1.iii Designing Knowledge Spaces Through Critical Making

Arbuckle, Alyssa, and Alex Christie, with the ETCL, INKE, and MVP Research Groups. 2015. “Intersections Between Social Knowledge Creation and Critical Making.” Scholarly and Research Communication 6 (3):   n.p.  http://src-online.ca/index.php/src/article/view/200.

Arbuckle and Christie outline the practices of digital scholarly communication (moving research production and dissemination online), critical making (producing theoretical insights by transforming digitized heritage materials), and social knowledge creation (collaborating in online environments to produce shared knowledge products). In addition to exploring these practices and their principles, the authors argue that combining these activities engenders knowledge production chains that connect multiple institutions and communities. Highlighting the relevance of critical making theory for scholarly communication practice, Arbuckle and Christie provide examples of theoretical research that offer tangible products for expanding and enriching scholarly production.

*Balsamo, Anne. 2011. Introduction: “Taking Culture Seriously in the Age of Innovation.” In Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work, 2–25. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Balsamo studies the intersections of culture and innovation, and acknowledges the unity between the two modes (“technoculture”). She argues that technological innovation should seriously recognize culture as both its inherent context and a space of evolving, emergent possibility, as innovation necessarily alters culture and social knowledge creation practices. Balsamo introduces the concept of the “technological imagination”—the innovative, actualizing mindset. She also details a comprehensive list of truisms about technological innovation, ranging from considering innovation as performative, historically constituted, and multidisciplinary to acknowledging design as a major player in cultural reproduction, social negotiation, and meaning-making. Currently, innovation is firmly bound up with economic incentives, and the profit-driven mentality often obscures the social and cultural consequences and implications of technological advancement. As such, Balsamo calls for more conscientious design, education, and development of technology, and a broader vision of the widespread influence and agency of innovation.

*Bijker, Wiebe E., and John Law. 1992. “General Introduction.” In Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, edited by Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law, 1–14. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

In the introduction to this collection, Bijker and Law develop the overarching theme of the included essays: the social construction, context, and relations of technology, especially concerning design and inception. They argue that technologies are never isolated or prefabricated, but are generated out of a set of varying circumstances and actors. Bijker and Law acknowledge various relevant theories from sociotechnology to constructivism to the social history of technology. Notably, the authors focus on the idea that “it might have been otherwise” (4), and employ the phrase as a guiding mantra for both their inquiry and the collection at large.

Chapman, Owen, and Kim Sawchuk. 2015. “Creation-as-Research: Critical Making in Complex Environments.” RACAR: Revue d’art canadienne / Canadian Art Review 40 (1):  49–52. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24327426.

Chapman and Sawchuk discuss the importance of “creation-as-research” and argue that it is not highly valued among other practices. Creation-asresearch draws on research outcomes focused on process and material aspects. The authors argue that this modality of research creation requires further reflection, as it is increasingly incorporated into university courses. By comparing projects that share similar features, they consider the essential concepts and productive ironies and tensions of creation-as-research. Chapman and Sawchuk conclude that creation-as-research and critical making are crucial for innovative collectives.

Drucker, Johanna. 2009. “From Digital Humanities to Speculative Computing.” In SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing, 3–18. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Drucker locates speculative computing as a more critical extension and reflection of digital humanities practices. Knowledge is interpretive and fluid, and thereby conflicts with many computational principles (discrete objects, interoperability, objectivity) that form the basis for the application side of digital humanities. Drucker thus situates herself, and speculative computing at large, as the interrogator of digital humanities standards and normalized practices—based on concepts of knowledge as complex experience versus knowledge as mere information. Notably, Drucker calls for an increased awareness of design as a purposeful mediator instead of as an objective deliverer of information. She concludes by ruminating on models as dynamic, interpretive interventions invaluable for speculative computing at large.

“Humanities Approaches to Interface Theory.” Culture Machine 12: 1–20. http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/viewArticle/434.

