encouraging introspective practice

Page 1

a foreword note

Encouraging introspective practice offers an intimate look at my own personal journey to understanding what it is to design in current times. Created as a non-exhaustive collection, this volume comes in the form of an offering of essays, resources, and theoretical considerations aimed at divulging what it can be to mix the deeply personal with the collective for collaborative means in making and speculative design.

The volume acts as a starting point for considering one's own intrinsic motivations, and how they play out in tune with our deepest desires and what drives us, as designers, to make. Most importantly, it asks why. I offer some of my own context in hopes that it would encourage other designers, new and storied, to go back to their own beginning. The very core of introspective practice lies in our inner worlds, in the in-between spaces of human experience where we merge what is with what we wish it could or might be. In this sense, it asks us to sit in the speculative space, to consider what pieces of our own selves we want to play out most in our creations for the world and potential futures.

Table of Contents

encouraging introspective practice: definition

section one: On introspective practice and how it came to be

1. Situating introspective practice and myself as a practitioner

2. On imagination and burnout

3. womanhood?

4. The deeply personal and the collective

section two: On design and being

5. A positional offering

6. In New York I got to a futuring workshop

7. On being

8. design is everything | everything is design

section three: On practice, collectivity, and bridging the inner to the outer world

9. Fiction means “to make”

10. What makes you feel seen?

11. Events, rupture, and design

12. A working example of introspective practice in action

About the author

Acknowledgments

Bibliography

encouraging introspective practice in the maker space.

Introspective Practice defined as: a process of self-reflection aimed at understanding and engaging with one’s innermost desires, and internal lived experience, which encourages consideration of and accountability for how these elements influence preferences and processes of making for and with others.

Key terms/ideas being introspection, context, bridging inner lived experience with how we move through the world, design, making, conscientiousness and responsibility (awareness of inner biases and their effects).

Situating introspective practice and myself as a practitioner

I identify as a speculative designer speculative design is meant to examine the world we live in and encourage discursive and critical moments amongst an audience or collective. At my core, I am a humanist. It shapes the way I see the world, the way I engage with problems, and how I approach solution building. I’m fascinated and driven by human experience. Every person on this planet has some form of independent identity, and while we are all built up by that which came before us, and has surrounded us, I believe our individuality (if it could be called such) comes from the minute unique experiences that our consciousnesses embed as we become “us.” My first and foremost concern in building a creative practice was/is deciding what it means entirely. It calls forth questions of who am I? Why do I care to make anything? Who am I making things for? And, what do I hope to bring forth through my work?

I do make things from time to time, but they are almost always installations, or experiences like a workshop or this volume. They are always made with the intention of some form of internal reflection, spurring of internal creativity, and are driven by my own desire to create intimate connections based on knowing of ourselves.

The point of being this kind of designer, for me, is that it allows me to shape temporalities and environments to encourage collective imagination, which is at the root of my practice. I want people to have time and space to understand how they explore the world as it is and how we might explore how it could be, that is how I approach the intimate piece of this work, which falls in the internal space. We all do bits of futuring all of the time, it is simply projecting into what could be, and it is always subjective. I also believe we base this on our own desires, and coming to an understanding of those and where and how they live is critical. Speculative work and futuring go hand in hand, as any kind of speculation of what might or could be falls into the “alternate” reality timeline and shows us a beautiful imaginary aside our own concrete world (even the small pieces).

When I say I’m fascinated by the human experience, I literally mean all of it. The mundane because what’s pedestrian to some is wondrous to others the exciting, the tastes, the senses of loyalty, boundaries, love, hatred, and delighted confusion. We are so incredibly multifaceted, so capable of deep empathy and deep resentment. Many of us are now immersed in worlds beyond our own, while some remain whether through personal choice or circumstance in a familiar radius that can be equally challenging and comfortable.

I have learned (and experienced) that culture is a moving object. We live in a world of rapid change and cultural melding. I see that culture, often, through connectivity in things that provide communal understanding. I’ve worked through trying to understand the basics of human perception and contextualization. I love the concept of the collective, of sharing and understanding one another, and I want to discover if it’s truly possible to create things that generate shared sensation.

In their book Speculative Everything, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby cover wide ranging implications of design as it applies to socio-cultural-technological-biological factors of change. The fourth and fifth chapters particularly cover bio design, design fiction, and experimental thought. In discussing bio-design, and what a consumer marketplace full of technologies that alter what it could look like to be human things like synthetic biology and genetic engineering as we move away from procedures

and offerings that are “therapeutically necessary” to ones based on “consumer desire,” they write:

“We need to question these ideas (and ideals) [referring to what would be changed and why] and explore their human consequences once applied on a mass scale to our daily lives. This is where design enters; we can take research happening in laboratories and fast-forward to explore possible applications driven by human desire rather than therapeutic need…. We need to zoom out and consider how to manage our changing relationship to nature and our new powers over life. This shift in focus requires new design methods, roles, and contexts.1”

We are in a critical moment where it is true that we should be examining what exactly it looks like to be human. Further, we should be considering who is writing those narratives for the public. I am in agreement when it comes to the power of speculative design and futuring that they reference, that it offers a portal into potential outcomes or decision-making processes, but What concerns me is the question of who is doing this work and why?

Design, in the way we most often reference it, is at its base level exclusionary. As Darin Buzon outlines beautifully in his essay “Design Thinking is a Rebrand for White Supremacy,” the way we look at design today is so directly tied to modernist sentiment that it’s difficult to ignore the deeply racist and colonial undertones that pushed western ideals of clean lines, understandability, and beauty to the forefront of what is considered “good design.” Buzon highlights that “Modernists often proclaimed design as neutral, viewing style as divorced from content and inheriting a universal ability to communicate to any human being. But to highlight once more, such aspirations to achieve this is impossible let alone prone to racism. Doing so renders all the nuances of humanity to a uniform visual code.2”

Designers are operating through a lens of ensuring that colors are more muted, borders are neatly drawn, and chaos is not called.

But who is this design for? More importantly, who does it exclude?

1 Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Speculative everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2014. P 49

2 Buzon, Darin. “Design Thinking Is a Rebrand for White Supremacy.” Medium, January 14, 2021. https://dabuzon.medium.com/design-thinking-is-a-rebrand-for-white-supremacy-b3d31aa55831.

How can design be “good” if it only makes sense to a select group of wealthy, white, English speakers who are not necessarily hoping to intertwine multiple cultures into creation but rather replicate their own dominance through defining a new global order by yet again insinuating their ideals and aesthetics as “right?”

Now, the speculative and futuring space is one that often grapples with these questions. There is active effort to work co-creation and participatory practices into the processes of design taking place, but there is still the question of who has access to even learning about these elements, and who has the energy to engage.

On imagination and burnout

To explain how I got to this whole notion of introspective practice, and where I’m coming from in this thesis overall, it feels prudent to backpedal a bit.

My cohort started graduate school in the fall of 2021. In the first semester I remember feeling so incredibly overwhelmed. Not just by the daunting aspects of what it would mean to do a master’s, to eventually create something with my own hands, to offer a thesis, but literally by the environmental factors of re-entering in-person life post Covid-19. I was unprepared for the mental and spiritual energy it would take, and continues to take, to try and simultaneously process global, ongoing trauma while being told that we were simply expected to carry on in a “new normal.”

In the past seven years, we have endured the fall of faith in empiricism and what we can trust to be “true” as well as a growing divide based on what some take as fact versus what others politicize those facts to mean for their own purposes. We have seen a wave of rage and violent racism and extremism allowed to exist on the front pages as though it’s somehow an acceptable and normal element of our lives. We have seen rallying hope in the form of protests, social movements, and pushback on politicians and their followers who would see rights eliminated for marginalized groups and the planet itself. Every day we wake up in a maelstrom. I had a professor ask my sociology class last semester if we were concerned about the oncoming recession, about what it might mean for the housing market. We, the students, all looked at each other in complete apathy. What’s another thing to add to the list? Which of us millennials was

planning our next home purchase from the seats we held in graduate programs at our costly private institution?

This creeping feeling of burnout, overwhelm, apathy, and the desperate need to “do something” is a prevailing sentiment not only of my graduate school experience, but of my adult life. I remember saying I was overwhelmed and constantly overstimulated to the point of needing to fully detach and dissociate during a first semester studio presentation, and several of my peers declared it an epiphany moment they hadn’t been able to pinpoint why being in the world in a way that would have been normal in 2019 felt so draining. We hadn’t left home in two years and were suddenly thrust back into an up and running New York City. Subways, and screaming toddlers, and trucks whipping by. The drilling into concrete of construction, wind hitting us in the face and seeping through puffy coats to burn cold into our bones. Everyday niceties and social interactions after nothing like that for so long. Trying to understand what all of that meant for our own creative practices and how we would be making something new. There was a ringing sentiment of feeling burnt out even though we had only just begun.

