CISP Online

Blog of the Centre for Invention & Social Process, Goldsmiths

February 12, 2019
by Emily Nicholls

Launching the CISP Salon: Vexations and Diplomacy in the Ecologies of Care

Visiting Research Fellow, Dr Jade Henry shares her reflections from the first CISP Salon of the 2018-2019 series, ‘Ecologies of Care.

In December, a group of doctoral and early career researchers met to launch the 2018-2019 CISP Salon. The theme for this year’s Salon, “Ecologies of Care”, is a reference to Stengers’ invitation to deploy “ecologies of practice” as a “tool for thinking” about the contested practices of technoscience (2005). We will be thinking particularly about practices in science and technology which aspire to care. As Puig de la Bellacasa notes, scientific projects and technology solutions are regularly put forth in response to calls for care in our fragile and troubled world, even as these practices create and reinforce power asymmetries that produce injustice (2011). We therefore adopt Stengers’ idea of ecologies of practice as a way of analysing some of these fraught politics of care in a selection of readings this year.

Care is considered vital to the continuation of livable worlds and is of longstanding interest to feminist thinkers, but Murphy cautions us against conflating care with affection, positive feeling or political goods (2015). In her paper, she argues instead for a vexation of care to unsettle “the ways positive feelings, sympathy, and other forms of attachment can work with and through the grain of hegemonic structures, rather than against them” (p. 731). She traces how the self-help protocols embraced by feminist health advocates and researchers in North America are entangled in uneasy racist and colonial legacies.  Compellingly, Murphy directs her criticism at those she cares for, calling upon fellow researchers and activists in feminist technoscience to situate their emancipatory work as part of larger cultural, economic and historical formations. In doing so, she offers her critique as a form of “caring work” that is “not in search of a properly corrected feminist science studies” (p. 722), but as “contributing to, and not simply working against, a better politics of care” (p. 719).

Murphy’s empirical vexations of care resonate with Stengers’ philosophical treatment of diplomacy and its role within ecologies of practice (2005). Stengers suggests that if science is comprised of diverse sets of knowledge-making practices each comprising its own unique habitat, then the task for “thinkers” is to understand how such habitats relate within larger, flourishing ecologies of practices. Here, the “thinker’s task” is not to emancipate by revealing the Truth, nor is it about finding common ground. Instead, the role of “the thinker” is to attend closely to practices as “they diverge” (p. 192). In situations of controversy, where “attachments” or values causing a habitat to think, feel and act are imposed as universal obligations for all habitats, the “thinker” becomes a “diplomat” (p. 194).  “Diplomacy,” writes Stengers, “does not refer to good will, togetherness, a common language or an intersubjective understanding”, but is a pragmatic problem requiring the enactment of new proposition –  a new articulation or construction where “a contradiction (either/or) has been turned into a contrast (and/and)” (p. 193). Like Murphy’s vexations of care, diplomacy requires both an attunement to difference, as well as the generation of new, if modest, spaces that can articulate and sustain the co-existence of such divergence.

Reading Stengers’ philosophical paper does not necessarily evoke what Haraway calls “the trouble” in science and technology scholarship and activism (2010). True to its title, Murphy’s work is more passionate and unsettling because it is directed at cherished feminist knowledge practices. Her paper raises painful complicities, uneasy alliances and distinctions between knowledge-making practices with similar aspirations of care. These vexations of care provoked careful discussion amongst us concerning the differences between queer theory, postcolonial studies and the various waves and strands of feminism. Gathered face to face around an oval table on the 12th floor of Warmington Tower, we were appreciative of the opportunity to work slowly together to disentangle and comprehend the charged and entangled divergences that have troubled the wider ecology of academia in recent times.  Returning to Stengers, we are reminded of the value of a Salon, the importance of the humble academic reading group as an enactment of diplomacy, an intimate space that nurtures “stammering” (p. 195) rather than certitude, a gathering where scholars are responsible for “paying attention as best you can, to be as discerning as possible, as discriminating as you can be about a particular situation” (p. 188).

jades blog post

Photo Credit: Nicole Harrington


Haraway D (2010) When species meet: Staying with the trouble. Environment and Planning D:
Society and Space 28(1): 53–55.

Murphy, Michelle (2015) “Unsettling Care: Troubling Transnational Itineraries of Care in Feminist Health Practices.” Social Studies of Science 45 (5): 717–37.

Stengers, Isabelle (2005) “Introductory notes on an ecology of practices” Cultural Studies Review. 11(1). P. 184-196.



