Knitting unruly kinships through design, a world-making assemblage

Burak Taşdizen
EASST Review Volume 39(2) 2020

De-centering the human is vital in order to recognize that the human is never an isolated, individual entity, as imagined in mainstream design practice (Forlano, 2017), but a material body. A body as any material, embedded within the material currents of our lifeworld (Ingold, 2007, 2010), including socio-technical systems, or the natural environment. Moving into the realm of materials requires also a critical distance to the words of design and making both of which denote certain intentional undertones such as a mental plan on part of the practitioner (Keller, 2001) subscribing to hylomorphic model of creation (Ingold, 2010). Far from shaping matter that is inert, practitioners are “itinerants” (Guattari & Deleuze, 2000) and “wanderers, wayfarers, whose skill lies in their ability to find the grain of the world’s becoming and to follow its course while bending it to their evolving purpose.” (Ingold, 2010, p. 92). In that sense, instead of merely being designed or being made in a passive state, materials grow (Ingold, 2007), resist (Şahinol & Taşdizen, 2020) and become elements in assemblages in naturecultures, linking and unlinking (Taşdizen, 2020a, 2020b). 

An assemblage is ever-becoming and never stable. It is a constellation of heterogeneous elements, both assembled and assembling (Deleuze & Guattari, 2000), meaning, each element is being shaped by the context it is placed (or places itself) in, but also shapes that very context it is a part of (Beaubois, 2015). Following this, I introduce the concept of design as assemblage, in which any practitioner (designer and user) is only a moment in the life trajectory of creation process, and not the focus, in an attempt to challenge approaches that have prevailed mainstream account of design writings (Julier, 2000). In that sense, design as assemblage provides a leap through which to escape the long-standing and most often unquestioned design matrix of the designer and his regimes of function for the imagined needs of a priori human user. By moving away from the abled, European, white, male human designer/user paradigm that is prevalent in conventional Ergonomics, design as assemblage takes pride in its materiality, and the affordances that unfold (Gibson, 1977), and become affordance assemblages (Taşdizen, 2020a). Design as assemblage shuns away from crafting a specific audience or a user group, and it does not insist on a formulated vision in the form of a use scenario, determining each and every possible script. It is born out of and gives further birth to function regimes (Beaubois, 2015) yet does not target for it is unfinished, open, and entangled in the multiplicity of material flows, inviting “queer uses” (Ahmed, 2019), “non-compliant knowing-making” (Hamraie & Fritsch, 2019) and knitting unruly kinships in ways unfamiliar to a trained eye. The human, then, is not the sole user, but just another user whose agenda is usually just louder. When leaving the terrains of the human for crip, multispecies, citizen worldings, design as assemblage casts itself adrift into the unknown, the multiple, the unanticipated, the whatever-you-make-of-it, the “ocean of materials” (Ingold, 2007), and it never stays still. It is vulnerable against the material currents and is willing to shape and be shaped whatever comes its way. An ecological lens at the co-shaping of materials not only de-centers the human as the only actor, but also recognizes the agency of other humans and non-humans within socio-bio-technical entanglements (Şahinol, 2016). Such an approach helps surface both the resilience and obstinacy but also the emancipatory plasticity of the material in-question, moving consciously away from hylomorphic accounts and the notions of materials as passive matter (Ingold, 2010) which have downplayed their significance for decades resulting in anthropocentric frameworks. Similar to the sand slipping through the fingers while some of it sticks and remains, design as assemblage not only shifts the minute if one were to approach, albeit temporarily, but one would then become an element oneself, a participant who has shaped and is shaped. Design as assemblage is unfinished and messy, emergent and ever-changing. Unruly kinships, then, occur first and foremost through unconventional yet affording assemblages of materials of various histories and of diverse non/human qualities, which are brought together by other materials such as non/human bodies or the environment.

 

Figure 1. A re-purposed yoghurt packaging that accommodates dry cat food and serves as a food container for the street animal. The food container is placed in the middle of two columns, each of which is made with three pavement stones. The columns are covered with a kitchen tray to prevent weather conditions, such as rain, spoiling the food. On top of the tray, another pavement stone is placed utilizing its weight to capture balance in the design. The entire assemblage resides on a corner pavement behind three internet and telephone infrastructure boxes placed in an L-shaped layout, creating a safe space for the street animal and its food. Photograph: Burak Taşdizen, 2019, Istanbul.

 

The emphasis on the body is significant as it reorients the gaze on bodily skills rather than professional titles. These kinships, then, help to dissolve the established, the most visible and the professional in design research and practice. It rejects knowledge hierarchies and the marginalization of novel making practices, and is attuned to grassroots imaginaries, queer uses, knowledge ecologies, skilled practices and alternative future-makings. Thus, they include grassroots citizen initiatives regarding the care for nonhuman animals (Figure 1) (Taşdizen, 2020a, 2020b), for they challenge and complexify the conventional definition of the user/designer of the city by including citizen as the designer, and an animal as both the designer and the user. The citizen or the animal as the designer is a radical step moving away from notions of regulated participation towards more contested territories in which multivocality is abound as the animal in-question shapes design directions (Westerlaken, 2020). In a similar vein, the Internet, with its prolific tools such as the Wix.com, which provides templates for non-designers to design websites, enables anyone with access to Internet to participate in shaping its landscape and eliminates the necessity of “expert knowledge” (Owens, 2020). Design as assemblage muddles boundary work efforts through its rejection of the hierarchization and dichotomy of professional vs amateur, as there are no separate designers and users but rather designer_users, IKEA hackers, Zoom (co)hosts who are also participants. 