A recent Bustle article3 by Eve Ettinger revealed that the sentiment coming from her peers about the future, and their capacity to imagine new things, after the past couple of years closely resembled her own approach to the two as a result of her ComplexPTSD. She outlines that she has always struggled with planning, time management, and imagining possible futures. That she only “feels truly alive” in crisis, but that ongoing crisis makes her feel “numb and fatigued.” She watched her peers start to fall into similar reactive patterns throughout the pandemic and refer to it as burnout. This feeling of utter incapacity is one I too have experienced throughout the pandemic. It is one that I have heard my peers echo, and that eats up my TikTok feed.

It is vital to note the fact that this discussion of burnout, and considerations of its implications, has only come about in the more mainstream over the past couple of years, following a Buzzfeed article4 published in 2019 that focused on Millennials, and predominantly white, young professionals at that. This is an element that Ettinger, along with others, covers in her article, and it is rather key to a broader discussion of imagination.

I was in a lecture recently, where Eli Pariser a prominent author and public speaker said to us, “Our imaginations are broken” and that Elon Musk is the only one who gets

3 Ettinger, Eve. “What We Keep Getting Wrong about Burnout.” Bustle. Bustle, March 7, 2022. 4 Petersen, Anne Helen. “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.” BuzzFeed News. BuzzFeed News, January 5, 2019.

to run around imagining the future. This is layered, but in his own way he was calling out the very clear factors of security, money, and time that determine how publicized futuring occurs and by whom. Beyond the academy or work that is enriching and generative, and may eventually be a catalyst for positive change, the reality is that most people and especially those bearing the weights of student loans, saving the earth, rising housing prices, an ancient and frustratingly immovable elected body, and no example of a successful model of an economic, social, or political system simply do not have capacity to sit and envision brighter days, much less fantastical ones.

This is an issue among younger generations that are constantly avalanched with these struggles, and the idea that “we are the future,” but it is additionally taxing for those of us who already carried the silent weights of marginalization. Wildly enough, it took a pandemic for the general population to begin identifying with what it is to carry invisible, terrifying, and emotionally stripping burdens every day. I am not sure how this will play out in the interactions I have, but it will certainly come through in the more traditional models of research I employ.

Of course, I do not want to fall into patterns of “damage-centered research5” as Eve Tuck calls it, but rather, acknowledge our own global reality and the fact that energy and imagination are inextricably linked. Energy, as we know, is a finite resource, and for those who expend more in modes of self-protection, there is less in other contexts. I think the pandemic has only exacerbated this, but equally brought this discussion to a new forefront that we should take advantage of. Further, I would like to pull in critique of what has led us to this point of pushing into and functioning at burnout.

As Arturo Escobar emphasizes, following a long line of feminist theorists and scholars, in Designs for the Pluriverse, we exist in a patriarchal culture, which focuses on “competition, war, hierarchies, power, growth, procreation, the domination of others, and the appropriation of resources.6” Even in a pandemic, with wars ongoing and beginning, violence against Black folks, trans women, Asian women, and so many others, we are encouraged to think about our next paychecks, about corporate culture and making things. What might it look like conversely to live in a matristic culture, which as Escobar outlines are “characterized by conversations highlighting inclusion, participation, collaboration, understanding, respect, sacredness, and the always-recurrent cyclic renovation of life.7” It would, simply, be a less harmful world.

5 Tuck, Eve. “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities.” Harvard Educational Review 79, no. 3 (2009): 409–28.
7 “”
6 Escobar, Arturo. Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018. P 13

womanhood?

[spring 2023]

“For most of history, anonymous was a woman.” I’m not sure who said this quote, but as a woman it hits.

When I was ten my family took a trip to the British Virgin Islands. My mom bought a faded teal tshirt that said, “well behaved women rarely make history.” Pusser’s Landing.

Perhaps it was a misogynistic take on a vivid truth. I love that tshirt. It encapsulates my mom. She bought it on purpose.

One of my favorite fantasy authors centered an 8-book epic on a girl. She became a woman. As a descendent of predecessors who fucked up, she was marked as nameless and nameless was set as the price for saving the world.

It’s a heavy burden. To have no name, to have no authority, to be subjugated and corralled and marked by names not our own to ensure lines of succession and provisions of property.

To be the weaker sex.

To exist as something dangerous to a world order not set up to condone your own existence as an individual. As a living, breathing, sentient, human being.

It makes me laugh really.

Boys will be boys but girls will be women, right? I liked that she called that out. Pop music is important.

Sometimes I wonder if this is my own way of clawing for power in a world where I have been endlessly privileged and educated and respected. Except when I haven’t been.

Do I want my ideas to start a revolution? (I’m smirking)

Am I encouraging something that could cause change? Is it activism in its own right?

Simran said I was working toward social change. Social impact. I never used those words.

Maybe Gabriel was right.

But we all have to do things in our own ways.

When I was fifteen a career counselor visited our school and he asked us what we wanted to be. I was in the throes of Grey’s Anatomy and I had just seen kids with no healthcare and been exposed to tuberculosis in the foothills of the Himalayas in Burma. I said I wanted to be a pediatric surgeon. He said god bless you. People who take those callings on young are really meant to do that work.

It inflated my sense of self-importance. It made me feel big and seen and special. I had done something right.

Who was he?

How much of our desire to help or enact change comes from a deep-seated sense of narcissism? Am I the only one who worries my head is too big?

I want to make a difference, and I say nameless would be fine. That actions speak louder than words and their ripple effects are what matter in the end. I’m not lying when I say what’s important isn’t that I’m remembered. But while I’m alive I think maybe I want to be known.

Maybe that’s why we do this work. I love saying we. Is it royal? Is it inclusive? Is it hinting at those who connect to me and see? I hope your hackles rise.

A lot happened to me when I was ten. I discovered fantasy reading. I was assigned the song “I am woman.”

I guess I struggle with vulnerability. I tend to leave stories half or seventy-five-percent told. You can infer the rest, no? It’s a defense mechanism. It leaves space for interpretation. It means I’m still safe in knowing you might get it wrong, and could never understand anyway.

How does that reconcile with wanting to be known? Do I leave myself anonymous? I’m not sure I could change that anyway. There’s mystery, intrigue, excitement in not being known. There’s a sense of unconditionality waiting in the wings.

I know my desire to understand everyone else is a mechanism of my own need for control. It’s yet unclear how bad of a thing that might be. I still think my ideas have validity though. Imagine if we all wanted to know each other. Understand what makes each other tick. I think I can use it for good. My dreams don’t center on any kind of authoritarian role for myself. I really do like facilitating. It’s safe.

We can explore that later.

The deeply personal and the collective

Introspective practice straddles a line between the deeply personal and the collective. The idea is to dig into the former so functioning in the latter offers a richer experience. In order to fully discuss what this means, it is probably useful to define what both deeply personal and the collective entail in terms of this work.

When I refer to the deeply personal, it means things that have to do with our inner selves. Small intricate pieces of identity and experience that end up woven into an inner world we then inhabit. This space is colored and perfumed by whatever makes sense to you. When explored it often reveals pieces of ourselves to us that don’t necessarily live at the forefront, things like our deepest desires and intrinsic motivations; gaps in our lives that we have somehow filled either through pure imagination or a blend of fantasy and action. I sometimes think of inner worlds as the in-between space of who we are and who we most want to be, or what we most want to have. Think of a common fantasy of yours. Do you ever play it out? Run through scenarios in your own head? Invent characters or places that feel so real, but perhaps are just this side of fantastical? Inner worlds are often tied to dreams, but not necessarily the ones that occur while we sleep.

Now, I find it necessary to reveal that the research I have to reference about inner lived experience is likely not academic enough, but in all honestly that is not something that causes me any great concern, and hopefully it will feel the same for you. I have learned about others’ inner lived experience only through conversation and some reading with extrapolation. If I could go so far as to call inner worlds a subject, it is not quite dreamtheory, and I do not see it falling into any one real discipline. It is just something that exists, and I have found that people either identify with it or they don’t.