December 4, 2018
by Emily Nicholls

CISP Salon: Ecologies of Care

2018 ecologies of care

11th December 2018 5-7pm

Warmington Tower 1204

This year, CISP Salon extends its exploration of what it means to “think with care” in Science and Technology Studies. Building on an understanding of care as an embodied, sociomaterial practice (Puig de la Bellacasa, 2017), we will meet to further examine the politics of care in a variety of empirical settings, as well as identify different research methods that might be used to trace and analyse these contested knowledge practices.

To launch the 2018-2019 Salon, we will explore Stenger’s concept of “ecologies of practices” in relation to Murphy’s call for “a vexation of care”, and discuss what this might mean for our own practices as critical scholars of science and technology.


We will be reading: 
Stengers, Isabelle. 2005 “Introductory notes on an ecology of practices” Cultural Studies Review. 11(1). P. 184-196.
Murphy, Michelle. 2015. “Unsettling Care: Troubling Transnational Itineraries of Care in Feminist Health Practices.” Social Studies of Science 45 (5): 717–37.


Organised by Fay Dennis, Emily Jay Nicholls and Jade Henry

December 1, 2018
by Emily Nicholls

Meeting Medical Ontologies Halfway: Account of a Collective Adventure


2018 Medical Ontologies

Katrin Solhdju

12 December 16.30 – 18.30

Goldsmiths MMB 220



We founded Dingdingdong. Institute for the co-production of knowledge about Huntington’s Diseasein 2012 as a wager: The wager that Huntington’s disease (HD) – a complex, incurable, so called neurodegenerative, and genetically transmitted late-onset disease – provides an opportunity to push thinking further! Ever since, our collective which is composed of users, physicians, researchers in the humanities, and artists, has worked on quite a number of levels at the crucial task of intervening into HD’s exclusively despairing ‘natural history’, thereby interfering with the assumption that medical ontologies are the arena of biomedical knowledge-production only. In my talk I would (1) like to account for some aspects of the polyphonic research paths we pursue into the enigmatic planet we like to call Huntingtonland. (2) Taken together, these have not only rendered an extraordinary collective adventure possible but also started configuring alternative, more joyful landscapes for living with (this) disease. Finally, (3) I would like to discuss in how far Dingdingdong’s quite particular manner of cultivating problems might contribute to the Medical Humanities and more particularly to emerging ‘speculative’ approaches within this field of research.



Katrin Solhdjuis a permanent researcher of the Fonds national de la recherche scientifique (FNRS) and a professor at the Institute for Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Mons (Belgium). She is one of the co-founders of Dingdingdong. Institute for the co-production of knowledge about Huntington’s Diseaseand member of the Groupe d’études constructivistes (GeCo) at the Free University of Brussels. Her research interests range from the Medical Humanities to Science Studies and Pragmatism. She is the author of two monographs: L’Épreuve du savoir. Propositions pour une écologie du diagnostic, 2015 – German edition 2018 (soon also available in English) and Selbstexperimente. Die Suche nach der Innenperspektive und ihre epistemologischen Folgen, 2011.


November 3, 2018
by Emily Nicholls

Heart Beats: Biological Data and Feminist Sciences



Nassim JafariNaimi and Anne Pollock

22 November 2018 16.30 – 18.30 

Goldsmiths RHB 304a



This paper presents the design of a series of experimental data visualizations aimed at exploration of embodied interactions and physiological data. More specifically, we present three visualizations. The first one, which will be demonstrated during the event, illustrates physiological interaction with emotionally engaging material. The second one explores the experience of time by centring the rate of heartbeats. The third one foregrounds the impact of the environment on physiology and its role in creating a kind of embodied social connection. Together, these three visualizations open up space for new problem formulations and design explorations in and around the themes of data and embodiment by collapsing classic binaries such as matter/meaning, subjectivity/objectivity, and self/other. As such, they challenge the dominant paradigm of science in which bodies are framed as sites for extracting data. Our visualizations are an occasion for thinking about bodies as active participants in “making” data, with potential for producing alternate hypotheses and new sciences that are distinctly feminist.



Nassim JafariNaimi is an Assistant Professor of Digital Media in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech. Her research interest is in the ethical and political dimensions of design and technology, especially as related to questions of democracy and justice. Her  interdisciplinary research integrates theoretically-driven humanistic scholarship and design-based inquiry. That is, she both writes traditional scholarly papers and make digital artifacts that illustrate how humanistic values may be cultivated to produce radically different artifacts and infrastructures.

