Accepted Paper:

Design Anthropology, Emerging Technologies and Alternative Computational Futures  


Rachel Charlotte Smith (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

Emerging technologies are providing a new field for design anthropological inquiry that unite experiences, imaginaries and materialities in complex way and demands new approaches to developing sustainable computational futures.

Paper long abstract:

The rapid digitalisation of society is affecting all areas of our everyday lives and practices, from personal and public to corporate domains. Emerging technologies and concepts of automation, machine learning, algorithms and computational thinking are providing new imaginations of the possible, but the increasing technological complexity also challenges people's roles as democratic and empowered agents in a digitalised society (Cuny et al. 2010, Iversen et al. fc; Vors & Pink 2017).

Otto and Smith (2013) argue for design anthropology as a distinct way of knowing, based on an approach to emergence and intervention in the process of constructing knowledge. Here the conditions for possible futures are imagined and negotiated, but also actively co-constructed in relation to given contexts, through processes of designing cultures and making futures (Smith & Otto 2016; Smith et al. 2016; Ehn et al. 2014). This transdisciplinarity gives design anthropology a unique position to engage with the experiences and imaginaries and experiences that are entangled in the design of future technologies. At once, the complex computational processes demand alternative experimental and socio-material approaches to inventing the ethnographic field and exploring possible futures.

Based on two design anthropological projects involving collaborative experiments with interactive technologies, maker spaces and digital cultures in public institutions, the paper questions how design anthropology may engage in the socio-technical practices and transformations through which heterogeneous cultural imaginaries are inscribed into the design of emerging technologies? And, what would a critical design anthropological approach to developing sustainable digital and computational futures look like?

Panel P062
Design Anthropology: Uniting experience and imagination in the midst of social and material transformation