This could stem from the difficulty of pinpointing exactly how we communicate what the inner world is, because it feels and exists differently for everyone. Especially when we consider that the way people think and process is determined not just by neurology and psychology, but also by culture and environment. When I was researching sensory perception, and how we intake stimuli, a pivotal moment was finding out that our hierarchy of the senses is culturally determined. Maybe that seems obvious, or at least intuitive, but it was completely revelatory to me. Asifa Majid, a psychologist, linguist, and cognitive scientist who teaches communication and cultural cognition at Oxford, has spent the past couple decades unpacking how not only are our prioritizations of the senses based on nurture, not nature, but also that the ways in which we communicate that perception on how we conceptualize the senses overall is sometimes

entirely inexpressible using language at all8. In essence, there are pieces of the human experience that are not communicable through language, and I think that would double when it comes to our inner workings.

In that vein, I recently read an article 9 in which the author, Joshua Rothman, discusses different ways of thinking, and how many of us fall into categories of “thinking in pictures, thinking in patterns, or thinking in words.” He produced this reflection because by default, his daily life is fairly silent and he does not generally think in imagery. He then digs into what happens, according to psychologist Russell T. Hurlburt and philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel, when we try to describe our processes of thinking, or as he even references it, our inner lives. Hurlburt believes it’s difficult to describe the inner life, where Schwitzgebel contends that it is not all that possible to describe the inner life because it exists in a world so different from our own that it is un-illustratable in reality, much akin to Majid and her colleagues’ findings. The two published a book based on an experiment where they asked a young woman to record whatever she was thinking in the moment when her beeper went off they timed the beeper to alert her over a period of days. The idea was to track her thoughts and sensations as she went, but, I struggle with this as a contender for tracking inner lived experience. It was to say what she was thinking at a given random moment, which might track a stream-ofconsciousness in certain ways, but I am not sure it truly digs into the inner worlds as I think of them.

Rothman, to be clear, is not attempting to make any sort of claim on what is or is not an inner world, rather he proposes that different thinking styles and ways of thinking about those thinking styles, are valid and interesting. He has to externalize verbally speak in order to know what he is thinking. This was a wild concept to me. As someone who spends so much time in my own mind, thinking and re-thinking, and visualizing, and weaving, without ever uttering a single sound, the idea of someone with, as he puts it “no thoughts” is unfathomable to me. The reason I bring all of this up, and am trying to distinguish between how we might exist in an inner world and how we might reference that same inner world, is simply to say that even if you are not necessarily engaging in an alternate reality with full technicolor inside your head, you likely can still dig into what I mean by the deeply personal. Rothman’s article reveals a vital tidbit, which is that no matter how you think and process, you are capable of understanding your own mind. In that vein, introspective practice is accessible to anyone, no matter how you live inside your own self.

8 Majid, Asifa, and Stephen C. Levinson. “The Senses in Language and Culture.” The Senses and Society 6, no. 1 (2011): 5–18. 9 Rothman, Joshua. “How Should We Think about Our Different Styles of Thinking?” The New Yorker, January 9, 2023.

The second piece is, of course, on the collective. While this may be a project spurred on by the assignment of a thesis, I am not planning on offering you a full dissertation on collectives and collectivity. There are a lot of definitions for it, but for the purposes of this work, what I mean by collective is any group of two or more who choose to come together and engage on a topic by means of silence, conversation, making, deconstructing, or any other type of collaborative manifestation (this can be making). A collective to me is a choice. It is a group that comes together with intentionality and some kind of hope of what might be when it comes to whatever they want to do together. It is a general fantasy of mine that you might take what you learn of your own inner world and the understandings of being and see how that would help you in a collective context. I argue that making is better done with others, and as this is a work predominantly for people in the design space, an exploration of your deeply personal and an ability to come together with other practitioners on the basis of what you find, could lead to a collective of some kind all on its own.

When I say introspective practice straddles the two, what I mean is that I think it is difficult to exist in a collective without first understanding the self, but it is impossible to understand the self without having experienced some kind of collective. Humans are comparative by nature. As anthropologist Tim Ingold puts it, “… there is no way of describing what human beings are independently of the manifold historical and environmental circumstances in which they become in which they grow up and live out their lives.10” In the article, Ingold is arguing that there is no such thing as an overarching human nature; that we do not have an “essential” form to which natural selection is fighting to bring us; and that our development is constantly developing because as history and time changes, so too, do we.

Nestled within this, is, of course, the fact that the way we determine all of these things and who we are within them, is via comparison. I majored in anthropology, and I wish I could remember the first professor who said this or assigned the reading that did, but it is a core understanding within the field that only through assessing our surroundings and understanding differences do we then understand ourselves. Try to relinquish the negative or judgment-inducing connotations of the words compare and difference. I am referencing them in their literal forms. This comparison comes from and fuels our understanding of context the “manifold historical and environmental circumstances” per say. We are communal and contextual. I won’t touch on whether or not this ties into any kind of defined immovable element to what it means to be human, but I have yet to ever see it be disproven.

10
and
, 2006. P 273.
Ingold, Tim. “Against Human Nature.” Evolutionary Epistemology, Language
Culture

This poses a bit of a question though. If we only really understand ourselves fully when experiencing ourselves around others, and we function in the most generative way among others when we understand ourselves, where do we land in the meantime? Hopefully, introspective practice can lend a hand to the toggling of that in-between.

Some of what this development of introspective practice stems from is a sensation of not being heard, or of not feeling there was a safe or receptive space to be heard. I could say I have always been someone who retreats internally to process, to feel safe, to hear myself. But, I wonder if this is not just a learned behavior because of the circumstances of my upbringing, put together with the general fact that I am an introvert. I do think, though, of what RuPaul infamously always says: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?” I think this goes for listening too. If you cannot, or do not, hear yourself, how are you going to intake what others are offering? What does that then mean for collaborative work, for co-creation?

I do not have concrete answers quite yet, but over the course of the past two years I have been working to understand how inquiry can best work to pull the inside out. Introspective Practice comes as a direct response to the two directions of research and prototyping I have taken. The first was on sensory perception, in a project I titled “Bridging Inner Worlds.” The second, and perhaps more extensive but a follow up on the first is on collective imagination. Really, they folded together as I tried to tap into themes of collective imaginaries, futuring as a means of both internal reflection and communal building, design fiction, and critical and speculative design.

A positional offering

I often find the title of Designer to be barring. However, perhaps for these instances it is necessary to call out. I think this tool is useful for anyone in a personal sense, in a practice which is meant to be more intimate, but for some that does not always so impactfully touch their professional practices, and that’s okay.

I have been working on trying to identify what “this” [this project, introspective practice, design, creation, myself] is for a long time. I have found that when you understand those around you, where they are coming from, their motivations, and their own desires and what those mean for their machinations and imaginations, the world is much more steady.

It also makes collaboration richer, and cooperation more possible. In baring yourself to some extent, you create room for others to latch onto what makes sense, and what doesn’t, and I think that makes co creation work.

I started this current stage of my process/processing when I entered graduate school. We were asked early on to pick something that interested us, and then figure out a

project that would allow us to explore it. I immediately picked human experience/existence. I decided to study the five core senses: sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste. I figured, what determines our experience more than sensory perception? It is how we intake the world, it is how we learn our surroundings, it is how we take cues from others and the environment, it allows us to situate ourselves within a context. Hold onto that word it is the driving force of my life’s explorations [context].

Unsurprisingly for myself, this meditation on explicit forms of experience became a connective tool for understanding our own internal lived experiences and how what we intake through sensory perception plays into inner worlds.

I have always had an active inner life. I fell in love with fantasy novels at a young age, and even before that spent a lot of time in spaces of my own invention and elaboration. I had a lot of imaginary friends, and my friends and I would build entire worlds with ongoing plotlines to play into. I have had sequential dreams since I was young, and often return to the same sets of characters and invented worlds during my non-waking hours.

Our dreams and our desires are vital to the way we exist in the world. For as much as we intake what’s around us, we also boil it down into whatever we want internally. These factors of us are inherently intertwined and symbiotic.

As I sit down to try and explain where I am coming from and why I’m doing this work I am so overwhelmed. How do I weave together a childhood spent playing in the woods and dealing with private traumas, an adolescence of rage mixed with wonder and wanderlust, coming into young adulthood with the distinct sensation that I was amongst a community who weren’t my people, exploring the world, coming to understanding of myself, learning from others, forming my own opinions, being proved wrong, being proved right, falling in love, finding endless disappointment and the comfort that comes with expecting it, perhaps finding moments of peace, and forming relationships that fed me to my very core? In some ways this work is a culmination of everything I am thus far, and heralds everything I hope to be and continue to pursue going forward.