Design as assemblage is zoe-centered (Braidotti, 2019) instead of human-centered. It is a multispecies knitting community, an orchestra of skilled bodies and materials, a spectrum of non/professionality. It is an arrhythmic rainbow spinner of companion species, amateurs, crips, urban infrastructures and wastelands, all of whom amalgamate and become with, only to stop and move in separate directions. It is the emergent Zoom culture wherein academics with Internet connection together with endless universe of PDFs, PowerPoints and YouTube tutorials lead to international conferences. It is a swarm of Hornet users and the hashtag technology finding a crack against recurring pride bans to flourish into online publics, contested spaces for (un)learning masculinities (Taşdizen, 2020c). It is the hand, the needle, and the working yarn going into flow, which is interrupted by yet another knitting pattern (Taşdizen, 2017). It is arrhythmic but constant, temporary yet abundant, repetitive yet resilient. It is everything but professional, rejecting the meta-narrative of creativity that has colonized design practice, although it could be poetically creative and beautifully strange (Fuad-Luke, 2013). It is a queer teacher encouraging disruptive uses to dismantle the existing in order to open up spaces for those bodies that have been historically excluded and marginalized (Ahmed, 2019). It is not only world-making, but also world-dismantling (Hamraie & Fritsch, 2019). Design as assemblage, in a repeating yet resilient manner, knits unruly kinships across bodies of different species, of different abilities, of different categories of scholarly ordering. It does not cast off, so what has been (in)scripted further unravels and entangles…

 

 

References 

Ahmed, S. (2019). What’s the Use?: On the Uses of Use. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Beaubois, V. (2015). Design, Assemblage and Functionality. In B. Marenko & J. Brassett (Ed.) Deleuze and Design (pp. 173-190). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 

Braidotti, R. (2019). A Theoretical Framework for the Critical Posthumanities. Theory, Culture & Society, 36(6), 31-61. 

Forlano, L. (2017). Posthumanism and Design. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 3(1), 16-29. 

Fuad-Luke, A. (2013). Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World. London and Sterling, Virginia: Earthscan.

Gibson, J. J. (1977). The Theory of Affordances. In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (Ed.) Perceiving, Acting and Knowing: Toward an Ecological Psychology (pp. 67-82). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Guattari, F., & Deleuze, G. (2000). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Athlone Press London.

Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Durham and London: Duke University Press. 

Hamraie, A., & Fritsch, K. (2019). Crip Technoscience Manifesto. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, 5(1), 1-33.

Ingold, T. (2007). Materials Against Materiality. Archaeological Dialogues, 14(1), 1-16. 

Ingold, T. (2010). The Textility of Making. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34(1), 91-102. 

Julier, G. (2000). The Culture of Design. London: Sage.

Keller, C. M. (2001). Thought and Production: Insights of the Practitioner. In M. B. Schiffer (Ed.) Anthropological Perspectives on Technology (pp. 33-45). Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press.

Owens, S. (2020). Making and Unmaking Expert Knowledge in Design. Paper presented at the EASST + 4S Joint Conference: Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and Agency of STS in Emerging Worlds, Online. 

Şahinol, M. (2016). Das techno-zerebrale Subjekt: Zur Symbiose von Mensch und Maschine in den Neurowissenschaften. Bielefeld: transcript-Verlag.

Şahinol, M., & Taşdizen, B. (2020). Everyday Cyborgs: Men with Implanted/Transplanted Hair and its Eigensinn. Paper presented at the EASST + 4S Joint Conference: Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and Agency of STS in Emerging Worlds, Online.

Taşdizen, B. (2017). Politics of the Knitting Pattern: Ethnography of Knitting Practice and a Women’s Knitting Community. (Master’s Thesis). Middle East Technical University, Retrieved from http://etd.lib.metu.edu.tr/upload/12621423/index.pdf.  

Taşdizen, B. (2020a). Dis/media Assemblages Surrounding the Care for Street Cats of Istanbul. Paper presented at the EASST + 4S Joint Conference: Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and Agency of STS in Emerging Worlds, Online. 

Taşdizen, B. (2020b). İnsanın Dışında, Tasarımın Ötesinde: Sokak Kedileri, Geçici Birleştirmeler ve Tasarım Aktivizmi [Other Than Human, Beyond Design: Street Cats, Temporary Assemblages and Design Activism]. In A. Turanlı, M. Şahinol, & A. Aydınoğlu (Eds.), Türkiye’de STS: Bilim ve Teknoloji Çalışmalarına Giriş. Istanbul: İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesi.

Taşdizen, B. (2020c). #ÖneÇıkarılanProfil’ler, #SağlamTipler ve Diğerleri: Hornet’in Anlık Bir Fotoğrafı [#FeaturedGuys, #SağlamTipler, and Others: A Snapshot of Hornet]. Beyond Istanbul (Spatial Justice and Gender), eds. C. Özbay & Z. G. Göker, in publication process.

Westerlaken, M. (2020). Telling Multispecies Worlds: Traces of a Counter-Concept to Speciesism. Paper presented at the EASST + 4S Joint Conference: Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and Agency of STS in Emerging Worlds, Online. 

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