Travis Wall

(Sometimes Graphic) Designer. Working on a PhD: Design Thinking +/= Heterogeneous Engineering. General flâneur. Chronic knowledge gatherer.

Location: Sydney, Australia

Bruno Latour The Pasteurization of France 1988

To speak of “revolution” is difficult enough in politics, but it is impossible in such a subject. The temporal framework itself is useless. What makes the history of the sciences — so respectable elsewhere — usually disappointing is that it sets out from time in order to explain the agents and their movements, whereas the temporal framework merely registers after the event the victory of certain agents. If we really wanted to explain history, we would have to accept the lesson that the actors themselves give us. Just as they made their societies, they also made their own history. The actors periodize with all their might. They give themselves periods, abolish them, and alter them, redistributing responsibilities, naming the “reactionaries,” the “moderns,” the avant-garde,” the “forerunners,” just like a historian— no better, no worse. We ought to ask history to display the same humility that we have asked sociology to do. Just as we asked sociology to abandon its “social groups” and its “interests” and to allow the actors to define themselves, we ought to ask history to abandon its “periods,” its “high points,” its “development,” and its “great breaks.” Nothing would be lost by this, for the actors are just as good historians as sociologists. Something would surely be gained by this: instead of explaining the movements of the actors by time and dates, we would explain at last the construction of time itself on the basis of the agents’ own translations.

José van Dijck Facebook as a Tool for Producing Sociality and Connectivity 2012

While many people consider social media to be technical translations of human sociality, sociality is rather an engineered construct than a result of human social interaction.

Dave Elder-Vass Disassembling Actor- network Theory 2015

For critical realists, there is one historical past but many theories about it, some of which may be wrong, including some past theories. But for Latour, history itself is also composed of assemblages. A given year in the past, for example, “should be defined along two axes, not only one”— one axis identifying the year to which we are referring and the other the year from which we are referring to it, the year in which our sense of the original year is located. “In this second dimension there is also a portion of what hap- pened in 1864 that is produced after 1864 and made retrospectively part of the ensemble that forms, from then on, the sum of what happened in the year 1864” (Latour 1999c, 172). We find a similar argument in Law’s discussion of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in England in 2001. A later govern- ment report on the outbreak, he says, “helps to enact one kind of foot and mouth 2001 . . . it helps to make the reality of the past” (Law 2009).

Nassim Taleb Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains Antifragile 2012

When you ask people what is the opposite of fragile, typically what they come up with is solid or robust or all these kinds of concepts that are not the exact opposite of fragility. Because if you map fragile mathematically, you get something called concave. Even in England or even in Russia, when you ask people what the opposite of negative is, they don’t say zero or neutral. The opposite of negative is positive. If I have a package and the package is fragile, I write please “handle with care” and I send it to Siberia, with champagne flutes, it’s fragile right? So, the opposite of that would not be a package that is robust, resilient, adaptable, all that kind of stuff that people say is the opposite of fragile. If it were robust, you write nothing on it. You don’t write “this is robust, I don’t really care, all you Russian custom agents could brutalise it, I don’t care”. You don’t say that. You just write nothing. The opposite of fragile is “I beg you to mishandle this package”, just like “I beg you to watch out for this package”. So the opposite of fragile is something that gains from disorder.

Herbert Simon The Sciences of the Artificial 1969

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.

Might be considered the first classic definition of the design studies movement. Note that there is no prerequisite of a material object.

Steven Johnson The Ghost Map : A Street, A City, An Epidemic and the Hidden Power of Urban Networks 2006

For millennia, most cities had been bound inexorably to the natural ecosystem that lay outside their walls: the energy flowing through the fields and forests around them established a population ceiling they couldn’t grow beyond. London in 1854 had shot through those ceilings, because the land itself was being farmed more efficiently, because new forms of energy had been discovered, and because shipping and railway networks had gready expanded the distance that energy could travel. The Londoner enjoying a cup of tea with sugar in 1854 was drawing upon a vast global energy network with each sip: the human labor of the sugarcane plantations in the West Indies and the newly formed tea plantadons in India; the solar energy in those tropical realms that allowed those plants to flourish; the oceanic energy of the trade currents, and the steam power of the railway engine; the fossil fuels powering the looms in Lancashire, making fabrics that helped fund the entire trade system.