When I say my primary passion in life is in forming connections, in understanding people, their experience, their understanding of their experience, it is my pure truth. Perhaps it comes from a selfish root, of wanting to know if other people feel the way I do, it’s almost like a removed and safe way of finding connections. If I do it through my

work I am not so compelled to interrogate my own innards. There’s less of a call to expose my vulnerabilities.

But there is also the ringing reality that I think my own quest for self-awareness, understanding my shortcomings, accepting the knowledge I lack, admitting my internal biases, and seeking to fill my own gaps in the process of decision-making (in quote:creating) is something that could offer value in terms of internal processing for others who are going to make for and with others (be practitioners in the field of design).

The goal of this work is to encourage people to be introspective, to take it on as an ongoing practice. I don’t think we sit with ourselves enough. I understand some people do, and for others it’s not such a safe feeling to occupy your own corporeal space because of whatever preceding life events have occurred. For that I won’t encourage anything other than what feels okay, not necessarily good because I think it’s too subjective. The reality is, if you aren’t planning on bringing something into the world that will impact others, it’s your prerogative whether or not you take on introspective practice. Even if you do, there’s nothing I can really do to force it and I wouldn’t hope to. Unfortunately, most things in this world that are genuinely beneficial are entirely optional and have self-selecting audiences who are usually already on some sort of path that encourages challenging themselves and learning new things, despite the discomfort they might cause.

In New York I go to a futuring workshop

In spring of 2021 I ran my first ever futures-based workshop in collaboration with two peers in the Transdisciplinary Design program. Our goal was to engage in some collective worldbuilding, not for any productivist purpose, but more as a reflective and creatively generative exercise. The ages of participants ranged from 22 to 28.

Exploring such tools as the Futures Cone and Three Tomorrows, both formats of understanding envisonings of the future and how we both conceptualize and cannot conceptualize alternate or forward-looking realities, we constructed a workshop that would guide participants through themselves to engage in a practice I dubbed “speculative embodiment” for the purposes of collectively imagining futures, based first and foremost on how each participant envisioned their own futures. As such the workshop was structured with an introduction (pre-workshop priming), a guided meditation, individual illustration time (writing, drawing, etc), a share-back/discussion, and finally a collective worldbuilding exercise. In this way, the guiding was to look internally first, and then build together. { use the images to illustrate this }

During this time I was attempting to explore different ways of knowing, especially embodied and physical forms of knowledge. Firstly, I’ll offer an explanation of embodied research. As Ben Spatz, a researcher and theorist of embodied practice (who acts as Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance at the University of Huddersfield) puts it:

“Research is a balancing act, poised on an edge between the specific and the general, the concrete and the abstract, the repeatable and the unique… The question asked by embodied research is: What can bodies do?... the primary objects of investigation are the possibilities and potentials of bodies, individually or together.11”

Spatz does a wonderfully thorough job of explaining the ways we use our bodies even without consideration as they help us sort through the world and our existence in it. The idea they present throughout their paper, is that embodied research represents an interpretational and analytic option for what feminist theorist and sociologist Rachelle

11 Spatz, Ben. “Embodied Research: A Methodology.” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 13, no. 2 (2017). P 1-2, 5.

Chadwick refers to as the “extra-discursive,12” i.e. those things that fall into non-verbal modes of being and communication.

My idea with the workshop was to have folks conduct an embodied sort of autoethnography before coming. The directive I shared out was:

Start thinking a bit about how you feel in your body in the present. (Mentally, physically, spiritually.) Of course, if anything feels overwhelming or triggering feel free to navigate away from this prompt and aim toward something lighter. We are actually interested in as potentially positive an image as feels realistic when we do get to the future projection bit. It can be heavy to think about all of this so we’ll also make sure there’s some time to decompress as well as discuss all of it to everyone’s comfort level.

The hope in offering this prompt was that the participants would be more viscerally aware of themselves when they came in to then engage in speculative embodiment work. The meditative piece then helped them bring those living pieces they noted throughout the previous day, and imagine what they might feel like in an alternate world, or a future. We were giving them a sonic guide, but as they dipped into their own inner worlds and began manifesting a vision of reality, or fantasy, the pieces of research they had collected with the embodied exercise acted as a guide for them to speculate more fully on what their worlds might feel like mentally, physically, metaphysically. Thus, speculative embodiment offers a grounded way to feel a futuring or introspective exercise.

The most striking thing, to me, from this workshop was not necessarily the ethereal drawings people created, or the incredible imagery people brought to life via poetry and narrative, it was this quote following the collective discussion, “A lot of being, not a lot of doing.” Every person in the room had envisioned themselves in whatever reality just being, embodying whatever they most desired to be and bringing that forth in the world creation they did. People’s futures, even with encouragement, did not include anything related to work or goals, not one person envisioned something related to productivity. The top factors that were emphasized were nature, or natural elements, balance and equilibrium, and a distinct sense of calm. Rather than thinking about what they might do or produce, they were thinking about the environments and their communities. Some focused specifically on details of aesthetic space, while others focused purely on sensation and sentiment.

12 Chadwick, Rachelle. “Embodied Methodologies: Challenges, Reflections and Strategies.” Qualitative Research 17, no. 1 (2016).

This factor of being and not doing was foundational for me. As a facilitator I took it to heart that in creating future spaces the priority would always be presence of self, mind, and body for exploratory means, not production-based ones. That need to explore, to dip into oneself and offer safe spaces for others to do so, can certainly preempt prototyping or making sessions, and I would encourage it if that calls to you, but there will be no tools for that step within the bounds of this work.

The following are a selection of images created in the workshop as direct responses to the guided envisioning and following reflective session.

Anonymous.

Participants were asked to envision themselves following a warm light into a reality that appeared to them, carrying positivity and imagination with them. This piece was what the participant saw during the step-through.

Guinevere Mesh.

As they moved through this new world we asked participants to take note of what was. Guin envisioned a realm where nature and urban life coexisted in equilibrium.

Michael Thut.

In a series of futuristic snapshots, Michael represented his experience entering the imaginary world, and the visions of what it might look like. In the images below we see a confusing maze, and a moment in a city where nature seeped in.

Yi Wei.

A poet, Yi represented her experience of diving into herself in true form. The beginnings of this poem give us a snapshot of the envisioning as well as free association that came with it, and what her ideal world might feel like.

On being

That exploration of speculative embodiment and the concept of complete nonproductivity led me to the idea of exploring “being.” Coming into this year, I couldn’t help but to ask myself, “what if it’s just a project on being?” What would an exploration of collectivity, and deeply understanding the kind of being together that collectivity asks for, look like? What are the core elements that facilitate this?

I decided to hit pause for a moment, and once again think about what it is to be. This led into a series of conversations both one-on-one and two- or three-on-one where I asked peers:

What does being mean to you?

How do you inhabit this or wish you could?

What would you need to?

Are there pieces of this that occur now?

What do you think when I ask you, “what is desire?”

What is desire to you?

Why?

What do you want?

What do you think makes a story, a story?

I realized I was putting a lot on this word “being.” I had spent a year trying to place and contextualize what marks us as human, asking what defines our experiences and our perceptions of them. While I was aware of wanting to understand those things, I had not taken a step back to explore, or perhaps admit, why. It is, in a way, to help me better understand my own place in the world, to more thickly consider how I make and what it means. It is also to find if others’ drives and desires feel the same as mine.

Unignorably, I also wanted to encourage people to tap into this why as a motivator for clarifying if something needed to be designed at all, and if it was going to come into being, to better consider the implications of that work and where it was coming from. An interesting piece of design school, especially those in the vein of design thinking and rapid prototyping and throwing one thousand sticky notes on a wall to show a brainstorming session was had, is that impact, implications, responsibility, need, and inclusivity often come as an addition or an afterthought. I believe in inclusivity. It’s a ludicrous statement to have to make, because obviously we all do these days, right? But I would define further that when I say inclusivity I don’t mean tossing in a reference or two to appease certain masses, and I don’t mean creating a secondary or tertiary option for accessibility. I mean I want to be intentional and sure that whatever I am creating can hold meaning or be appreciated and accessed by everyone top to bottom. And I mean to work thoroughly to cover the blind-spots I am certain I have.

I was struggling with this as I tried to consider design from a non-productivist lens. What does it mean to be a designer-in-training who does not (want to) make, to produce? To be a student in a design and technology program who is decidedly not a technologist? I had realized I wasn’t much interested in the type of design I was being encouraged to do. I didn’t want to make for the sake of showing I made something, and I wanted my peers to feel the same way.

