Exploring sustainability the dirt-way: collaborative confusion among Future Makers
Cindy Kohtala (Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture)
Paper short abstract:
Though dominant views increasingly reduce research activity to numbers and formulae, there can be no formula for making better or more sustainable futures. We draw on our ethnographic engagements with activists to argue for the virtues of learning in collaborative confusion - the 'dirt way'.
Paper long abstract:
Maker culture (grassroots digital fabrication) communities and others who self-consciously design more sustainable futures are increasingly the subject of research. In studying such citizen-led 'DIY' practices, however, it is often unclear what has been learned, and implications for socio-environmental sustainability may be difficult to articulate. To borrow from educationalist Rogers Hall, learning and world-making here progress in a 'dirt-way'. The metaphor conveys the ad hoc, dialogic, embodied and experimental way small-scale activist projects try to define and reach sustainability-supporting objectives. We look at the dynamics of ethnographic research in this context and suggest that it maintains its usefulness as a method that is tolerant of such messy situations, but also tolerant of the way a researcher intervenes in these. As she seeks to make sense of activists' change making efforts, the ethnographer's task is partly to participate in local confusion - over values and the definitions of sustainability, but also about what constitutes useful knowledge and for whom. Here ethnographic engagement involves productive dialogue that builds on an insider-outsider role for the researcher, in our case as design researcher and freelance anthropologist. The simultaneously overlapping but divergent questions of ethnographic researchers and activists may foster confusion but the collaborative nature of the process also provokes sharper reflection as it travels across 'fields'. Quite possibly such ethnographic work will help make the experiences of future makers count in the politics of sustainability, despite dominant views that tend to reduce research activity to numeric indicators and formulae.
Possible/plausible/probable/preferable: concepts and techniques for realising futures [FAN]