The dramatic increase in people available to populate the new urban spaces of the Industrial Age may have had one other cause: tea. The population growth during the first half of the eighteenth century neatly coincided with the mass adoption of tea as the de facto national beverage. (Imports grew from six tons at the beginning the century to eleven thousand at the end.) A luxury good at the start of the century, tea had become a staple even of working-class diets by the 1850s. One mechanic who provided an account of his) weekly budget to the Penny Newsman spent almost fifteen percent his earnings on tea and sugar. He may have been indulging in it fc the taste and the salutary cognitive effects of caffeine, but it was a healthy lifestyle choice, given the alternatives. Brewed tea posses several crucial antibacterial properties that help ward off waterborne diseases: the tannic acid released in the steeping process kills off those bacteria that haven’t already perished during the boiling of the water. The explosion of tea drinking in the late 1700s was, from the bacteria’s point of view, a microbial holocaust. Physicians observed a dramatic drop in dysentery and child mortality during the period. (The antiseptic agents in tea could be passed on to infants through breast milk.) Largely freed from waterborne disease agents, the teadrinking population began to swell in number, ultimately supplying a larger labor pool to the emerging factory towns, and to the great sprawling monster of London itself.

Steven Johnson's books are always orientated towards network thinking. This passage is dealing with the surrounding circumstance of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London that lead to John Snow creating a map of deaths. This helped him trace the source of disease to a particular water pump, proving that cholera is waterborne when it was previously speculated as airborne. Key point to take away here - a map of cholera deaths is not just a map - it is a heterogeneous assemblage of West Indian sugar, Indian Tea (and the shipping technology allowing them to get to England), heated water, exploding populations and so on. The difficultly with emergence is how it generates 'a sum of its parts' way of understanding things, which tends to cause hierarchy where a flat approach deals with things in a more useful way - performances of things aligning to generate entities.

John Law On the Methods of Long Distance Control: Vessels, Navigation, and the Portuguese Route to India 1986

I want to argue that it is not possible to understand this expansion unless the technological, the economic, the political, the social, and the natural are all seen as being interrelated. My argument is that the Portuguese effort involved the mobilisation and combination of elements from each of these categories. Of course kings and merchants appear in the story. But so too do sailors and astronomers, navigators and soldiers of fortune, astrolabes and astronomical tables, vessels and ports of call, and last but not least, the winds and currents that lay between Lisbon and Calicut.

John Law Notes on the Theory of the Actor-Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity 1992

Just occasionally we find ourselves watching on the sidelines as an order comes crashing down. Organizations or systems which we had always taken for granted – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or Continental Illinois – are swallowed up. Commissars, moguls and captains of industry disappear from view. These dangerous moments offer more than political promise. For when the hidden trapdoors of the social spring open we suddenly learn that the masters of the universe may also have feet of clay.

How is it that it ever seemed otherwise? How is that, at least for a time, they made themselves different from us? By what organizational means did they keep themselves in place and overcome the resistances that would have brought them tumbling down much sooner? How was it we colluded in this? … they are the questions that lie at the heart of “actor-network theory” … It suggests, in effect, that we should analyze the great in exactly the same way that we would anyone else. Of course, this is not to deny that the nabobs of this world are powerful. They certainly are. But it is to suggest that they are no different in kind sociologically to the wretched of the earth.

John Law After ANT: complexity, naming and topology 1999

Some stories about actor network theory.

First story. Actor network theory is a ruthless application of semiotics. It tells that entities take their form and acquire their attributes as a result of their relations with other entities. In this scheme of things entities have no inherent qualities: essentialist divisions are thrown on the bonfire of the dualisms. Truth and falsehood. Large and small. Agency and structure. Human and nonhuman. Before and after. Knowledge and power. Context and content. Materiality and sociality. Activity and passivity. In one way or another all of these divides have been rubbished in work undertaken in the name of actor-network theory.

Of course the theory is not alone. There are cognate movements in feminist theory, cultural studies, social and cultural anthropology, and other branches of post-structuralism. But even so, we shouldn’t underestimate the shock value, nor indeed the potential for scandal. Sacred divisions and distinctions have been tossed into the flames. Fixed points have been pulled down and abandoned. Humanist and political attachments have been torn up. Though, of course, it is also a little more complicated, and the scandal may sometimes be more metaphysical than practical. For this precise reason: it is not, in this semiotic world-view, that there are no divisions. It is rather that such divisions or distinctions are understood as effects or outcomes. They are not given in the order of things.