In Drucker’s humanities theory of interface, she argues that the interface is the predominant site of cognition in digital spaces and requires cognizant, intellectual design. Drucker’s theory is predicated on interface design that considers the constitution of a subject, not the expected activities of a user; on graphical reading practices and frame theory; on constructivist approaches to cognition, and on integrating multiple modes of humanities interpretation. She argues for a humanities approach to interface theory that integrates different forms of reading and analysis in order to allow readers to recognize the relations of the dynamic space between environments and cognitive events. Furthermore, while avoiding a descent into screen essentialism, Drucker insists that studying electronic reading practices must be focalized through studying graphical user interfaces, as GUIs constitute reading (and thus the reading subject, or “subject of interface” [3]).

“Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K. Gold, 85–95. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/34.

Drucker argues that humanities intervention is pertinent at the level of design for digital projects and incentives. Without humanistic theories, Drucker contends, knowledge, events, experience, and data are at the risk of being flattened and reified. Frequently, humanities theory is not integrated into digital scholarship and development because computer science techniques and theories (mechanization, automation, independent/isolated items) remain at odds with those of the humanities (fluidity, interpretation, and interconnectedness). These barriers must be overcome in order to comprehensively and reflexively create and share knowledge.

Fisher, Caitlin. 2015. “Mentoring Research-Creation: Secrets, Strategies, and Beautiful Failures.” RACAR: Revue d’art canadienne / Canadian Art Review 40 (1): 46–49. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24327425.

Fisher discusses the importance and potential of research-creation in the graduate education context. She argues that in order to reach a more innovative level of academic production, faculties need to be open to risks and to accept that failure is part of the process. Fisher discusses doctoral projects and expresses her admiration for making and creation. She explains that faculty members often treat this kind of student project as impossible to understand, in contrast to their own work. She concludes that there are audiences who are highly interested in such an approach, hence the importance of appreciating failure and encouraging students to take risks.

Hart, Jennefer, Charlene Ridley, Faisal Taher, Corina Sas, and Alan J. Dix. 2008. “Exploring the Facebook Experience: A New Approach to Usability.” In Proceedings of the 5th Nordic Conference on HumanComputer Interaction (NordiCHI08), 471–74. New York: ACM.

In the framework of user experience design, Hart, Ridley, Sas, Taher, and Dix examine a selection of users’ reactions to the popular social networking website Facebook. The authors put forth the idea that previous standards of evaluating digital environments need to be reimagined for our current technological moment to privilege user experience. Their findings indicate an overall positive reaction to Facebook despite the site’s meeting only two out of the ten traditional usability guidelines. The authors call for a more holistic approach to design that pays heed to the pleasurable social knowledge creation experience of many individuals as they participate on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Jessop, Martyn. 2008. “Digital Visualization as a Scholarly Activity.” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (formerly Literary and Linguistic Computing) 23 (3): 281–93. doi:10.1093/llc/fqn016.

Jessop argues that digital visualization deserves to be taken seriously as scholarly work by fellow academics. Digital visualization creates an opportunity for new knowledge production, as well as increased visual literacy and diverse intellectual practices. Jessop comments at length on the form and function of digital visualization, and its role in relation to the humanities at large. He reflects that from an academic standpoint, digital visualization is frequently criticized as not scholarly, or not scholarly enough. To overcome these limiting assumptions, Jessop advocates for the adherence to a set of standards (in this article, he promotes the London Charter) in order to validate digital visualization and to ensure that a lasting debate shapes and maintains the practice and its concurrent knowledge creation.

Latour, Bruno. 2009. “A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Towards a Philosophy of Design (with Special Attention to Peter Sloterdijk).” In Networks of Design: Proceedings of the 2008 Annual International Conference of the Design History Society, edited by Fiona Hackne, Jonathan Glynne, and Viv Minto, 2–10. Boca Raton, FL: Universal Publishers.