Earlier, I referenced how humans are comparative by nature, not in the competitive sense, but in the way that it helps us to understand ourselves and the world around us. I am, only human after all. And this way of looking amongst ourselves, of searching not to otherize or compete, but simply seek out distinction for means of comprehension is fundamental to many discussions of “being” furthering what I wanted to explore above. Hannah Arendt discusses much the same thing in the fifth chapter, “Action,” of her book The Human Condition

She writes:

“Human distinctness is not the same as otherness the curious quality of alteritas possessed by everything that is and therefore, in medieval philosophy, one of the four basic, universal characteristics of Being, transcending every particular quality. Otherness, it is true, is an important aspect of plurality, the reason why all our definitions are distinctions, why we are unable to say what anything is without distinguishing it from something else. Otherness in its most abstract form is found only in the sheer multiplication of inorganic objects, whereas all organic life already shows variations and distinctions, even between specimens of the same species. But only man can express this distinction and distinguish himself, and only he can communicate himself and not merely something thirst or hunger, affection or hostility or feat. In man, otherness, which he shares with everything alive, become uniqueness, and human plurality is the paradoxical plurality of unique beings.13”

Comparison allows us to relate to one another, to form connections and empathize, to internalize information as knowledge. What we seek when we look at experiences outside of our own in this process of comparing is not only what might be different, but what might be the same. Perhaps this is an overly altruistic way of looking at it, but what drew me most to this fundamental of “being” was that everyone understood it and connected to it based on their own intimate, individual contexts. They then carried on the conversation in a free flowing way that tapped into their intimate motivators and what it meant to be seen and heard and why they were engaged in making what they were making.

It led me to two conclusions for myself as a practitioner and this work. The first was the solidification of my love for facilitation and listening to what bubbles up in a rich discussion, and the second was that I believe what makes us truly human is desire, the way we are intrinsically motivated by it, and as Arendt points out our fundamental ability to articulate it.

I, of course, cannot speak to whether or not a lion craves to be understood, or if they are driven by the desire to feel seen and heard for who they are, but I can say that every person I have ever interviewed and spoken with seeks certain things based purely on their own wants as well as needs. And, in the emotional space, those lines tend to become quite blurred. Feelings are so delightfully subjective that wants vs needs can become somewhat irrelevant. Rationality and logic are not main characters here. No one can tell you that what you feel is not what you feel, it sits free of 13

Arendt, Hannah. The human condition Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2018. P 176

intentions and reality. You can understand those intentions and the context of what is going on, and that understanding can be healing or infuriating, but it will not viscerally change what sits in your heart or gut. This is deeply appealing to me. It suggests that our inner lived experiences are true. They are the manifestations of how we exist in the world without the rules and intellectualized realities of being social creatures. Inner worlds are our liminal selves. At the heart of that there is an element of imagination and fiction.

I also found that so many creative people around me also had very rich inner lives in varying forms. When we talked about being it was going much deeper than just existing. It was about having the ability to feel free of the burdens of fulfillment or accomplishment, it was driven by that liminal self. In this sense being was acting as an internal in-between space where imagination, fiction, and reality melted together and revealed some true desires. Those desires manifested for all 13 people I spoke to during the aforementioned conversations in what people were designing and making.

The seed of introspective practice, and the desperate need to explore and understand the context of what those desires are and what they are helping, encouraging or dictating us designers to make and the accompanying implications, was firmly planted here.

I couldn’t help but ask, what happens then, when we turn this examination inward? What if we examined and compared our own internal selves with what was going on in the outside world? If we could better understand and discern our desires, and then in the very human capacity, articulate them better amongst ourselves? Would this push us toward more inclusive design? Could it inspire us in moments of burnout? Might it allow us to just be?

design is everything | everything is design [winter 2023]

I guess I’ve been feeling adrift. (for a long time)

I started thinking about collective imaginaries as an answer to holes I saw within the speculative design and futures realm. Like so many other fields, the way thinking was approached, communicated, and accessed felt so incredibly unfair. It’s beyond the concept of inaccessibility, it’s removed. I’m passionate about the speculative space. I love the idea of thinking and making and designing for the purpose of causing critical thought, of creating a new or different consideration for existing problems, systems, worlds, etc. It is not something I can so simply let go of.

But I don’t [didn’t] know how to do anything about it. I look at figures like adrienne maree brown, who is so inspiring to me that it makes me mad. She has a purpose, a center for her ideas and practice, but I don’t know if I’m an activist. I don’t know how to make my thoughts and ideas the ones that count. Do I have enough research under my belt, have I seen enough of the world, and especially the design world? Would anyone even benefit from what I have to say?

Objectively, I think the answer is yes. My goal is to make people consider themselves in the world. I’d like us all to be a bit more aware of context. Our own, that of others, how those interact (or fail to). I want to facilitate conversations that give people space to stop and breathe. I want to create spaces that make people feel filled with wonder at the world and the endless possibilities of ideas within it. I want people to think aside from this world and imagine what wonders might exist outside of us entirely.

I guess I’m having trouble seeing where this falls. I’ve been zooming in as of late. Attempting to investigate the indecently personal in order to start a building of this kind of consideration. I firmly believe that in order to make for and with others it’s necessary to understand yourself. Maybe not for every project, but certainly when it comes to creative practice and design. For artists, work is an endless internal and external exploration meant to pierce the souls of those who see whatever it means to the artist or their own selves. I believe design is not that.

Design is the practice of making for others, with others, and sometimes including one’s own self. The entire goal is to convey, enhance, transform, the human experience.

Design is to bring people in and give them something they might not have had, or been aware of having, before. Truly, I believe almost everything is design.

This is both beautiful and suffocating. We are not all designing with intention, and I think through my study and practice of design I have realized it is an encompassing vessel for analysis of humanity. Humans tend to make things. We tend to think we know what we’re doing when we don’t and we tend to fail at taking responsibility for our lasting impact. If we were all taught about what it means to make, what it means to do so for others, and what it means to affect human experience, I think the world would be different.

I think, given the fact it’s 2023, the best vehicle for this is to re-consider what it can look like to imagine. What it can feel like to be vulnerable and receive vulnerability. What creating understanding and sharing desires can mean. What it can look like to look inside and then consider what that context means. When I talk about collectively imagining, it means anything that involves introspection, honesty, and desire to make for others with a different world in mind. I don’t think there’s a specific teaching to do this, but I do believe connecting with others who want to care, who think about what it means to make for others (and our own selves), and why consideration of context is important, can lay a foundation for better creation.

Realistically, these critiques are not new. I think a non-productivist mindset is important. I think approaching it with the hopes of expanding our minds and ideas of what a future could be would be fun.

Fiction means “to make”

Imagination is a tricky thing.

In a collective sense, it’s difficult to imagine together. Not impossible or unworthy of the work. But we don’t all live in the same world. We aren’t always starting in the same headspace or place. This is where ideas of reality and context, and communication of those things, becomes so vital.

In a discussion of identity and imagined realities, adrienne maree brown writes, “Imagination gives us borders, gives us superiority, gives us race as an indicator of capability. I often feel I am trapped inside someone else’s imagination, and I must engage my own imagination in order to break free.14” She references the murders of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, and “so many others” as a signal of white imagination which paints young Black bodies as dangerous and less than. It would be unfathomable to discuss imagination and speculation, especially in the context of accountability and collaboration, without pointing out the fact that we do not live in a world that values, uplifts, and protects everyone.