Anne Pollock is a Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London. Her research is rooted in science and technology studies, and focuses on biomedicine and culture, theories of race and gender, and science and social justice. She is the author of Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference (Duke 2012), and Synthesizing Hope: Matter, Knowledge and Place in South African Drug Discovery (forthcoming Chicago 2019).

October 31, 2018
by CISP Administrator

Prototyping the Idiotic City. From Frictionless to Recalcitrant Cities

















A conference report

Mike Michael, Gyorgyi Galik, Jennifer Gabrys, Alison Powell, Noortje Marres, Uriel Fogué, and Ola Söderström

This post was co-authored by the organisers Martin Tironi, Liam Healy, Fabian Namberger and Michael Guggenheim


The Prototyping the Idiotic City workshop was held June 7, 2018. Organized by the Centre of Invention and Social Process and Fondecyt Grant No. 1180062, the interdisciplinary event was designed to bring together researchers and practitioners to discuss the possibilities offered by the concept of the idiot (Deleuze and Guattari, 2014; Stengers, 2005) in relation to the emergence of the idea of the Smart City and its datafication dynamics. In dialogue with prior works that have approached the figure of the idiot to think about the city and participation (Michael, 2012; Gabrys, 2016; Farias, 2017) the conference sought to open up a space for discussion of other narratives of the city, smartness, experimentation and participation that can be prototyped through the notion of the idiot.

In order to be able to work with the “murmur of the idiot” and the idea of prototyping, the conference featured an experimental format. Each of the seven practitioners offered opening remarks to start the discussion, followed by a second presenter supposed to problematize or “make idiotic” those ideas. After each session, there was time for public discussion of, and collective reflection on the issue.

The conference began with an introduction by Martín Tironi, who emphasized the importance of reflecting on the implications of living in increasingly quantified and measured cities. Tironi stated that “one way to escape from the narrative of frictionless and programmable cities consists of anticipating opportunities to resist universal consensuses, recognizing the complexity, heterogeneity and the unthought of the urban space. He further suggested that the conference should not seek to move from an intelligent/efficient city to a dumb/inefficient one or propose another big paradigm of “cityism”. Rather, he said, this is an invitation to consider the generative capacity of recalcitrant situations to unfold and re-think urban life, providing a political voice in situations that ‘exceed’ the agenda of the Smart City. Tironi referred to practices, events and emotions that escape digital capitalization and the idea of optimization. Thinking through “the murmur of the idiot” forces us to pay attention to the resistances of the city, and to stop thinking that experts (urban planners, architects, engineers, sociologists, etc.) are the only ones authorized to define the criteria of intelligence of the city. The political radicality of the Idiot consists of making visible the conditions necessary to think through and deal with disruptive situations, creating a base on which issues, tensions and differences in urban space can begin to emerge. In this sense, prototyping the idiotic city is a way of taking seriously the value of the frictions that populate urban life, moving from a ‘problem solving’ logic towards one of problem making. If we use the word prototyping, it is precisely to emphasize the unfinished nature and constant becoming of the city, in which the urban is not only made of solutions, but of problems and tensions as well. The protocols and expectations of the Smart City are located in multiple events, communities and recalcitrant practices that must be recognized.

In the first session, which featured Mike Michael and Gyorgyi Galik, Michael began by recalling the meaning and significance of the figure of the Idiot and invited the public to situate the idiotic beyond the human figure by addressing the idiotic in material semiotic orderings. He suggested the importance of considering the idiotic as a disruptive encounter that goes beyond the verb. Based on this problematization, Michael proposed exploring the multiple overflows, orderings and disorderings offered by London’s fatberg, trying to suggest the idiotic resource that this reality contains.

According to Michael, London’s fatberg can be understood as one of the unexpected ways in which the Smart City can generate unexpected situations. From here, Michael showed the multiple genres that the fatberg has for enacting and the multiplicity of orders that it deploys. Fatberg is lived and represented by a proliferation of associations and practices in which administrative and corporeal, scientific and infrastructural, entertaining and affective, historical and political dimensions are articulated. This ontological diversity, which London’s fatberg adopts, suggests a form of the cacophonic idiot, that is, the idiotic resists uniformity or to be defined in one moment because it always suggests innumerable excesses that demand that we slow down what we are doing (in this case with the refuse of the city).