Latour meditates on the form and function of the term “design,” and proposes a more comprehensive vision for the practice. He suggests that design practitioners focus more fully on drawing together, modelling, or simulating complexity—more inclusive visions that incorporate contradiction and controversy. Latour argues that we are living in an age of design (or redesign) instead of a revolutionary modernist era of breaking with the past and making everything new. Increasingly, design encapsulates various other acts, from arrangement to definition, from projecting to coding. Consequently, the possibilities and instances for design grow exponentially. For Latour, the concept of an age of design predicates an advantageous condition defined by humility and modesty (because it is not foundational or constructionbased); a necessary attentiveness to details and skillfulness; a focus on purposeful development (or on the meaning of what is being designed); thoughtful remediation; and an ethical dimension (exemplified through the good design versus bad design binary).

Liu, Alan. 2012. “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K. Gold, 490-Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/20.

Liu surveys the state of the digital humanities in relation to the humanities at large. He argues that, thus far, digital humanities projects have often lacked the self-reflexivity and cultural criticism necessary for the ethical development of humanistic projects—thereby denying the digital humanities a real or full position in the humanities. Because the digital humanities avoid cultural criticism, they frequently become subservient or merely instrumental to the humanities as a whole, functioning as either a moneymaker or tech support. Liu claims that the digital humanities could deconstruct the hierarchy by becoming both self-reflexive and invaluable, thereby leading the humanities into the academic future.

McCarty, Willard. 2005. Humanities Computing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

McCarty examines the field of humanities computing and explores both its limitations and potential. He frames much of his exploration through the mantra that digital humanities can be much more than merely “convenient vending machines for knowledge” (6); the focus must be shifted from automation and delivery to the possibilities for new knowledge creation through digital humanities practices. To this end, McCarty celebrates the tendency toward modelling and manipulation. Drawing heavily on Clifford Geertz’s model of/model for theory (and privileging the “model for” concept), McCarty explores how models and unfinished prototypes can be productive spaces of work, knowledge, and play. Models provide invaluable information when they dysfunction, either through inexplicable successes or failures. Of note, he incorporates Martin Heidegger’s concept of manipulating the world through technology.

McGillivray, David, Gayle McPherson,  Jennifer Jones, and Alison McCandlish. 2016. “Young People, Digital Media Making and Critical Digital Citizenship.” Leisure Studies 35 (6): 724–38. doi:10.1080/02614367.2015.1062041.

McGillivray, McPherson, Jones, and McCandlish explore the debates on digital media in the twenty-first century. They emphasize the role of media in the educational setting by supplying critical insights on the Digital Commonwealth project, a non-profit organization that supports the creation, management, and dissemination of relevant materials in Massachusetts cultural heritage institutions. They suggest that the prosumer (producer and consumer of online content) challenges the formality of schools as a space for learning. However, they point out that schools have been resisting the leisure opportunities in digital environments by preventing students from using social tools for educational purposes. The authors base their study of the Digital Commonwealth project on recent academic, policy, and practicefocused international work, including that of David Gauntlett (Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0, 2011) and Larry Johnson et al. (Horizon Report Europe: 2014 Schools Edition, 2014) in order to display how digital media allows individuals to navigate between different worlds and environments. The authors conclude that the social web allows simultaneous leisure and learning, and that educators and students must invest in it in order to produce beneficial outcomes rather than just consume content passively.

Ramsay, Stephen, and Geoffrey Rockwell. 2012. “Developing Things: Notes Toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K. Gold, 75–Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Ramsay and Rockwell take up the “your database/prototype is an argument” conversation (notably championed by Lev Manovich and Willard McCarty). They assert that taking building as seriously as scholarly work could productively dismantle or realign the focus of the humanities from its predominantly textual bent. Ramsay and Rockwell advocate for installing the user, reader, or subject at the level of building. Through this socially minded conceptual and physical shift, some of the abstractions and black boxing that render digital humanities tools theoretically insufficient could be avoided or amended.

Ratto, Matt. 2011a. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” The Information Society 27 (4): 252– 60. doi:10.1080/01972243.2011.583819.

Ratto briefly but effectively describes his engagement with critical making as a scholarly practice. For Ratto, critical making integrates conceptual critical theory and practical, hands-on material work, with the aim of furthering comprehension of the role of technology in social life. Ratto reflects on his own experiences and varying degrees of success in practising critical making with different groups of scholars. Of note, Ratto concludes that personal investment influences the connection between lived experience (making) and developing critical perspectives on social issues.