There is much that might be said about this. To take the notorious human/non-human divide, much ink has indeed been spilled over the importance or otherwise of the distinction between human and non-human. Or, for that matter, the machinic and the corporeal. But this is not the place to reproduce such set-piece debates. Instead, I simply want to note that actor-network theory may be understood as a semiotics of materiality. It takes the semiotic insight, that of the relationality of entities, the notion that they are produced in relations, and applies this ruthlessly to all materials – and not simply to those that are linguistic. This suggests: first that it shares something important with Michel Foucault’s work; second, that it may be usefully distinguished from those versions of poststructuralism that attend to language and language alone; and third (if one likes this kind of grand narrative) that it expresses the ruthlessness that has often been associated with the march of modernity, at least since Karl Marx described the way in which ‘all that is solid melts into air.’

Relational materiality. this catches, this names, the point of the first story.

The second story has to do with performativity. For the semiotic approach tells us that entities achieve their form as a consequence of the relations in which they are located. But this means that it also tells us that they are performed in, by, and through those relations. A consequence is that everything is uncertain and reversible, at least in principle. It is never given in the order of things. And here, though actor-network studies have sometimes slipped towards a centred and no-doubt gendered managerialism (more on this below), there has been much effort to understand how it is that durability is achieved. How it is that things get performed (and perform themselves) into relations that are relatively stable and stay in place. How it is that they make distributions between high and low, big and small, or human and non-human. Performativity, then, this is ‘the second name, the second story about actor-network theory. Performativity which (sometimes) makes durability and fixity.

Michel Callon An essay on framing and overflowing: economic externalities revisited by sociology 1998

This concept of framing is easily applied to the interactions that interest economists, whether in the form of classic commercial transactions or contract negotiations. To negotiate a contract or perform a commercial transaction etTectively presupposes a framing of the action without which it would be impossible to reach an agreement, in the same way that in order to play a game of chess, two players must agree to submit to the rules and sit down at a chessboard which physically circumscribes the world within which the action will take place.

Daniel Temkin There's Not Much 'Glitch' In Glitch Art 2014

When we “corrupt” a JPEG, we’re altering compressed data so that it (successfully) renders to an image that no longer appears photographic, taking on a chunky, pixelated, more abstract character we associate with broken software. To the machine, it is not an error—if the image were structurally damaged, we would not be able to open it. This underscores the machine as an apparatus indifferent to what makes visual sense to us, at a place where our expectations clash with algorithmic logic.

Alexis Lloyd Prototyping the Future (Wired 22.10) 2014

We’ve fallen into assuming that if we just get enough data and process it in enough ways, we’ll cross this threshold from knowledge to wisdom. We’ve been quantifying what can easily be quantified, but it misses all the ideas and concepts we encounter throughout the day.

Michael Shanks The life of an artifact 1998

Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. In his work is it possible to see the supposed separation of technical and social factors? Edison has been studied by Thomas Hughes in the context of the electrification of the United States (1983, 1985).

Edison did not just ‘invent’ the lightbulb. The model of technology which supposes the application of reason to material and objective reality is not at all adequate. The light bulb was part of a sociotechnical system which required and enabled its invention and use. Edison was a system builder (Hughes 1987). He worked on inanimate physical materials, on and through people, texts, devices, councils, architectures, utility companies, economic considerations … . He travelled between these different domains weaving an emergent web which constituted and reconstituted the bits and pieces that it brought together. In the history of Hughes the distinctions between humans and technical devices is subordinated to exploring a sociotechnical system: cable laying, electrical transmissions and resistances, city power stations, politics of city government, gas utility companies, laboratory experimentation. It was the characteristics of this network that conditioned the design of the light bulb – down to the material of the filament which had to perform in a particular way to suit the rest of the network.

In the words of John Law, Edison was a heterogeneous engineer, linking diverse elements in his work, elements which do not respect the conventional and abstract boundaries between people and things, the social and the technical (Law 1987).

Many other works in the sociology and history of technology and science reveal this intermixture of people and things (Mackenzie and Wajcman (eds) 1985; Bijker, Hughes and Pinch (eds) 1987; Elliott (ed) 1988; Law (ed) 1991; Latour 1987, 1988). Their ‘thick description’ results in concepts such as heterogeneous engineering, seamless webs (Hughes 1988), actor networks (Callon 1987, 1991), wherein are no absolute distinctions and categorisations; they are all being historically defined and redefined.