This notion of breaking free from constraints of imagination through further imagination is striking to me. It calls to process and extra space. whenever I start a project, I always say we need to leave room. It’s important to have some plan, perhaps a beginning and a loose roadmap, but there is always much to discover, and through this it’s important that you leave gaps to be found, filled, or respected. I have found this to be especially true when it comes to facilitating group dialogues and workshops. Using imagination in this way also guides us to another side of what it is and can be. In his book Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, Keith Oatley also points out that, “Imagination gives us entry to abstraction, including mathematics. We gain the ability to conceive alternatives and hence to evaluate. We gain the ability to think of

14 Brown, Adrienne M. Emergent strategy: Shaping change, changing worlds United States, CA: AK Press, 2021. P 18

futures and outcomes, skills of planning. The ability to think ethically also becomes a possibility.15”

Some pieces of introspective practice are more difficult to advise on than others. From these pages, I can never presume to tell you what you want or why. Although, if we had a conversation that might open up. But it would still be unlikely. I am not a therapist, I am not a psychic, although I do love tarot. Introspective practice starts with the individual. It starts with your liminal self and a choice to be internally reflective, to engage with your own fiction. And I don’t mean this in a necessarily fantastical sense, but more in bringing that in-between space to life. As Oatley illustrates so neatly:

“People often think that the word “fiction” means untrue, but this is not true. The word derives from the Latin fingere, which means “to make.” In the same way the word “poetry” comes from the Greek word poesis, which also means “to make.” Fiction and poetry are constructed in the imagination, and are different from something discovered as in physics, or from something that happened as in the news. Fiction and poetry are not false; they are about what could happen… It’s about selves, about intentions and the vicissitudes they meet, about the social world. I take it, too, that fiction is based in narrative, which is a distinct mode of thought and feeling about us human beings.16”

Fiction being something made is a useful framing for introspection and exploration of inner worlds. It’s not saying it is something made “up” or that it does not exist anywhere, but rather that it is something you have to take on to create. Not only this, but that it is something you draw from your very self. In this way I think you can use the concept of speculative embodiment for fiction, and thus for introspective practice. Earlier, I described the concept, but just to rehash a bit: speculative embodiment is a way of feeling the decidedly physical ways of being to explore futures and alternate realities not only as they might look or come to be, but as they might feel. It is a practice of projection. On a visceral level what would a world or reality taste like, what pieces of it would exist that you could not describe with language alone? Maybe not even be able to draw? It is about prospective sensation, and it is drawn from the ways our bodies already exist to some extent, with the addition of fictionalizing to consider how they might exist.

15 Oatley, Keith. Such stuff as dreams: The psychology of fiction West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. P 30. 16 Oatley, Keith. Such stuff as dreams: The psychology of fiction. P 7.

In considering what is and what might be, how you might feel and exist, it is then possible to take a step back and consider what pieces change, are added, or perhaps are eliminated. What stays exactly the same? What have you made?

The vital piece of this individual part of the process is to then look inward and consider the “why.”

If I told you to sit and sink into yourself, to take a deep breath, then another, and maybe another, and then imagine an existence that makes you feel all filled up, what kind of space would you occupy? What might it give or provide for you that you truly want? What do you think that could mean for you? Does it inform some piece of longing or excitement or joy? What would being be?

This is another piece of the practice. In some ways we are all healing all of the time. I certainly am, and just like I may not live in the same world that you [whoever you are reader] do, if you are becoming a designer, or are a designer, I’m confident that when you make it comes from you and is influenced by your desires. And, if not yours, then whose? For what purpose? Why?

Introspective practice, however, is not meant only to dwell on the gaps, longings, negative implications or downsides of design. There is much critique throughout this work, and it serves a purpose. I believe we should pepper it throughout our lives. I think critical thinking and analysis are utterly delicious. But when I talk and think about desire, futuring, and making, I want it to take on pleasure as well. My inner world is rife with spectacle and intimacy and connection and joy. I mention fantasy and exploration because they feed how I make. This whole thing is obviously a bit woo-woo, if you hadn’t caught on.

Woo-woo is good. It’s unserious in a way that allows for flexibility, for experimentation. I have built up ideas of introspective practice not only on hopes of encouraging accountability, but also pleasure. After all, desire and pleasure tend to go hand in hand. Not always in a sexual or erotic sense, but if you want something and then get it that feels good. In her book about it, adrienne maree brown writes, “Pleasure activism acts from an analysis that pleasure is a natural, safe, and liberated part of life and that we can offer each other tools and education to make sure sex, desire, drugs, connection, and other pleasures aren’t life-threatening or harming, but life-enriching.

17
17 Brown, Adrienne M. Pleasure activism: The politics of feeling good Edinburgh, United Kingdom: AK Press, 2019. P 13.

It made me wonder what would it look like if we approached speculative work not from a scarcity mindset, but instead on that builds on what already works, on what we want and makes us feel good. I think we are sometimes not ready to receive pleasure, that we have been somewhat barred from it, and design is an ideal space to take it back. As such we, as designers, should be looking at desire not only as seeking what we do not have but also as something that builds on what we already know gives us pleasure.

What would that look like in terms of your liminal self? In that in-between space where we exist in a moldable reality full of what could be, which pieces are buildable?

What makes you feel seen?

A favorite excerpt of mine from The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

“We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under. The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public. The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. People in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need. Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark. And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers.”

Events, rupture, and design

Up to this point, we have been through the what and why of introspective practice, but, I’m sure, you might be wondering about the how of it all. I am talking about futuring, collectively worldbuilding, making on a personal level, about digging into the depths of who we are and sitting there to sift through what we want and why. As I said before, the heart of this lies in imagination and fiction.

Futuring has many approaches and definitions, but to me it boils down to the human capacity to imagine in context. UNESCO’s Futures Literacy Network discusses futuring as it being a learnable, or expandable, skill where one reaches a level of literacy to “better understand the role of the future in what [people] see and do…” saying that “Being futures literate empowers the imagination, enhances our ability to prepare, recover, and invent as changes occur.18” (UNESCO futures literacy page). When you then place this definition in the context of design, it makes sense that the concept has exploded in a form resembling what the big bang was to the creation of the universe. While some may not draw a direct line between speculative and discursive design and futures work, I would argue that they are inextricably intertwined. To practice either is to imagine and toy with not only what human experience is, but also what it could be, and how we might discuss what that means and how it has any meaning at all. To explore speculative design (which includes futuring practices) is to attempt to create for the means of pivoting people’s perspectives or behaviors, and in many ways it does that through the story of the creative process and that process’s output.

18 “Futures Literacy.” UNESCO, December 1, 2020. https://en.unesco.org/futuresliteracy/about.

The discourse surrounding events, and the motivations surrounding speculative design, futuring work, and their storytelling are neatly intertwined. This, of course, makes sense given that the first is illustrative of what the following seemingly hope to create. What I mean is that in the study of events, there is much discussion surrounding how they came to be, and what their stories mean for how we remember them or how they ended up altering the world to lead us to the current reality. The discipline of speculative design is meant to create discourse. Often, the end goal is the very type of change that events imply. In the fields of speculative work, the emphasis also lays in process, but, in a certain sense, in the process of orchestrating what sociologists, historians, anthropologists, etc. in the pursuit of understanding events have yet to formally pin down: What is it exactly that creates the ideal maelstrom leading to a “rupture19” which pivots the course of existence as we know it?

Looking not only at events, but at their surrounding stories and situational interpretations, offers a perspective that designers should not ignore. The study of events provides a unique lens into the world of human experience, and further it allows a way of understanding how we are taught to understand how that world came to be. That distinction, not of how the world came to be but of how we are told to see it is important. Narrative is unignorable in the study of events. It shapes the very pivots they caused, and a good story can be as impactful as what it chronicles. The discourse surrounding events and our interpolations of them gives an idea of how decisionmaking processes in the past have led to pivotal shifts, but it also captures the glaring truth that generating a perfect storm may not be replicable at all.

context outside of chronology

At the heart of events and of speculative endeavors, is unique context. Increasingly, context has become a glaring aggressor in my academic and creative explorations. Nothing makes sense without specificity of some kind. While that seems like an almost obvious thing to say, I have found that it is not a truth that is focused on enough. In thinking of events, it is incredibly important to understand what preceded the pivotal moment. As Dr. Robin Wagner-Pacifici, University in Exile Professor of Sociology at The New School for Social research, and expert in the sociology of events outlines in her book What Is an Event however, understanding these precedents as they come is most difficult in the moment. Further, as she writes, “The question, what is the meaning of death? Is better framed as when is meaning of death: does it take shape at the time of

19 Wagner-Pacifici, Robin Erica. What Is an Event? Chapter 3 Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2019.

death, or at the time(s) of judgement?20” While this is in direct reference to understandings stemming from Catholicism and the Catholic Church, which she further explores, that key element of context, of the “when” and how inherent its impact is, marks the importance of setting.

From this stems a core question about speculative work and temporality. There is a camp of thinkers who wish to diverge from our faith in chronology. It is something I have, and continue to, go back and forth on. Is it possible to create for change in a foreign context? Or in an individual context at all? In thinking about events, it seems as though the answer would be no. Even in discussions about how to diverge from our way of telling the stories of history’s most critical moments, we tend to adhere to a traditional narrative format. In hindsight there is always a beginning, middle, and end. It just depends where one places those pieces. In some interpretations an event might be the beginning, in others the end, and yet in a more realistic sense they all live in the middle since we are constantly moving from one moment to the next.

