Workshop 4: Experimental Objects


18 February, 2010 - 19 February, 2010


Storey Creative Industries Centre, Lancaster


This workshop was organised in collaboration with the Storey Gallery, Lancaster, and the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM), University of Manchester). The workshop brought together historians of science, anthropologists of technology and devices, and designers to explore entities whose mode of existence is in various ways caught up with the experimental, in conjunction with a specially commissioned exhibition of art works on the same theme.

Download Programme for Workshop 4

Thursday 18 February 2010

13.15 – 13.30 Introduction

Bronislaw Szerszynski and Monika Buscher (Sociology, Lancaster University) – Introducing the Experimentality programme

13.30 – 15.15

John Pickstone (Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, The University of Manchester) ‘Deconstructions and new constructions in science and in art: some experiments in historiography’

Lucy Suchman (Sociology, Lancaster University) ‘Immeasurable Results’

16.00 – 17.00

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (Tinker.It, London) ‘Build for victory, what the recession means for diy, hardware hacking and physical computing’

Stuart Walker (Imagination, Lancaster University) ‘Experimental Objects: propositional designs for sustainable futures’

Friday 19 February

Bronislaw Szerszynski - Introduction to second day

09.30 – 11.00

Ilana Lowy (Centre de Recherche Medicine, Science Santé et Societé (CERMES), CNRS, Paris) ‘Designer babies: embryos and fetuses as experimental objects’

Bruno Strasser (Department of History, Yale University, New Haven, USA) ‘Collecting Experiments: The Art of Natural History and the Pursuit of Objectivity’

Gail Davies (Geography, University College London) ‘Moving mice: managing emergence in experimental systems’

11.30 – 12.30


14.00 – 15.00

Nina Wakeford (Goldsmiths College, University of London)

Daria Loi (Intel Corporation, USA) ‘Of Playful Triggers and suitcases: field tales on the joys and dangers of experimental practice’

15.00 – 15.30


15.45 – 17.00

Round table discussion – ‘What next?’


Subject to experimenters’ manipulations, objects can seem to be exposed to human curiosity and imagination; controlled through experimental systems (Rheinberger 1997) and design (Latour 2008). But the purpose in both contexts is often to ‘tickle’ objects, to make matter ‘speak’ (Latour 2004). Experiments can reveal that, far from being mere things ‘out there’, indifferent to human attention until addressed, neatly bounded, predictable and knowable, objects are secretly lively, elusive, recalcitrant, responsive and changeable (Barad 2007). These aspects become palpable in different forms of experimental engagement, from child’s play to art, design and science (Bourriaud 2002, Suchman 1987, 2002, Thackara 1988, Cross 2006, Hacking 1983, Pickstone 2000, Galison 1987). Different experimental forms of engagement give different opportunities, allowing objects to object through sound, friction, traces. Objects lead social lives (Appadurai 1986) and acquire cultural biographies (Lash and Lury 2007); they are designed and appropriated in deliberate and unplanned, sometimes runaway, experiments (Ehn 2008, Suchman 2002) and they invite people to experiment with new ways of registering and being in the world (Latour 2004).

This interdisciplinary workshop was  the fourth workshop of the Experimentality programme, and was organised by the Institute for Advanced Studies, Lancaster University, in collaboration with the Storey Gallery, Lancaster, and the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester. We explored object-becoming performed in and through experimentation in science and design. We observed and sought to promote the emergence of new forms of ‘experimentality’ in contemporary societies. By this we mean an increased awareness of ‘heterogenesis’ (Latour 1996, Dillon 2008) and an accompanying development of new forms of engagement with complex challenges and opportunities posed by contemporary science, technology, design and everyday innovation (Urry 2000, Thrift 2008). Moves towards ‘collective experimentation’ (Wynne et al 2007), that is, moves towards involving the public in the production and evaluation of science and technology and design, not just its application or implementation, depend on (a commitment to) mutually instructive learning (Suchman 2002), the evolution of a sense of entitlement, capability and responsibility for such public engagement.

In interaction with a new exhibition at the Storey Gallery, ‘What happens if ...’ (30 January – 3 April 2010), this workshop gathered an interdisciplinary group of designers and historians and sociologists of science to explore, formulate, shape and debate the possibilities and dangers of experimental objects.

Storey Creative Industries Centre map and directions