Michael Shanks The Life of an Artifact 1998

People and the realm of the social become material, and the object world, nature, acquires a history (of different relations with people). So there is nothing purely social or technical, human or non-human. There has not been a ‘pure’ human social relation for perhaps over 2 million years, since artifacts came to regularly accompany hominids. If a pure social relationship is sought, reference should be made to primate society (Byrne and Whiten (eds) 1988; Strum and Latour 1987). So where are we now? We are inextricably mixed up with non-humans. Our histories are united. This is also to argue that society is not sui generis, but has to be materially constructed. …

This means that we are part machines (Haraway 1991, Law 1991). The easy integrity of the person and the self have been questioned in a historical and philosophical decentring of the subject. A monstrous elision of people and things is a continuation of the contemporary project of inscribing text on bodies and things, constituting agents in discourses (from Levi-Strauss through Foucault and beyond; the focus on agency and the social theory of those such as Giddens). If you do not like being part machine what are you going to do? Become a baboon? (See Deleuze and Guattari 1980.)

If there is no essential difference between the social and object worlds, and if objects come to be in their history, then objectivity (the quality of the objective world), which is often conceived as the basis of fact and truth, is not an essential and abstract category, removed from history. Objectivity and truth are not absolute but come into being; they are achieved. They are contingent, but nonetheless real. They are both material and social.

If there is no timeless quality such as objectivity, the technical world and that of science are social practices like any other (Latour and Woolgar 1979; Knorr-Cetina 1981; Knorr-Cetina and Mulkay (eds) 1983; Lynch 1985; Latour 1987; Pickering (ed) 1992) . In a world of no essential difference between people and things, the social and the technical, the arts and sciences are united or symmetrical in that they all deal with mixtures of people and things.

Michel Callon An essay on framing and overflowing: economic externalities revisited by sociology 1998

In economics, the concept of externality is linked to a more general category: that of market failures. At this point, it is important to obviate any misunderstandings. The term ‘market failure’ does not mean that nothing good was produced. Its meaning is more precise: as expressed in terms of efficiency or in terms of the provision of socially desirable goods, the best result that could have been obtained was not achieved in practice.

There is no failure here. Something was done but the particular desired outcome was not achieved. What was achieved though? If there was a second chance, would it be done differently? Does this failure generate insight into new, better opportunities?

Michel Callon Actor-network theory - the market test 1999

Economists invented the notion of externality to denote all the connections, relations and effects which agents do not take into account in the calculations when entering into a market transaction. If, for example, a chemical plant pollutes the river into which it pumps its toxic products, it produces a negative externality. The interests of fishermen, bathers and other users are harmed and in order to continue their activities they will have to make investments for which they will receive no compensation. The factor calculates its decisions without taking into account the effects on the fishermen’s activities. The externalities are not necessarily negative, they may also be positive. Take the case of a pharmaceutical company which wants to develop a new molecule. To protect itself it files a patent. However, in so doing it divulges information which becomes freely available to competitors and can be used by them to shape their own R&D.

Granovetter—and on this point he is at one with ANT—reminds us that any entity is caught up in a network of relations, in a flow of intermediaries which circulate, connect, link and reconstitute identities (Gallon, 1991). What the notion of externality shows, in the negative, is all the work that has to be done, all the investments that have to be made in order to make relations calculable in the network. This consists of framing the actors and their relations. Framing is an operation used to define individual agents clearly distinct and dissociated from one another. It also allows for the definition of objects, goods and merchandise which are perfectly identifiable and can be separated not only from other goods, but also from the actors involved, for example in their conception, production, drculation or use. It is owing to this framing that the market can exist, that is to say, that distinct agents and distinct goods can be brought into play since all these entities are independent, unrelated and unattached to one another.

What economists say when they study externalities is precisely that this work of cleansing, of disconnection, in short, of framing, is never over and that in reality it is impossible to take it to a conclusion. There are always relations which defy framing. It is for these relations which remain outside the frame that economists reserve the tenn externalities. The latter denotes everything which the agents do not take into account and which enables them to conclude their calculations. But one needs to go further than that. When, after having identified them, the agents, in keeping with the predictions of Coase’s famous theorem, decide to reframe them—in other words to internalize the externalities—other externalities appear. I would suggest the term ‘overflowing’ to denote this impossibility of total framing. Any frame is necessarily subject to overflowing. It is by framing its property rights by means of a publie patent that a pharmaceutical firm produces externalities and creates overflowing. It is by purifying the products that it markets that a chemical firm creates the by-products which escape its control.

Michel Callon An Essay on the Growing Contribution of Economic Markets to the Proliferation of the Social 2007

Relying upon the anthropology of science and technology, we can define economic markets as socio-technical arrangements or agencements (STA) whose functioning is based on a set of framings concerning not only goods and agencies but also price-setting mechanisms. Market framing constitutes powerful mechanisms of exclusion, for to frame means to select, to sever links and finally to make some trajectories (at least temporarily) irreversible. Certain worlds, with their goods, agents and attachments, are chosen above others which are consequently threatened with extinction. This is the first source of matters of concern. Since framings are never completely successful, overflowings occur, which constitute a second possible source. To illustrate the proposed approach, I am now going to consider each of these two sources of matters of concern in turn, limiting myself in each case to a few significant examples.

