Archive for the ‘design’ Category

Another call for a Prince and the Wolf reading group

6 January 2012

In addition to the seminar in Dublin, here is another call for a reading group (by Adam Greenfield at Urbanscale) around the themes of The Prince and the Wolf and The Prince of Networks, within the context of design, computing and urban planning:

Thanks to Anil Bawa-Cavia for pointing me at The Prince and the Wolf, a transcript of Graham Harman’s 2008 conversation with Bruno Latour at the LSE. This and Harman’s book on Latour, Prince of Networks, are the first things I’m reading in my attempt to reconcile the objects of object-oriented ontology with Latour’s actors, which endeavor is what sparked all of the above in the first place. (If anyone’s interested in forming a reading and discussion group around these and related issues, by the way, please do let me know.)

Hybridisation in architecture and urbanism

11 March 2011

A new book on transdisciplinarity and the hybridisation of knowledge production, edited by Isabelle Doucet and Nel Janssens: Transdisciplinary Knowledge Production in Architecture and Urbanism: Towards Hybrid Modes of Inquiry, from the Urban and Landscape Perspectives series, Vol. 11 (Springer).

The volume includes contributions by Michael Biggs, Daniele Büchler, Carole Deprés, Halina Dunin-Woyseth, Andrée Fortin, Tony Fry, Rolf Hughes, Ronald Jones, Fredrik Nilsson, Tatjana Schneider, Geneviève Vachon, Albena Yaneva, and a foreword by Julie Thompson Klein.

The volume addresses the hybridisation of knowledge production in space-related research. In contrast with interdisciplinary knowledge, which is primarily located in scholarly environments, transdisciplinary knowledge production entails a fusion of academic and non-academic knowledge, theory and practice, discipline and profession. Architecture (and urbanism), operating as both a discipline and a profession, seems to form a particularly receptive ground for transdisciplinary research. However, this specificity has not yet been developed into a full-fledged, unique mode of knowledge production.

In order to dedicate specific attention to transdisciplinary knowledge production, this book aims to explore (new) hybrid modes of inquiry that allow many of architecture’s longstanding schisms to be overcome: such as between theory/history and practice, critical theory and projective design, the adoption of an external viewpoint and a view-from-within (often under the guise of bottom-up vs. top-down). It therefore offers the reader a mix of contributions that elaborate on knowledge production that is situated in the (architectural and urban) profession or practice, and on practice-based approaches in theory.

The Objects of Design and Social Science

12 October 2009

An interesting seminar series coming up at Goldsmiths, organised by the Interaction Research Studio, Department of Design and the Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process, Department of Sociology.

Design and Social Science Seminar Series 2009-2010

The Objects of Design and Social Science

Common to both design and (parts of) the social sciences is a shared pre-occupation with objects. On the one hand, design is concerned with making and interpreting objects including the finished article (e.g. consumer products), ‘experimental’ design aids (e.g. prototypes), and projective representations (e.g. scenarios). Recently, design has also begun to re-engage with more speculative objects whose ambiguous functionality contributes to the exploration of the social and the material, the political and the aesthetic. On the other hand the social sciences also work with objects, including categorical objects such as race, gender, and health, empirical objects ranging from the mundane to the exotic, and conceptual objects such as the notions social scientists use to understand and theorize the social. Here, the sociology of science and technology has been especially productive, introducing notions such as boundary objects (Star & Griesemer, 1989), epistemic objects (Rheinberger, 1997), immutable mobiles (Latour, 1990), quasi-objects , black boxes (Latour, 1988) to name but a few. Accordingly, a focus on material, empirical and conceptual objects brings into sharp relief overlaps and disjuncture between the two disciplines and a rich space for dialogue.

This seminar series will seek to bring into view and explore existing objects of both design and social science as well as draw out objects of novelty for both disciplines. In doing so we will seek to engage with emerging issues and topics in both disciplines such as the outputs of speculative and critical design, participation, engagement and publics as well as addressing notions concerning heterogeneity, process and event. This series will continue to serve as a platform for opening up interdisciplinary research futures.

** Please Note: all seminars run from 4:00pm – 6:00pm and are hosted by the Interaction Research Studio, 6th Floor, Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW.


From Iconoclasm to Compositionism

3 October 2009

A New Patrons lecture with Bruno Latour and Chantal Mouffe on the civil society patronage of art in Europe at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, 7pm, 9 October 2009.

Bruno Latour: “From Iconoclasm to Compositionism”
Chantal Mouffe: “Agonistic Politics and Artistic Practices”

Spheres Theory

2 September 2009

As promised in the video, the text of Peter Sloterdijk’s 17 February 2009 lecture at Harvard has now been published in the Harvard Design Magazine under the title: “Spheres Theory: Talking to Myself About the Poetics of Space.” (hat tip to namhanderson.)

