Workshop 4: Stuart Walker, ‘Experimental Objects – propositional designs for sustainable futures’

Stuart Walker (ImaginationLancaster, Lancaster University) opened his presentation by stating that he is interested in looking inside and re-conceptualizing the nature of our material culture in order to create more sustainable and meaningful (not just disposable, exploitative and damaging) approaches. Walker explained that propositional design is concerned with exploring the nature and aesthetics of functional objects in relation to sustainability and understandings of substantive meaning, where particular function is not a primary concern. He claimed that his take on sustainability orientates around economic viability, environmental care and social responsibility. Walker argued that as 90% of plastics and 90% electronics go to landfill, environmental issues of resource use, energy use, pollution and waste, as well as social issues of social inequity, exploitative labour practices and effects of use (value, meaning etc) are at the forefront of his interest as a designer. He also emphasised that approaching this topic through a historical perspective of pre-industrial and industrial stages, sustainable future is difficult to conceptualize.

Workshop 4: Gail Davies, ‘Moving mice: Managing emergence in experimental systems‘

Gail Davies (Department of Geography, UCL) opened her presentation stating that her paper is about deviants, mutants, virgins and rogues. Davies emphasised, however, that these are not her terms, but are used by her respondents to talk about the animals in their care. She explained that these are people managing the range of genetically altered mice used in contemporary biomedical research. Further, Davies argued that the terms take us back to the monstrous bodily overspills of early taxonomy. However, she pointed out that the context here is twenty-first century biology. Therefore, Davies proposed that these terms emerge as animal caretakers and scientists seek to understand the challenge that spontaneous mutations in laboratory mice present to their use as experimental objects.  Unexpected happenings in the mouse house either herald a useful new strain of research animal, or they are culled. Gail Davies stated that she is interested in where and when these different outcomes occur – the difference difference makes as it were.  Being a geographer, she read this through the spatiality of these experimental forms, using site as the basis from which to explore whether these moments of biological emergence are able to articulate new potential, or remain excessive to the demands of control in experimental systems.   

Workshop 4: Lucy Suchman, 'Immeasurable Results'

Lucy Suchman (Centre for Science Studies/Sociology, Lancaster University) opened her presentation arguing that the experiment is one of those figures through which the natural sciences have stamped a large footprint upon our collective imaginary. Therefore, she proposed that she wants to approach the trope of ‘experimentality’ cautiously.  At the same time, having spent the first twenty years of  her working life in an organisation that identified itself as a technology research and development laboratory, its members (including Suchman) as scientists, and its objects as experimental, she is fascinated by the resonances through which such identifications are made.  Hence, Suchman argued that the challenge in thinking about the research and development laboratory through the trope of experimentality is one that attends any form of analogical thinking; that is, to be attentive to generative points of metaphorical and figurative connection, while avoiding too easy elision of differences that matter. 

Workshop 3: Alan Collins, ‘Subjects in the early history of experimental psychology’

Alan Collins (Psychology, Lancaster University) introduced himself as a historian of psychology and opened his talk with apologies for the lack of originality of his paper, stating that familiarity is his main fear. Collins continued by describing the emergence of the experiments on human consciousness, both in the late 19th century Germany and in the USA. He explained that experiment is a badge of modernity and ‘constructing the subject’ (Danziger, 1990) is a common method in psychology.

Workshop 1 - Christina Toren, 'Ethnography as ontological experiment'


Christina Toren (Anthropology, University of St. Andrews) opened her presentation by explaining that as a form of experiment, ethnography demands a great deal of us because, properly done, it leads us inexorably to questioning our fundamental understandings of the world and human beings and thus to a re-thinking of the analytical categories that inform the human sciences.

Experimentality - life and magic!

The Annual Research Programme defines the main topics of debate that unfold in the Lancaster University hub of inter- and post-disciplinary, intra- and inter-institutional encounters, the Institute for Advanced Studies. This year's programme, 2009-2010, is called Experimentality and is billed in this way as "a unique, open-ended conversation about the power of experimentality", beginning with a launch on October 14-15:

"Experimentality is a year-long collaborative exploration of ideas and practices of experimentation in science and technology, the arts, commerce, politics, popular culture, everyday life, and the natural world.

Over the course of the academic year, the programme will run a range of workshops and arts events, culminating in an international conference, The Experimental Society, on 7-9 July 2010."

In this blog I will collect some anecdotes and ideas, stories and viewpoints, perhaps even some analysis and maybe a rant or two, hopefully food for thought, about the kind of experimentality that surrounds the practices of magic healing in the Amazon with the use of what the shamans call teacher or power plants. These are special, sacred plants that facilitate the access to intuitive knowledge about the world, particularly in the context of patients with problems - or for prophylactic purposes or to "simply" develop spiritually. It will mainly focus on the use of ayahuasca, which will be grounded in a politics of social movements and presented from the perspective of autonomous development, as opposed to the predominant Euro-American developmentalism perspective, which is centred upon ideas and politics of private property, industrialisation, teleological investments in high technology, as fixes.

Coming to terms with shamanic experimentality is a deeply political matter. The destruction of the forest in which the healer learns her skills from the wild of the plants threatens the sustainability of the healers' practices: their schools are burning and being demolished.

I will take some material from the Colonos - Amazonia por la Vida blog, which has a diverse collection of "stories (and rants), reflections, photos, analysis and maybe even some good ideas - often relevant for the Amazon or for life in general".

Looking forward to a year of experimentality and hopefully some magic! :)

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