In her presentation, Gyorgyi Galik began by clarifying that she is seeking to develop a critical and constructive position on the Smart City using the idea that technological tools can activate smarter and more collaborative citizens. For her, there are no Smart Cities, only intelligent cities, where intelligence indicates citizen empowerment. From there, she presented her project on air pollution and discussed how the work of making pollution visible is a way to generate more awareness of its negative effects. The political nature of making pollution data visible forces one to go beyond the idea that data do not speak for themselves and to seek out narratives and designs that generate greater awareness. It is not enough to introduce more data collection sensors and technologies. Instead, it is necessary to experiment with how design (visualization, interfaces, etc.) can generate greater involvement in the problems of the city.

Jennifer Gabrys’ comments on Gyorgyi’s presentation focused on questions regarding the criteria and modes that citizens have for participating in the Intelligent City and the disruptive and political role that the idiotic can play in this technological regime that seeks to calculate everything. The idiot forces us to think about what is good in the expansion of technologies in the city. If the Smart City tries to address people as data creators, what new forms of citizenship or forms of computation can be developed? Gabrys referenced Saskia Sassen’s invitation to urbanize technologies. How does the city itself write back?

In her presentation, Gabrys on the other hand talked about one of the chapters from her book Program Earth, in which she analyzes forms of involvement in DIY projects and participatory urbanism, which are beginning to form part of Smart City proposals. Gabrys emphasized that modes of participation are loaded with implicit normative concepts regarding how the “smart” citizen should behave, which brought her to two fundamental questions: What types of urban participation do digital platforms enable? And how are urban problems broken down to become computational tasks? In that context, it is interesting to think about the figure of the idiot and analyse how the programming that these projects try to produce always experiences disruptions, moments in which the political emerges in an unforeseen way. The resistance that the idiot proposes “is not a matter of searching after what is true or false, but rather a way of attempting to reroute what counts as important.” In her analysis of FixMyStreet, an app that allows citizens to indicate problems with litter, potholes etc. on a map, Gabrys analyzed how the idiotic emerges from participatory processes, challenging the programming sought by this platform and how it generates disturbing moments. Like many similar platforms, FixMyStreet is designed to hold cities accountable through citizen participation in problem-solving. Citizens thus become sensors, “readers” and “writers” of their city, gathering and generating data. However, Gabrys shows the discontinuities and difficulties of this participatory system to produce real changes. In this context, the figure of the idiot asks if all problems can receive a technical solution and, more fundamentally, what type of vision of the city and the citizen these projects are proposing.

Echoing Gabrys’ arguments on the forms of exclusion that these digital platforms generate, Alison Powell explored the unknowable dimensions of the city in her presentation. For Powell, the strongest part of the massification of digital technologies lies not in an increase in optimization and the opportunity to turn events in the city into data, but in how sensing technologies introduce into the technological imagination the possibility of sensing, knowing and living with others. The constant circulation of data creates new ‘material surfaces’ that flow and establish the possibility of expanded forms of empathy and cooperation. She illustrated this renewed opportunity to “pay attention” to new entities through digital sensors with a few examples. Powell referred to Spitalfields City Farm and analyzed how sensing technologies produce data of plant growth to augment the stories that people tell. The sensors allow plants to ‘talk’ and to get across plant information to food-growers and garden visitors.

In her commentary, Noortje Marres invited the audience to think about the figure of the idiot as the impossibility of generating harmonious encounters among various actors. The idiot’s disruptive capacity forces us to slow down and to seriously consider what the common world is. The imaginary provided by the Smart City of an entirely interconnected, shared future that is acceptable to all comes up against the idiot, who forces us to remember the incommensurability of goals as a quality and to recall that we have to deal with biases rather than trying to eliminate them. Stenger’s idiot is a way of moving away from commensurability.

Marres’s own presentation focused on street testing with self-driving cars and the interpretative and ethical challenges involved with experimenting with these technologies in urban space. Marres explored the scopes and limits of these open air experiences and, more specifically, how these street tests distribute and manage the intelligence of the multiple entities involved. What sorts of skills of users, the environment and technologies are required to carry out these experiments? What aspects are made visible in these experiments and which are left in the shadows? How do these social prototypes manage to make tangible and incorporate the complexity produced by these experiments?

Marres analyzed various approaches to representing street tests. By comparing the videos of the company hired to conduct the tests and videos made by amateurs, she showed how both create recordings and identified issues that must be sociologically interpreted in both cases. Far from being a clear-cut issue, the introduction of self-driving cars in urban environments opens up a set of questions and uncertainties that must be tested. The question is how to engage with the complexity of these experiments without falling into critical distancing or complacency regarding the benefits of these technologies. Marres cautioned against endorsing a sort of teleology of these technological projects and suggested that we should instead seek out ways to engage with other (idiotic?) ways of monitoring these tests, recognizing what these experiences do to the city. The intention is not to produce totalizing representations of the experiments (as if one could have direct access to a reality) but instead to produce more sensitive ways of eliciting the complexities, concerns and needs of cities and the people who live in them.