Update: Now that I have read it, I can say it’s absolutely brilliant, packed with mind-expanding ideas. I can’t wait for the English translation of Sphären to come out.

Here are a few gems:

Humans are pets that have domesticated themselves in the incubators of early cultures. (…)

Everything successful is operational, while revolutionary phases achieve nothing as long as they do not contain real potential abilities. Which is why no one today asks what programs are being announced but rather what programs are being written. Writing is an archetype of ability: The invention of script marks the beginning of the operational subversion of the world as it exists. (…)


An apparatus for apparatchiks

27 August 2009

Are apparatuses good or bad? But first, what is an apparatus? The shortest and very helpful definition comes from Giorgio Agamben’s essay, “What is an Apparatus?

I shall call an apparatus literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings. (p. 14)

Agamben calls the process of producing human subjects by apparatuses subjectification.

So, once more, is subjectification by apparatuses good or bad? In Heidegger’s view, the apparatus (technology that has the character of enframing, Gestell) is dangerous because it threatens the essence of being human. Foucault seems to be cagier about this issue but Agamben appears to side with Heidegger when he classifies beings like this:

To recapitulate, we have then two great classes: living beings (substances) and apparatuses. And between these two, as a third class, subjects. I call a subject that which results from the relation and, so to speak, from the relentless fight between living beings and apparatuses. (…) The boundless growth of apparatuses in our time corresponds to the equally extreme proliferation in processes of subjectification. (p. 14-15)

Proponents of actor-network theory reject such a priori distinctions between human and nonhuman objects. The result of such a move changes the question itself. It is no longer interesting to ask, ‘Are apparatuses as such inherently good or bad?’ Instead, the question becomes, ‘ What is this or that particular apparatus made for? Is it well made or poorly designed?’ As for subjects, they are constructed, period. If everything is constructed, the prospect of subjectification is no longer horrifying. It is simply a matter of fact. In turn, the question of ‘How subjects are constructed by apparatuses?’ becomes extremely interesting.


Edgar Whitley’s recent video about the UK Identity Card Scheme provides an excellent example for this. As Whitley argues, the problem is not with the idea of using a card for identifying citizens but with the way the scheme, i.e. this apparatus, had been designed. While the ID card scheme does have a user-centric design, the problem is it centres on the wrong user:  the government, instead of the citizen.

The making of this scheme has to be put under the closest scrutiny precisely because the ID card is an apparatus of subjectification, a tool for producing a particular kind of citizen. Thankfully the LSE’s Identity Project has been fulfilling exactly that function. However, its message needs to be disseminated and heard more widely. As Whitley puts it, ID cards threaten to change the relationship between the individual and the state in the UK, by producing a new kind of citizen, and a new kind of state.

So, is an apparatus good or bad? It is bad only if you use Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology” as a blueprint, a user’s manual (as the current UK government appears to be doing), rather than a thought-provoking meditation that kicked off a fascinating debate about the relationship between human beings and their tools. As science and technology studies have shown in the past 30 years or so, that relationship is much more complicated than anyone expected.


Agamben, G. (2009). “What is an apparatus?” and other essays. Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press.

Heidegger, M. (1977). The question concerning technology and other essays. New York; London, Harper and Row.

A comic response to Latour and Sloterdijk at Harvard

20 March 2009


An Irreductive Approach to Architecture

4 March 2009

Isabelle Doucet will be giving a talk entitled “Learning from Brussels: An Irreductive Approach to Architecture” at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth (AIB) on 11 March 2009 (starting at 16:30 in the Right Hand Conference Centre).


In Irreductions, the (slightly disguised) concluding chapter of the The Pasteurization of France, Bruno Latour tackles the question what would happen if “nothing can be reduced to anything else, nothing can be deduced from anything else, everything may be allied to everything else”. The question of this lecture is what would happen if such question would be applied to the current architecture and urban renewal situation in Brussels. What are the various laboratories at work in urban knowledge construction and which translation processes take place between them? In terms of architecture theory, an irreductive approach seems to allow research questions to move beyond traditional dichotomies such as bottom-up vs. top-down; software vs. hardware; authoritarian vs. participatory; orchestrated vs. everyday space. To understand Brussels and its so-called ‘crisis in architecture’, an irreductive approach does not only seem instructive, but simply vital.


Latour and Sloterdijk at Harvard University

6 February 2009

Many thanks to Trevor Patt for alerting us that there is going to be a joint Latour-Sloterdijk event after all, on 17 February 2009, at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University (6:30pm – 8:00pm, Piper Auditorium, Gund Hall). It will be entitled “Networks and Spheres: Two Ways to Reinterpret Globalization.”