Publications and Video
Putting the Trans* into Design for Transition: Reflections on Gender, Technology and Natureculture
Over the last five years, design for transition has emerged as a prominent critical paradigm in designing for sustainable futures. Transition design approaches are united in their aim of reorienting design practices to address global environmental catastrophe and societal inequality. Nevertheless, the discussion of gender and sexuality is notable for its absence. One exception is Arturo Escobar’s (2018) Designs for the Pluriverse.
In this paper, I take Escobar’s discussion of gender as my starting point. I suggest that by utilising the concept of “Mother Earth” Escobar risks essentializing gender and biology and limiting the transformative potential of technology. I argue that transition design would benefit from queer feminist and queer indigenous perspectives that advocate for a non-binary approach. I go on to consider what it would mean to put the “trans*” into transition design
Speculating from the thick present: participatory methods for designing feminist futures
Covid-19 has made it even more apparent that the experience of global catastrophe is compounded by social inequalities such as gender, class and race. The weight of domestic violence, care work, domestic labour, and poverty, is disproportionally experienced by women and has been felt even more acutely during the pandemic. This talk considers how we move towards a world where this is not the case. It argues that the possibility of social equality by design is constrained by dominant narratives of the future.
Visions of the future among the general population, particularly in the West, have been heavily influenced by the techno-utopias of Silicon Valley and/or the dystopian scenarios that circulate on TV and in cinemas. These future visions have changed little since the 1950s. As memories of the future, they influence, and constrain, the collective imagination, designers included. I argue that if we want to create a socially-progressive future then we need to use methods that utilise different understandings of time. I propose a speculative approach that is inspired by queer feminist theorisations of the ‘thick present’. The ‘thick present’ is a concept that recognises how the present is simultaneously made up of pasts and futures. The past and future are alive in the present not only as personal experience and as social reality, but materially in bodies and environments. Drawing on my experience running feminist futures workshops, I share some of the techniques I have used to get participants thinking about and designing alternative futures.
Post-work futures and full automation: towards a feminist design methodology
Among business leaders, government officials and academics there is a general consensus that new technological developments such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things have the potential to "take our jobs". Rather than resisting and bemoaning this radical shift, theorists such as Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams (2016) have argued that full automation, universal basic income, and future thinking, should be demanded in order to challenge neo-liberal hegemony. Helen Hester (2016) has gone on to consider the limits and potentials of this manifesto in regard to the automation of reproductive labour.
In this article, I take this work as a starting point and consider the significant burden that is left at the designer's door in the post-work/post-capitalist imaginary. I explore the changes that would need to be made to design methods and tools: techniques that are themselves part of the history of industrial capitalism. Drawing on feminist theory and emergent design practice, I begin to develop a feminist design methodology; without which I argue that an emancipatory post-work politics cannot be realised.
Back to the future: feminist speculative design and the past
Speculative designers create objects that materialise imaginative visions of alternative presents and possible futures. Now over fifteen years old, speculative design has emerged as a field in its own right. Projects often ask questions about the role of new technologies in everyday life and the conditions of contemporary consumer culture. Recently, speculative design has come under some harsh criticism; the field has been accused of reproducing western privileged perspectives, and of rendering the social inequalities of class, race, gender and sexuality invisible.
Drawing on emergent practical and theoretical work that attempts to address some of these concerns, in this article, I explore the possibility of a feminist speculative design. I argue that for a feminist speculative design to be truly transformative it not only needs to acknowledge social inequalities but should challenge the ahistorical and linear temporal approaches of much current practice. I explore how approaches to time and genealogy in feminist theory could inform new methods for speculation. I demonstrate how under this influence, new speculative design futures that pose decidedly different questions and modes of engagement could emerge.
Retro Style: Class, Gender and Design in the Home
Retro interiors have come to the fore in recent years as a highly desirable and valuable branch of interior design. The emergence of a need for decorative objects and vintage furniture has resurrected retro style and placed it firmly as a key trend of contemporary design.
Retro Style: Class, Gender and Design in the Home is the first book to explore the modern position of retro by asking important questions around the emergence of the trend, its impact on production and consumption and how it manifests itself in the contemporary interior. Examining themes ranging from design, taste and the aestheticisation of everyday life to the bohemianisation of popular culture, the book provides a fascinating insight into how retro has shaped modern interior design.