—2011b. “Open Design and Critical Making.” In Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive, edited by Bas van Abel, Lucas Evers, Roel Klaassen, and Peter Troxler, n.p. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers. http://opendesignnow.org/index.html%3Fp=434.html.

Ratto situates his conception and practice of critical making within the context of open design. He argues that critical making encapsulates one of the major tenets of open design: reconnecting morality and materiality. Ratto addresses sociotechnological issues through a constructivist engagement with scholarly research and pedagogy. He contends that open design is necessary—both practically and theoretically—for the continued success of the critical making movement. Critical making relies substantially on the ethos, as well as the support, of the open design community. Open design, in turn, should embrace critical making as a scholarly pursuit aimed at studying (as well as criticizing) accepted social practices.

Ratto, Matt, and Robert Ree. 2012. “Materializing Information: 3D Printing and Social Change.” First Monday 17 (7): n.p. doi:10.5210/fm.v17i7.3968.

Ratto and Ree argue that 3D printing is emerging as a socially transformative technology with a positive effect on creative activity. They focus on the process and practice of 3D printing, and discuss its technical aspects as well as its scholarly and entrepreneurship influences. The authors propose that 3D printing will result in various changes, and that the role of government and the creative sector has to extend beyond current efforts and initiatives in this regard. Ratto and Ree conclude by calling for additional research in the field.

Ratto, Matt, Sara Ann Wylie, and Kirk Jalbert. 2014. “Introduction to the Special Forum on Critical Making as Research Program.” The Information Society 30 (2): 85–95. doi:10.1080/01972243.2014.875767.

Ratto, Wylie, and Jalbert claim that critical making should be considered a research field, since its practices are diverse, far-reaching, and inherently valuable. They believe that representational and material approaches can provide a framework for researchers involved in similar work. Critical making can offer further contextualization and expand relevance of academic work. The authors refer to Ratto (2011a, annotated above) and Ratto and Hockema (“FLWR PWR: Tending the Walled Garden” [2009]) to suggest that critical making as a research program explores and connects conceptual critique and material practice. After discussing the distinctive practices of critical making, they conclude by suggesting that the issue at hand is to place making within the broader conceptual structure of knowledge work.

Vetch, Paul. 2010. “From Edition to Experience: Feeling the Way towards User-Focused Interfaces.” In Electronic Publishing: Politics and Pragmatics, edited by Gabriel Egan, 171–84. New Technologies in Medieval and Renaissance Studies 2. Tempe, AZ: Iter Inc., in collaboration with the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Vetch explores the nuances of a user-focused approach to scholarly digital projects, arguing that the prevalence of Web 2.0 practices and standards requires scholars to rethink the design of scholarly digital editions. For Vetch, editorial teams need to shift their focus to questions concerning the user. For instance, how will users customize their experience of the digital edition? What new forms of knowledge can develop from these interactions? Moreover, how can rethinking the interface design of scholarly digital editions promote more user engagement and interest? Vetch concludes that a user-focused approach is necessary for the success of scholarly publication in a constantly shifting digital world.

Wylie, Sara Ann, Kirk Jalbert, Shannon Dosemagen, and Matt Ratto. 2014. “Institutions for Civic Technoscience: How Critical Making is Transforming Environmental Research.” The Information Society 30 (2): 116–26. doi:10.1080/01972243.2014.875767.

Wylie, Jalbert, Dosemagen, and Ratto conduct two case studies to explore the relationship between academic and public formations of scientific science, which they call “civic technoscience.” They argue that civic technoscience gives the public access and opportunity, in order to question expert knowledge production, as well as allowing them to create credible, public science. By referring to scholars in the field, Wylie et al. suggest that communities in environmental health and social justice are trying to adopt knowledge making as a formal research interface. They conclude by challenging the academy to support civic technoscience. The authors encourage academic researchers to provide access to their labs, classes, and tools, since the public in fact funds most university equipment.