Uriel Fogué continued as well as challenged Marres’s elaboration along the tripartite urban sites of the laboratory, the fake city as well as the city itself. Seen as laboratories for the staging, representation and anticipation of newly automated technologies, urban car test centres, Fogué contended, increasingly assume the role of representation devices, comparable to theaters and film stages. In the crash test laboratory everyday life is being staged and simulated, while future security rules and safety regulations are being put into motion, giving rise, in Fogué’s words, to an “economy of catastrophy”. The fake city drags such simulation processes even deeper into the urban fabric of everyday life, as multinational corporations establish real-life street “models” of simulated urban life, in order to test their new products. Examples included Uber’s fake city in Pittsburgh as well as K-city in Korea and M-City in Michigan: Large scale urban theatres in which a one second crash test takes no less than 10 days of preparation. Speculating upon the extent to which the sites of the laboratory and the fake city increasingly inform ways of “real” urban everyday life and opening up ethical questions surrounding self-driving cars and similar devices of “smart urbanism”, Fogué concluded his response.

At the core of Fogué’s presentation, was the “lazy reading club”. Partly artistic intervention, partly architectural experiment, the lazy reading club brought together participants under the roof of one of Brussel’s finest castles, ready to embark on a two-day exploration of collective laziness. Hosted within an atmospheric architecture that included a sleeping rooms and reading rooms., p Passages from, inter alia, the Bible, Lafargue’s “Right to idleness” were read out loud to contribute to the slow, but full immersion into a mood of “cushioned comfort”. Exploring the architectural ingredients, roles and perhaps also contradictions of such a process, Fogué foregrounded crucial concepts such as those of the “boundary”, the “black box”, “hosts” and “conductors”.

Ola Söderström’s response continued Fogué’s train of thought through three quick examples, drawing the lazy reading club even closer and in stark contrast to the hectic business cycles of the Smart City. Söderstrom evoked both Lafargue’s Right to idleness and Sophie Calle’s 1979 photographic artwork “Les dormeurs” (The sleepers) as viable artistic antidotes to the toxic life and work rhythms of the Smart City, not least reflected, thirdly, in Jonathan Crary’s book-length intervention “24/7. Late capitalism and the ends of sleep”.

In a similar vein, Söderström presented on his new research that approaches and unsettles current forms of urban life through the unlikely but even more so thought-provoking “method” of a “schizo-analysis of the smart city”. Reflecting upon early criticism of schizo-analysis, Söderström gave glimpses into his ongoing research project. Accompanying persons diagnosed with schizophrenia in their walks through the city both with video cameras and microphones, such “sensory mapping”, a schizo-analytic approach is supposed to contribute to a better understanding of the Smart City and its sensory life worlds. How, such was the guiding question in his presentation, would a holistic sensory sociology of the smart city look like? Marking, at the very same time, a return to the urban “vitalist research” by 20th-century critics such as Simmel and Kracauer, schizophrenic analysis cuts through the supposedly seamless surfaces of the Smart City and refracts its one-dimensional quality of appearance.

Finally closing the circle of presentations during the afternoon, Mike Michael’s response took up Söderström’s “prototype” by stressing yet three more landmark observations vis-à-vis the Smart City. First, the sheer bombardment of its inhabitants by undisrupted sensory stimuli of any kind, leading to a heightened and, at times, deeply disorienting digital “urban sensorium”. Second, the exploration of and possible complementary role of “other Others” beyond the “mere” schizophrenic, who could possibly contribute to a critical dismantling of the Smart City in similarly insightful ways. And, third, invoking Raymond Williams’s landmark study “The city and the countryside”, the possible extension – both in its geographic and phenomenological dimensions – of the Smart City beyond the city itself.

On behalf of the organizers, Fabian Namberger and Liam Healy thanked both the presenters and audience for their participation, rounding up the event through a brief reflection on the necessity of cracking the ideological shell of the Smart City. Taking the concept of prototyping seriously, we suggest treating the days conversation as a prototype. And this invites the question of what comes next. If the idiot is a character who slows down the rest of the bunch, what other characters might we employ and think with?


(image credit: Infrogmation of New Orleans. Source: