits of the underlying conception.”    Lucy Suchman (1987)

The forthcoming DISEÑA call for contributions enquires into the ways in which tools, mediations, and protocols have become precursors to the activities and the testing of design, art and media research. How do we account for them, as well as for the sensitive ways in which they infrastructure the production of knowledge in these expanding fields?

The expectations of academic relevance, scholarly rigor and scientific validation project a growing demand for empirical grounding in design, art and media research. They compel us to test against the world our material and intellectual creations. Tools, mediations, and protocols employed for these purposes (recording and data capturing devices, visualizations, probes, etc.) amplify, shape and warp the claims we expect them to enable and validate. On the one hand, by interpolating, registering and disclosing things in the world that are under inquiry, these tools are part of the world-making we constantly produce with our research. On the other hand, they reveal the inquirer’s intimate engagements and commitments. The instruments we use are part of us, influenced as they are by our personal and stylistic preferences. From the trembling trace of a pencil between two bubbles on a relational diagram to the sleek reflections of a LIDAR-data derived digital rendering; from the supposed veracity of a sound recorded interview to the cryptic scribblings of a distraught, disorientated or exhausted fieldworker, what we ‘bring back’ from the field are also evidence of ourselves, showing us who we are as (re)searchers, and whom we wish to become. Our “active doings by means of instruments” (Dewey, 1929) intimately bind, the inner and outer worlds we purport to inhabit, understand, describe and intervene in. At the same time, they also hinge on specific institutional expectations, disciplinary perspectives, and intended awakenings, change making, constraining outlooks, models, forms and formats.

Disclosing empirical thoughts and practices, in this sense, means to relate data, describe data and acknowledge the influences, desires, and aspirations that circumscribe fields of activity and passivity; of knowing and not-knowing. Empirical studies, acts of creation and intervention posing an inquiry into the world, are always parasitic. Composing common objects of research for further deliberation and elaboration is a non-linear, unsteady, awkward, stuttered and piecemeal process. One does not simply extend the human sensorium any more than one bridge imagined epistemic “voids” or “gaps”. In this sense, we seek to account for the performative relations that attach practitioners to their tools, to the concerns of their researches and to the environments in which they operate. The tools we manipulate create conditions of mutual influence, amalgams between witness and evidence. They are never wholly autonomous as software libraries, immediately available plugins or ready-made extension packs. Their iterative adjustments and calibrations are situations able to disclose the moments when the divisive notions of object and subject recede, fade or dissolve. Such moments constitute the starting point for the dossiers that this special issue of DISEÑA will collect.

“Testing Against the World” asks for stories and descriptions of the moments when we decide to reach for a pencil, a camera, an MRI machine, to open software, or when we choose to extract, clean and retell an anecdote captured during the fieldwork. What if we were to pause before we purified our findings or distilled our claims? We invite open descriptions of how empirical tools, contexts, objects, and means of translation are chosen; how they set and justify creations and in(ter)ventions in design research, art production, media making, and experimental knowledge practices. This special issue is aimed at addressing, exploring and making more explicit these questions:

| What drives the choices for tools-sets in empirical investigations?

Why does contemporary research demand to be grounded? Why do we ask for ‘reports from the field’, ‘case studies’, and the oblivion of ‘objectivity’ and empiricism of ‘observations’? What professional, personal and emotional investments — desires, hopes, fears, and aspirations — afford the selection of particular means of translation? How might we describe the instances where frameworks for interpretation and understanding have been installed by the tools we use?

| What do tools, protocols or instrument orchestrations attach us to, how, and why?

What are the demanded or projected expectations at play when we choose to write an expose, produce a documentary, design a real-time data-driven interface, produce a responsive piece of art based on captors or sensors, transform informants’ interviews into a podcast, organize an experimental publishing workshop, or host a site-specific performance? How are they instrumentalized? How have tools and research, observers and researchers adapted or been forced to adapt to new demands, economies, ecologies — new settings of situated knowledge? What have such settings required us to assume, acquire or impose?

| How do choices of instruments and tools preformat worlds under investigation and authorize the creation of new worlds?

How might research procedures be otherwise in order to avoid pre-programmed responses or presumed postures of objectivity and positivism? What comprises and constitutes the ‘empirical drive’ and how might it be possible to propagate, resist, subvert or modulate it? How have tools and research, observers and researchers — mutually, reciprocally, transitively — changed in their journey from one field of research to another, from one era to the next, from one moment to another? How is empirical ‘evidence’ operationalized and leveraged? What is excluded, undermined, deliberately or violently disconnected from habitats, homes or points of origin?

Attempts to answer such questions, however tentative, personal or anecdotal, undertake to de-naturalize our relationships to instruments, mediations, and tools, as well as to further our extended awareness of their political, social, sexual, racial, historical and epistemic contexts. The resulting discussion wishes to contribute to making designers, artists and others more conscious about the sensitive, personal and intimate nature of their disciplines, and to rerouting the potential of experimental knowledge practices. In doing so, we seek opportunities to bring integrity and genuineness to the worlds that are built, destroyed and (re)created by us and our tools, not in illusory isolation, but as complexes of perspectives, preferences, identities, technologies, and histories.

Submissions can take the form of academic papers, narrative essays and more-than-textual contributions by design, art, and media researchers, but also by humanities researchers and natural science investigators who embark on experimental practices that ideally navigate, connect or revolve around themes such as:

| Calibration, datum, and reference | Visibility and invisibility | Non-linearity, recursion, and revisitation.

| Method and anti-method | Translation and transduction | Extraction and insertion.

| Situated experiences and observations | Critical distance and proximity | Generalising operators.

| Personal accounts of mediations | Research as human desire/right/love| Intimacy, protection, and secrecy.

| Institutional frames | Feminist instrumentality | Racialized empirical presumption | Colonial epistemologies.

We expect this issue to re-qualify and to nuance the tones of the performative relations that attach us (practitioners, researchers, and makers) to the tools and the objects of our research and creation. The pragmatic and empirical perspective we would like to build, in this special issue of DISEÑA, strives to get and stay closer to the concrete, to the particular, to the sensations that are opened up by the practical implications of ‘producing knowledge’ in art and design. We would like to unfold how dimensions of knowing are expressed, processed and created, destroyed and rebuilt. We ask after experiences of research that are not reduced, backgrounded or forgotten.

 If interested, please submit your manuscript in www.revistadisena.uc.cl by September 20, 2019. Revisions and modifications after the peer-review process need to occur during October and November 2019, as the issue will come out in January 2020.

Only contributions in English will be accepted. The length of the manuscripts will be from 3,500 to 4,000 words.

Authors must also provide an abstract (140 words max.) and five keywords, as well as a short 150-word bio. Citations and list of references must follow APA style.

 Authors interested in submitting more-than-textual contributions are requested to send, before the final deadline, a manifestation of interest composed of

  • An abstract
  • A description of the non-textual based production
  • A sample of the work
  • A description of their needs for publication

For publication, more-than-textual contributions must be complemented with editorial text. Please, see instructions for authors here.