The framings required by the functioning of market STAs are multiple (Callon, 1998; Callon and Caliskan, in preparation; Callon and Muniesa, 2005). Some maintain a strict (ontological) divide between, on the one hand, entities transformed into (passive) goods susceptible to valuation and pricing and, on the other, the agencies capable of performing those valua- tions. Other framings concern the agencies themselves: for instance, they define their geometry (individual and collective) or the motives and equip- ment (cognitive, emotional, instrumental) enabling them to engage in operations of valuation. Finally, there are framings which organize encoun- ters between goods and agencies.

A complete analysis would require us to examine all of these framings and to identify the exclusions and matters of concern that they generated. Since the aim of this article is to present and illustrate an approach, I will simply consider two cases of framing responsible for significant exclusions.

The mutual reinforcement of the different framings mentioned earlier, which results in the provisional stabilization of technologies, rules of the game, conventions, laws, training, competencies and skills, leads sometimes to what economists have called socio- technological lock-in. Everyone knows Paul David’s famous example of the QWERTY keyboard, chosen for the sake of technical efficiency related to the first typewriters’ design (David, 1984). This option ended up becoming a standard that it is now quite impossible to change. More generally, when a new socio-technical activity emerges, several options compete for a while. Yet fairly quickly one (or a few) of them prevails, and not necessarily the best one from a technical or even an economic point of view. Paul David has proposed the term enraged orphans for those consumers who chose a technological option that was eventually eliminated for reasons not directly related to its technical qualities or initial relative costs.

Granovetter and McGuire (1998) generalize Paul David’s argument in a superb analysis of the trajectory of the North American electricity industry. They show how the choice of frequencies and the priority given to the centralization of units of electricity production gradually created irre- versibilities. Certain options were rejected and, along with them, related projects and demands. As a result of social networks, institutions, policies implemented by government authorities and research undertaken by labora- tories, a technology and the world matching it were permanently imposed. The orphan groups that had bet on other options or that would have liked alternatives to be developed were thus left on the side of the road.

This is a general mechanism. Due to increasing returns resulting from adoption and production, the dynamic of markets produces huge exclusions. Of all potential worlds, only a small number are explored and exploited. Certain demands, expectations or needs end up being ignored. We can agree to use the term orphan groups for all these groups excluded from techno- logical and economic development. Orphan groups are not necessarily enraged. Some can avoid giving in to resentment. They can choose to engage in a strategy of construction of the worlds in which they want to live, by developing the research and innovation potential that will make them even stronger and more effective.

Stilgherrian Download This Show 2014

Beta is not an excuse for putting some ramshackle piece of rubbish on the internet.

Richard Buchanan Wicked Problems in Design Thinking 1993

Individual designers often possess a personal set of placements, developed and tested by experience. The inventivess of the designer lies in a natural or cultivated and artful ability to return to those placements and apply them to a new situation, discovering aspects of the situation that affect the final design. What is regarded as the designer’s style, then, is sometimes more than just a personal preference for certain types of visual forms, materials or techniques: it is a characteristic way of seeing possibilities through conceptual placements.

Michael Shanks The Life of an Artifact 1998

Artifacts are often treated as entities in themselves, self-contained, their interactions with people separable. We forget or ignore their living. Artifacts become black boxes – closed, technical, often a mystery.

Consider the video recorder. This is indeed for many people a mysterious black box, high- tech product. The troubles people have with video recorders are notorious. At the same time they are very popular as providers of home entertainment. Manufacturers battled over the format of cassettes, compete to provide different functions, compete to make operation easier (from programmable remote controls to light pen input, to numerical programming supplied by newspapers and magazines). The video recorder delegates and prescribes all sorts of actions and troubles to its users, while bringing together viewers, artifact designers, stylists, programme makers, film companies, repair men, newspaper editors, frustrations, wonder, families, discord etc etc

When the black box is opened there is no easy distinction between people and things, the social and the technical. What is social and what is technical about the video recorder? I suggest that we forget the question and ask – what does it hold together and how does it do it? What work does it do?

Tim Brown Lean Startup Meets Design Thinking 2014

At it’s most abstract level design is about crafting the world around us to meet the needs of us as people … Through an understanding of people, we can then craft the technology and materials we have at our disposal to create things, they might be products, they might be services, they might be systems, that most meet the needs of those people.