An interesting practice in speculative storytelling is to think of futures as existing outside of a cemented timeline. Rather than the future being in some way tomorrow, it could be anywhere, or any time. It moves away from holding a temporal context in the traditional sense. While this is interesting in the sense of asking audiences to challenge why we must adhere to a linear dimensionality, it also calls forward a question about how realistic it is to try and move pieces that are already “past” around.

An example of work that experiments with this non-allegiance to chronology is Time Zone Protocols by Rasheedah Phillips. In it they seek to re-assess the way we look at key events in “the development of Western time consciousness, with a focus on the International Meridian Conference as a critical point on the Western timeline for understanding the backward and forward-reaching impacts of time standardization and colonized time.21” The nonlinear map is an exercise in renouncing traditional narrative form. This project is both brilliant and somewhat confusing. While I understand the struggle against the way we view time on a clock and adherence to certain cultural norms of timeliness, which are based on a rigid western view of productivity and order, I struggle somewhat with a nonlinear timeline of history having the same level of impact that a linear one holds (although I am sure this is a piece of the conversation meant to be had). Perhaps this is my own inability to break from my western socialization, despite relating viscerally to what Phillips refers to as Colored People’s

20 Wagner-Pacifici, Robin Erica. What Is an Event?, 60. 21 Phillips, Rasheedah. “TimeMap.” Time Zone Protocols, June 2, 2022. https://timezoneprotocols.space/tzp-timemap/.

Time, but there is something about the build and momentum of history that lends certain impact to Eventsä. However, what Phillips accomplishes here is admirable in the way that it suggests we could think of context through an entirely different light.

Their work brings to light some of what David Carr references in terms of representation and memory. He writes, “Experience… serves as the restraint on the mind’s infatuation with its own abstractions, the wishful thinking that allows it to see what it wants to see. It is thus open to the new and surprising, which may contradict our ideas of what is possible, of what conforms to a pre-established framework or set of concepts.22” Carr argues that experience is passive. It is a process of intake that then mediates the imagination. He draws forth a sense of experience as viscerally real, as coming through from a sense of “touch” and “feel” that allows us to be more deeply in the world. Perhaps in seeing history and a nonlinear map through the eyes of Phillips, and their coalition of collaborators and contributors’, reframing of experience, it is possible to immerse oneself in this theory of experience. To somehow shift slightly what context could hope to be. Phillips grounds their work in already demarcated events, which feel almost like snippets of their own experience in the sense of grounding that Carr provides. The snippets of history floating sans-context throughout the map create their own kind of fascinating event. A series of moments pulled together with the backdrop of the Black experience in the US and points in time that made up the path to the very concept of time we have today. It is a fascinating example of what speculative work can do.

The project does not have to be seen as a re-interpretation of what led to events in history but can rather be viewed as a re-interpretation of how we have to look at that storyline today. It is a distinct call for us to not continue moving forward one foot in front of the other and eyes on the horizon. Rather, we can spin in circles, jump side to side, and walk backwards toward the “future” while continually assessing and absorbing truths about the past. Truly it is a master class in re-assessing the way we think about rupture and experience altogether.

on the potentialities of imagining

Returning somewhat to the aforementioned questions of whether it is possible to replicate, or at least generate, the factors that lead to an event, it is interesting too to

22 Carr, David. “Experience, Temporality and History.” Journal of the Philosophy of History 3, no. 4 (2009): 335–54. https://doi.org/10.1163/187226109x12555079162713, 338.

think about shuffling context to experiment with world building. Phillips’ unconference the exhibition for their Time Zone Protocol project asked people to think of nonlinear timelines of their own. To employ methodologies of re-creating a scenario or imagining a new one altogether. This type of work is common in speculative practice. In their book Speculative Everything Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby write, “Speculating is based on imagination, the ability to literally imagine other worlds and alternatives…23” This is in a chapter based on world-building, which further discusses how various practitioners have brought non-realities to life. It is important to note that not every designer strives to shift the course of history as we know it, and many revolutionaries are wholly unaware that this is what they are doing in the moment they do it.

As Caroline Humphries references in discussion of anthropologist Alain Badiou’s ideas of the individual and our capacities to understand what a fracture or an event even is, “the ordinary human person, the one who exists ‘before the event’ as it were, [is] the one who cannot recognize its significance.24” This writes the underlying tensions of trying to execute a meaningful speculative work and having that work end up being impactful. She outlines a theory on decision-making as a sort of eventfulness. This is directly related to what I referenced earlier in terms of process-notation in chronicling the design process (even for projects that reject chronology). It is a sort of mystical imagination that in making choices that differ from a prescribed notion of how to create or make, or that guide an audience to approach reality differently even if only through imaginative means perhaps it is possible to conjure an environment for change. This, however, still cannot be completed by one individual alone.

So, in comes the idea of collective imagining and what that might mean for architecting event-like impact (or perhaps an Event). I am partial to Wallerstein’s theory of the interconnectedness of local to global processes in the generation of events. As Sewell writes, “It suggests a close relationship between part and whole, where laws found in investigations of local phenomena are also assumed to operate at the level of the whole.25” If we boil down this idea, that the local and global are interconnected to a degree wherein the smallest of fates is directly tied to “system-level causes,” it allows

23 Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Speculative everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming P 70.

24 Humphrey, Caroline. “Reassembling Individual Subjects.” Anthropological Theory 8, no. 4 (2008): 357–80. https://doi.org/10.1177/1463499608096644, 363.

25 Sewell, William H. Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005, 8586.

for a semblance of the perspective designers need to guide collaborative worldbuilding.

In futuring work, it is almost as if we strive to create the “about to” moment WagnerPacifici describes. As she outlines the “about to” is “the precipice moment between immobility and mobility.26” If it could be possible to own that suspension of time, to hold people in a space of anticipation, and to have them be conscious of it, then speculative work could feel utterly real. It would rely, however, on not only imagination, but also the story being told. Some speculative works move to provide an idea of what would happen after a fictional event. Some hold on to time pre-pivotal moment to create a different story arc in a “what-if” fashion. Some blend the two. An example of this is the project Cüirtopia27 by Dr. Regner Ramos. He is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras. It is a mapping project that re-imagines the Caribbean as we know it. An architecture by training, Dr. Ramos took on the challenge of queering archival city records in Puerto Rico to paint a picture of what those spaces might have looked like if marginalized groups were documented throughout history. It is a beautiful project, aesthetically, narratively, and in its execution of the potentiality of imaginative speculation. It takes place outside of our known timeline of reality, in a bit of an alternative world, but it makes light of the need to have a concrete grounding in reality. It is a collaborative effort.

Cüirtopia in its multifaceted glory strives to provide a participant with that sensation of “what if,” even if it is not the language Dr. Ramos uses when describing the project. The project also ties in the systemic erasure of queer communities throughout the Caribbean, and how that global order allowed us to get to today with no documented records of what spaces looked like in reality in the past. I think as Cüirtopia gains traction it could be an example of the kind of speculative work that gives off the energy of an event.

There is much overlap, and a lot of divergence in the discussions of speculative works and events that highlight the fruitful nature of cross-disciplinary examination. Design should constantly be examining the ways the world is made, and the way we examine events can delightfully structure that understanding. The fact that it is quite difficult to consciously cause a rupture, as much as it is difficult to design one is what makes the

26 Wagner-Pacifici, Robin Erica. What Is an Event, 58. 27 Ramos, Regner. “A Queer Carribean Project.” Cuirtopia. https://www.cuirtopia.xyz/.

work of impact-driven practitioners so difficult. The lack of ability to reproduce these pivotal moments strips futuring of some types of credibility in a world based on empiricism. However, this lack of ability to perfectly reproduce an event to create the same outcome, despite knowledge that the event itself was the catalyst for a pivotal shift in society or a political system, very much provides a link to proof that speculative work should be pulling apart the moments before, after, and through events, even if the practitioners themselves reject the idea of linearity.

A working example of introspective practice in action

You might still be wondering what an actual introspective practice workshop looks like. So, I’ll include the outline I used for the first few and a breakdown of the exercise I adapted from Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey who wrote the book Immunity to Change: How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization.

As Follows:

Welcome!

Thanks for starting the week w me and taking the time let’s take a second to sit and feel where we are in time and place. Maybe close your eyes or take a couple deep breaths. Make eye contact with someone if that grounds you in the present. Whatever works J (1 min)

Okay let’s jump in!

