Patchworking publics-in-the-making : design, media and public engagement

Abstract: This is a collaborative practice-based thesis by publication written across two disciplines: interaction design, and media and communication studies. Based on Threads – a Mobile Sewing Circle, a travelling exhibition in which participants are invited to embroider an SMS by hand and with an embroidery machine connected to a mobile phone, this thesis puts forward the concept of publics-in-the-making. The potentialities of publics-in-the-making is explored through the figuration of patchworking. Patchworking has, for example, been used in the writing of this thesis and in the composition of Threads. As a method, patchworking ways of knowing should be understood as a response to a widespread call across disciplines for new ways of knowing mess and complexities in technological society. We are in dialogue here especially with those engaged with new feminist materialism, the material turn, and posthumanities. More specifically, patchworking ways of knowing means knowing through collective interventions and staying with such interventions. In this thesis patchworking is used to explore and speculate on the potentialities of publics-in-the-making, publics that emerge out of making things together, in which actors and issues are not pre-set but in the making. This kind of public engagement in issues of living with technologies is proposed as part of a larger repertoire of designerly public engagement that happens within participatory design, media archaeology, critical making and speculative design. Drawing on American pragmatism and feminist technoscience, we argue that everyday living with technologies makes us entangled and implicated in diverse issues characterised by multiple uncertainties. Given that it is not always possible to know what the concern is, who is concerned, and how it could be addressed, making is explored both in terms of its potential to bring humans and nonhumans together, and as a mode of engaging with issues related to living with technologies. Publics-in-the-making is thereby put forward as publics that gather because of a shared area of curiosity, rather than an emergency, and where issues are co-articulated in the making. While these co-articulated issues are rarely resolved, we argue that the making in Threads becomes a way of practising caring curiosity towards ongoing and emerging issues related to living with technologies. Publics-in-the-making should not be understood as an argument against other kinds of public engagement, but as complementary, since all handle different aspects of living with technologies. In line with most practice-based research, we argue that method and that which is explored cannot be separated. This means that method and problem emerge together, or are made together. In this case the patchworking ways of knowing have been used to speculate on and to explore potentialities of publics-in-the-making. The patchworking of Threads is thereby both the method and that which is explored and speculated upon. Through patchworking publics-in-the-making we build on and contribute to re-patternings and re-imaginations of interaction design and communication studies through a turn to feminist technoscience. We are thus able to explore multiple temporalities, issues of linearity and discreteness, and concerns around human-centeredness - as well as the ethics of such boundary-making. This thesis works simultaneously with several temporalities: that which is at hand, as well as that which is yet to come.

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