The heart of the Experimentality programme has been a series of interdisciplinary workshops, at which scholars and practitioners from diverse fields explored different aspects of experimentality. After a launch workshop at which participants established the themes and questions which informed the rest of the programme, each subsequent workshop focused on a particular problematic relating to experimentation.

Workshop 1: The Experimental Condition: Programme Launch

15 October, 2009 - 16 October, 2009, Institute for Advanced Studies, Lancaster University
  • What is distinctive about ‘the experimental’ as a way of knowing and acting?
  • To what extent is experimentation a perennial aspect of human culture and being-in-the-world?
  • How and why did the experiment come to play such a key role in the new world-picture ushered in by the scientific revolution?
  • How might a comparison of experimental practice in the arts and the sciences illuminate the possibility of alternative modernities – ones which involve different relationships between truth, power and freedom?
  • To what extent is a kind of continuous experimentality becoming the primary operation of power in the modern world – and how does this affect the possibility of social critique?
  • Can we envisage forms of collective experimentation that might distribute the power to shape the future more justly?

Such questions are amongst those that were explored at the workshop held to open the Experimentality research programme. Over two days, speakers from a range of disciplines debated the changing role of experimentation in human society, using examples drawn from domains including experimental science, modern art, warfare, capitalism and development. 

Workshop 2: Experiment as Event in the Arts and Sciences

19 November, 2009 - 20 November, 2009, Institute for Advanced Studies, Lancaster University

In this workshop we focused on experimental practice in the arts and sciences. Hans-Jorg Rheinberger has described experimental systems as operating with a logic of ‘differential reproduction’, in that they are systems for organising the interrogation of the world in a way that is always open to the generation of surprise and novelty. In the workshop we explored different ways in which this logic operates in the sciences and in different forms of art. Our aim was to find both contrasts and continuities between their practices - and thus to further illuminate the fundamentally evental characteristic of the experimental.

Workshop 3: Experimental Subjects

14 January, 2010 - 15 January, 2010, Institute for Advanced Studies, Lancaster University

Participants in this workshop explored the different kinds of subjectivity and relations of power produced by different forms of experimentality. Themes included:

  • ‘experimental subjects’, such as subjects of clinical trials or of behaviourist-inspired public policy interventions;
  • the self as the site of self-experimentation in popular culture, alternative spirituality, performance art, and human resource discourses
  • the experimenter as a form of subjectivity in science, technology, and finance capital.

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.

Workshop 5: Experimentality in Nature: Evolution, Novelty, Reflexivity

25 March, 2010 - 26 March, 2010, Institute for Advanced Studies, Lancaster University

This workshop brought together theoretical biologists, anthropologists, archaeologists and historians of art and of science to explore how ideas of experimentality can be used to understand the emergence of radical novelty in the natural world and in human culture. Participants explored contemporary theories of evolution which go beyond a conventional neo-Darwinian emphasis on mutation and natural selection, such as evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo), symbiogenesis, and animal traditions, debated attempts to bridge understandings of biological and of cultural evolution, and explored the aporias surrounding human origins.  Building upon discussions about such explorations’ wider relevance, the workshop also explored something of the bearing, which recent approaches to transitions under far from equilibrium conditions across physical, organic and cultural realms may have upon “needs of a world in which simplicity is a memory of a bygone age" (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1997).

The City Experiment at FutureEverything

13 May, 2010 - 14 May, 2010, Manchester - Contact Theatre and other venues
  • How should we understand the contemporary city and its role in shaping the future?
  • How do the scale, density, heterogeneity and connectedness of cities accelerate social and technical experimentation and the production of new hybrid forms?
  • How are cities used as experimental spaces by public and private institutions?
  • How are cities likely to evolve under the demographic, economic, technological and environmental pressures of the 21st century?
  • How can experimental interventions in the arts and social sciences help to make visible the hidden patterns of city life, and possible future trajectories?
  • How might a greater appreciation of the intrinsic experimentality of urban culture enable new and more open-ended possibilities for social life?

The City Experiment explored the contemporary city as a distinctive social and material form which accelerates cultural and technical experimentation and hybridisation. In conference sessions, public debates, workshops and art events during the 2010 FutureEverything festival, we explored the ways which the city itself can be made more experimental, how art can be used to intervene in urban spaces, altering the implicit rules governing social interactions and provoking reflection and new creative possibilities for social life. Manchester was used as an example, but we also drew upon other city experiences globally.