The goal of today is really for you guys to have a moment to engage with the core piece of my thesis which is introspective practice I will define for you momentarily

We’ll go over this concept and some content for framing and then work through an exercise called overcoming immunity to change, and then have a wrap up discussion the exercise will take the most time and likely require the most energy introspective practice in the maker space.

[Introspective Practice defined as: a process of self-reflection aimed at understanding and engaging with one’s innermost desires, and internal lived experience, which encourages consideration of and accountability for how these elements influence preferences and processes of making for and with others.

Key terms/ideas being introspection, context, bridging inner lived experience with how we move through the world, design, making, conscientiousness and responsibility (awareness of inner biases and their effects). This is defined by me, and I am open to linguistic feedback.]

I want to offer some context on where in the design space my work sits. I am a speculative designer speculative design lays in the design theory space, which means it is conceptual and theoretical. It is meant to examine the world we live in and encourage discursive and critical moments amongst an audience or collective. I do make things from time to time, but they are almost always installations, or experiences like this workshop. They are always made with the intention of some form of internal reflection, spurring of internal creativity, and are driven by my own desire to create intimate connections based on reflection of ourselves.

The point of being this kind of designer, for me, is that it allows me to shape some time and encourage collective imagination, which is at the root of my practice. I want people to have time and space to understand how they explore the world as it is and how we might explore how it could be, that is how I approach the second piece of this work which falls into the futuring space. We all do bits of futuring all of the time, it is simply projecting into what could be, and it is always subjective. Speculative work and futuring go hand in hand, as any kind of speculation of what might or could be falls into the “alternate” reality timeline and shows us a beautiful imaginary aside our own concrete world (even the small pieces).

If you have questions about this I’m happy to answer them, but I believe a deep understanding of this space is utterly unnecessary to do the work it encourages. We all imagine, we all engage critically with ourselves and the world, and we should all be offered the allowances to call ourselves makers if that’s what we do.

[excerpt from design is everything]

I started thinking about collective imaginaries as an answer to holes I saw within the speculative design and futures realm. Like so many other fields, the way thinking was approached, communicated, and accessed felt so incredibly unfair. It’s beyond the concept of inaccessibility, it’s removed. I’m passionate about the speculative space. I love the idea of thinking and making and designing for the purpose of causing critical thought, of creating a new or different consideration for existing problems, systems, worlds, etc. It is not something I can so simply let go of.

Design is a practice which finds its foundations in purposeful making. The goal of designers varies, but in essence the goal is to convey, enhance, transform, the human experience. Design is to bring people in and give them something they might not have had, or been aware of having, before. Truly, I believe almost everything is design.

This is both beautiful and suffocating. We are not all designing with intention. Through my study and practice of design I have realized it is an encompassing vessel for reflection on humanity. Humans tend to make things. We tend to think we know what we’re doing when we don’t and we tend to fail at taking responsibility for our lasting impact. If we were all taught about, or encouraged to reflect on, what it means to make, what it means to do so for others, and what it means to affect human experience, the world would be different.

• While this “workshop” is a part of my overall project it’s important to note that this work isn’t really for me as much as it’s for you I’d love for you to approach this exercise as something hopefully additive to your life and practice, and then if you feel inclined to share a reflection or resonances with me at a later date that would be wonderful (any lens is encouraging and useful even if you believe the whole thing is dribble or redundant or enraging and fruitless)

• My goal for today is really just introducing this concept and working through a guided reflective exercise it helps me practice and it brings me joy when its revelatory in any form for others we’ll touch more about pleasure in activism and practice in a bit

• It’s informal and it’s really just meant to be and exploratory session where I’ll encourage introspection and reflection and ask you to share so that we can all learn and contemplate and you can work through certain pieces of the exercise

• Go as deep as you’d like and focus on whatever you want

• You are already a maker, and whatever piece of you you choose to focus on and engage with today will bear fruit in this process

o It doesn’t have to directly be about making policy itself or anything else directly related to school or work

o Introspective practice is meant to create awareness of our own context –and when I talk about context it’s including lived experience (your movement thus far through the world), inner lived experience (movement through your own internal world and how that stems from imagination, subconsciousness and the influences of external stimuli), desires, identity, and your own relationships to these things as well as your relationships with others

o What you think of, uncover, or simply reflect on today will be related to everything else in your life I operate on a belief that we are deeply interconnected beings and siloing our intimate selves from our professional or academic or public facing identities (at least from our own internal vantage point) minimizes our own potential impact

§ This is not meaning you share your desires and deepest drives with everyone all the time, but that you carry an engaged awareness of them with you into every space you occupy

Here are some concepts I sit with all of the time, that I’d like to offer you as food for thought I feel they can be helpful when trying to think about introspective practice and the interconnectedness we all have and share

The first is the theory of emergent strategy, which is offered to us by Adrienne Maree Brown who is a thinker, designer, facilitator, doula, and activist who deeply resonates with me

• Inspired by Octavia Butler's explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. Change is constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a stream of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. This is a resolutely materialist

“spirituality” based equally on science and science fiction, a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.

o The idea is to let go of ego and embrace constant change and all of that in context

• I’ve also been engaging with the theory of Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown, which guides us to consider what it means to find satisfaction, joy, and gratification through resistance.

• A core theory in this is brought up by Adrienne as she discusses the erotic, and what it means to be drawn into someone or something with mystery in sight. She writes, “the erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.28” when she says female it is in line with how I consider it, and this is non-relevant of biology, only of sensation and identification.

o She goes on to identify a contention between sensation and feeling, using the example of porn as a way to illustrate how the erotic is about feeling where pornography is often a show of sensation without any feeling at all. To me this spoke of a sort of expectation vs reality. Which I think has a lot to do with the way I’ve been thinking about stories overall.

I definitely have been holding on to this delineation between feeling and sensation I recently went through an exercise that showed me how much my own intellectualization of the world has separated me from emotionality and the richness that creation done with emotional attachment elicits.

Okay discussion, then we move into the exercise

Overcomingimmunitytochangeworkshop

I want you to think of something you’re frustrated about – a complaint per say.

I want you to think about something you feel committed to

• What is it, why are you committed to it?

I want you to think of how it’s involved in your life, does it filter into your work? Into creative pursuits? Into your interpersonal relationships?

28 Brown, Adrienne M. Pleasure activism: The politics of feeling good P 27.

Now I want you to think “what am I doing or not doing that prevents my commitment from being fully realized?”

Now I’d like you to think of a competing commitment: I might also be committed to

Big assumptions:

• If I did not _________ in order to ___________ then __________ would happen (or might)

Hold this for a moment

• Let’s take 20 minutes to a half hour to steep

Wrap-up and discussion

The first time I used this exercise was in a one-on-one and it was revelatory. Outside of an organizational context, and with an encouraging push it can reveal some real truths about what you desire and what holds you back from it. Once those are identified, it can help establish a foundation for internal exploration and investigation of our own inner boundaries.

The communal aspect of a group session also facilitates idea sharing and perspectives that we cannot give ourselves. Yes, introspective practice is self-driven, but without every sharing or communicating what we find our desires to be and how those are driving what we make, there is a ceiling on growth and understanding how our contexts effect how we design. As should be abundantly clear if you made it this far in this volume, no one creates alone, and no ideas come from one source. The best are generated collaboratively, through intense internal reflection, intaking of external material, and thoughtful and provoking discourse [repeat cycle].

I hope that something in this volume spoke to you, and if you want to share a reflection, idea, rebuttal, or anything else, please email me: marielsotoreyes@gmail.com

Thank you so much for reading and I hope you get some time to sit with your liminal self today.

About the author

Mariel Soto Reyes is a creative in the speculative design and design research/theory space. Her work focuses on inner lived experience and exploring the deeply personal as a means of self expression and connection. With an interest in the collective, she works to understand desire, intimacy, and what it means when intrinsic motivations bubble to the surface through creative expression and making. Her hope is to offer a trove of resources for reflection, introspection, and conscientiousness that practitioners can use in their own personal and outward facing creative journeys.

Acknowledgments

This project would not have been possible without the support of my friends, family, and my dog Bat.

A special thank you to: Guinevere Mesh, Kara Emery, Harpreet Sareen, Daniel McCarthy, Reed Stevens, Tess Johnson, Celina McCall, Ana Maria Reyes, George Soto, Sofia Soto Reyes, Grace Mervin, Malik Pierre, Michael Thut, Six, Yi Wei, Amanda Price, Ruby Thelot, and so many others.

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