Using original ethnographic research from retro retailers, enthusiasts, designers and media professionals Retro Style explores the positive and negative side of the style, ultimately providing an original and thought-provoking perspective on the history and trajectory of how retro has become what it now is and its bearing on the future of designed interiors.
A glamorous feminism by design?
Glamour is often understood as a capitalist technology of allure and as a device with which women are objectified. The consumption glamour has also been theorized as representing a refusal to be imprisoned by the norms of gender, class and race, as well as a form of escape from everyday life. In this article, I explore the attractiveness of glamour both as a technique of feminine performance and as a technique of capitalism. By defining and historicizing the aesthetic, I consider if, and how, glamour could be utilized to strengthen a feminist politics.
I argue that glamour has become more salient in a contemporary context in which the myth of natural beauty has generally been debunked, and in which the performance of femininity constantly refers to its own artifice. Through analysis of examples of the material practices of glamour, such as putting on lipstick, wearing high heel shoes, and drinking cocktails, I suggest that glamour works as an imaginative resource by both triggering a sense of the already enjoyed and provoking idealized visions of the future. I document how everyday experiences of glamour involve the acknowledgement of artifice, fantasies of ‘the good life’, and inevitable failure. I argue that these qualities make glamour a powerful existing resource that can be used to explore how femininity functions and to speculate about the future of feminism. Just as feminist discourses have been incorporated and reterritorialized by capitalism, I suggest that feminism could incorporate and reterritorialize the material practices of glamour in order to counter capitalist neoliberal imperatives. I explore how speculative design could allow feminists to use existing optimistic attachments, such as glamour, to think beyond capitalism.
Advice from the experts: how many qualitative interviews is enough?
Students conducting a piece of qualitative research frequently ask ‘how many interviews is enough?’ Early career researchers and established academics also consider this question when designing research projects. In this NCRM Methods Review paper we gather and review responses to the question of ‘how many’ from 14 renowned social scientists and 5 early career researchers. The riposte to the question of ‘how many’ from
most contributors is ‘it depends’. In considering what ‘it depends upon’ however, the responses offer guidance on the epistemological, methodological and practical issues to take into account when conducting research projects. This includes advice about assessing research aims and objectives, validity within epistemic communities and available time and resources.
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Retro retailing: class, cultural capital and the material practices of the (re)valuation of style
When retro retailers buy and sell goods they are appropriating and recontextualising objects and styles both symbolically and materially. Through knowledge and practices they change the value of items from everyday and old-fashioned to unique and desirable. In this process of value creation, retailers mediate between production and consumption and translate and evaluate other cultures. As such, their role fits well with past theorisations of cultural intermediaries. Using ethnographic research conducted with eight retailers of retro furniture and 12 retro enthusiasts between 2006 and 2010 in the UK, this article reflects on the usefulness of the concept of the cultural intermediary. Through a discussion of the practices and identities of retro retailers it is argued that studies of cultural intermediaries can be enriched by examining the relationships that intermediaries have with the producers and consumers to whom they mediate, as well as improved by exploring the spaces and materialities of mediation.
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Generations and aspirations:
Young people’s thinking about relationships with siblings and hopes for their parents over time
Appeals to the social category of generation - particularly the differential opportunities and exclusion from them available between generations - are to the fore in current politics and social discourses and debates in Britain, found on the both the political Right and Left as well as in the media. In effect, as Jonathan White remarks, '[generation] is a political master-narrative that promises a new way to think about obligation, collective action and community'(2012:20). The story being told is that generation is the central social division in society; used as an empirical social object in an attempt to shape social policy in particular ways. It remains questionable, however, whether or not such 'generationalism' (as White terms it) has any wider purchsed beyond its political practice, reflecting and creating wider social understandings of generations and the obligations and flow of resources between generations.
In this chapter we use ideas about familial and cohort generations in the context of appeals to and debates about intergnerational justice in the UK policy context, to explore young people's thinking about their relationships with their siblings and other significant relatives, and their aspirations for their parents' future over time. We contrast what might be considered a rather simple political portrayal of people's interests and thinking about generation and its political consequences, with the complex interplay between generation as age cohorts in larger society, as family lineage and solidarity, and as individual movement between childhood, youth, adulthood over time, that are in play in young people's experiences as they grow older.