Participatory Design Conference 2014

I presented a paper at the Doctoral Consortium for the two-yearly PDC conference. It was a total honour and privilege to be counted among such rockstar researchers such as Daniel G. Cabrero, Maria-Rosa Lorini and Amanda Geppert. Who, after PDC, are now colleagues I am very excited to watch and collaborate with going forward.

PDC has this community spirit about it, that I haven’t seen in many other conferences. The talks felt like they all related to one larger dialogue, and participation from audiences were critical and heavily engaging.

I started my visit off with a doctoral consortium, where I presented the following:

for the original article check the ACM library here.

There were three presentations and papers that really influenced me, and made the whole trek to Windhoek worthwhile.

The first was “Radio Healer: hacking the Wii remote to perform indigenous re-imagined ceremony performed by Cristobal Martinez from Arizona State University. He used hacked and salvaged technologies, mixed with traditional indigenous instruments to perform a healing ceremony. This complex mixture of “contemporary” and “indigenous” raises questions about the effect technologies have on materiality, and how we draw such distinctions. Deborah Tatar wrote a brilliant article about the whole thing on ACM’s interactions, with this gem of a quote which relates strongly to my own research:

“Computing is a structural enterprise, but we are not structural creatures. How do any of us create lives, our own rich lives, in the constant presence of the reductionist properties of the computer? In this sense, computation is a colonization that we all face.”

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Secondly, a fantastic paper which extends this thought process is Andrew Morrson and Henry Mainsah’s “Participatory Design through a cultural lens: insights from postcolonial theory” where they address such cultural complexities in exchanges of knowledge and technologial development. They examine issues of power, agency and representation by calling on postcolonial theory, and venture a number of ways that such theories can elucidate hegemonic design systems and processes.

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Thirdly, the final keynote was presented by one of my new favourites – Shaowen Bardzell  – Utopias of participation: design, criticality and emancipation. Shaowen mulls over the grand cause of PD and concludes that within these methods, systems and theories that have been retraced for decades, PD fundamentally has an emancipatory politics inscribed in it. And need to be advanced to stop PD from becoming a mere toolkit to better user-centered corporate interest. Towards this purpose she calls on the ideologies of Utopias – stating that if we had to design for a particular outcome, we are thinking around futures and in terms of design futures, such notions are always underpinned by our own ideals of Utopia. These utopian visions should be used as the axiology that drives any design processes to further emancipatory, democratic, and designed futures. Her talk traces all of the heavy criticism that has been leveraged against the notions of utopia, and she proffers an alternative mode of framing such ideals through feminist and science fiction lenses. It was truly a compelling talk, and really made me think about my own research, and how the immediate design solutions would fit into a larger vision of the world it “lived” in. A way to holistically fit theory, axiology and method together.

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