Transtechnology Research Seminar Series 2022-23

Objects, assemblages, affects and ecologies: transhistorical fish smiles.

In 2021-22 we worked with a classic 1985 actor-network paper by Bruno Latour that offered a way to think about inscriptions as modes of knowledge transfer. This year, we step out from very recent literature that uses post-actor-network, new materialist theory which can encourage us to evoke novel perspectives on the objects of our research. We draw (rather shamelessly) our title and starting points from Myra Seaman’s (2021) book Objects of Affection: The Book and the Household in Late Medieval England. In a book “devoted to the emotional allure of textual objects” (p.1) Seaman explores Ashmole 61, a medieval manuscript and household book. She applies new materialist theory to the book, in order to understand it as a more-than-human object and agent within the affective ecology of the household in which it was produced and used.

In our introductory seminar Dr Hannah Drayson will present an ongoing project ‘mug stories’, which explores the affective dimensions of a contemporary household object, the mug.

Suggested Reading:

For the academic year 2022-23, seminars will take place on Wednesday afternoons on the 2nd week of the month, the day after the seminar we hold researcher update sessions from 10-1. Regular office hours and tutorials will be scheduled the 3rd week of the month.

Introductory Meeting
21st Sep 2022 at 13:00 to 15:00, BST
Session to discuss the series ordering.

Transtechnology Research Seminar Series 2022-23 [ see below for full abstracts ]

12th Oct 2022 at 13:00 to 15:00, BST
Introductory session. Hannah Drayson and a collection of mugs.

9th Nov 2022 at 13:00 to 15:00.
Lucinda Guy with a radio in a 1930s household book and Jane Hutchinson with Odradek.

7th Dec 2022 at 13:00 to 15:00.
Carola Salvadori with a mirror, and Linan Zhang, a face covering.

11th Jan 2023 at 13:00 to 15:00.
Johara Bellali with a pillow, and Tim Crabtree, an insulation panel.

8th Feb 2023 at 13:00 to 15:00.
Karen Squire with a milk skimmer, and Eric Pan, a light switch.

8th Mar 2023 at 13:00 to 15:00.
Stephanie Moran, with the stone rabbit, and Sarah Turton with Reverend John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Family Bible.

12th Apr 2023 at 13:00 to 15:00.
Laura Wellsman, a tin of emulsion and Zinnia Wang, a hammer.

10th May 2023 at 13:00 to 15:00.
James Sweeting, a piece of video game software and Edith Doove, an 3G mobile phone.

7th Jun 2023 at 13:00 to 15:00, BST – Transtechnology Research  Summer School

12th Oct 2022.
Hannah Drayson. Mug Stories: ecological relations, object agency, and multiplicity.

In this seminar I discuss an ongoing project that I am developing as an artist-researcher and communitarian under the working title “Mug Stories”. Mug stories explores themes of sharing, affect and relationship. Despite the mundane content, the project connects to rich ideas about human and non-human ecological relations, object agency, and multiplicity. First I will describe the sound installation “Mug Stories” which I made this summer which emerged from my recording conversations with a number of people about the mug collection at Braziers Park and their interactions with it. I will talk about the way in which this process of speaking to a group of people about these objects grew and nuanced my own understanding of something that had held a curiosity for me for a long time, but always been a concern mostly unexamined; a form of collective or common ownership of items that were not of any particular concern, but which were, on reflection, the locus of a considerable amount of attention. There are many things that emerged from these conversations. In particular the idea that when you move from a fixed domestic space, to a larger social one, aspects of everyday life that seemed inert and fixed take on their own animation and multiplicity.  I will suggest that this effect/affect makes communal spaces fertile territory for inhabiting and thinking relationally and ecologically, given that they demand certain ways of thinking (relational over rational) that have been associated with productive transdisciplinary research (Max-Neef, 2005).

  • Carvalho, Isabel (2016) “Ecological Epistemology (EE)” in H.P.P. Gooren (ed.), Encyclopedia of Latin American Religions, Springer.
  • Guddemi, Phillip, (2020) Gregory Bateson on Relational Communication From Octopuses to Nations. Cham: Springer.
  • Max-Neef, Manfred A, Foundations of transdisciplinarity. Ecological Economics 53 (2005) 5– 16.
  • Mol, Annemarie, (2021) Eating in Theory, Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  • Seaman, Myra. (2022) Objects of affection The book and the household in late medieval England

9th Nov 2022. Lucinda Guy. My Portable Set: a radio in a 1930s book.

Like Ashmole 61, the mediaeval household book in Myra Seaman’s Objects of AffectionAunt Kate’s Day-by-Day book for 1937 is a compilation of poems, recipes etc, brought together to offer guidance. One illustration depicts a woman listening to a radio, described as a “portable set”. The accompanying rhyming text celebrates the act of tuning as an important mode of human connection. Though it could be read as twee and patronising, this short passage also raises interesting questions about the presence and affects of the radio, beyond its audio content, and the multiplicity of the radio receiver. Aunt Kate’s statement that “each human heart is a portable set” is echoed in later writings by Gregory Bateson, who uses the metaphor of the “carrier wave” to describe non-verbal communication, which he sees as relational, establishing and reinforcing our relationships with one another. It can be argued that relational qualities can also be attributed to radio waves and the act of tuning, and the communication mode of radio outside of its voices and musics.  

  • Anon (1936) Aunt Kate’s day-by-day book: A thought, a recipe, a household hint for every day of the Year. London: Leng. 
  • Guddemi, Phillip, (2020) Gregory Bateson on Relational Communication From Octopuses to Nations. Cham: Springer. 
  • Mitchell, C. (2000) Women and radio. Routledge. 
  • Seaman, Myra. (2022) Objects of affection The book and the household in late medieval England. 

Dr Jane Hutchinson. The Odradek: Multiplicity and Imaginary Objects.

This presentation concerns Odradek, a hybrid or composite ‘object’ in Franz Kafka’s story The Cares of a Family Man (written c. 1918). Many translations exist, including the one below by Anya Meksin. In the story world, Odradek operates as un-pin-down-able and uncategorisable, a hybrid, a composite in its material make-up, a multiplicity of tangible and intangible parts. Jane Bennett in Vibrant Matter describes Odradek as an im-personal, i.e., in-organic, animate material configuration that “staddles the line between inert matter and vital life.” Odradek defies categorisation, and so troubles the family man in Kafka’s story who describes it as obscure, senseless, a “broken down remnant,” yet “perfectly finished.” Odradek is however, assigned a gender and is able, the reader is told, to move and speak with a voice like “the rustle of dry leaves.” Kafka’s story exists in many interlocking versions, interpretations and translations, in spoken, paper & ink, and digital forms. It is an example of the multiplicity of textual objects that Seaman talks about when describing Ashmole 61. This presentation aims to extend the discussion of multiplicity, introduced by Hannah Drayson’s exploration of the affective dimensions of a contemporary household object —the ubiquitous china mug— in the previous seminar, and Lucinda Guy’s discussion concerning the multiplicity of a radio. This presentation will suggest that Odradek might be thought of in the manner in which Seaman considers Ashmole 61 — as a more than human object and agent within the affective ecology of the household around whose boundaries it operates.

Carola Salvadori. Mirror Mirror

In this seminar we will look at mirrors and their affect. This will be discussed by exploring the idea of a mirror as heterotopia as posed by French philosopher Michel Foucault in his text entitled ‘Of Other Spaces’(Foucault, M. 1984). We will begin to unpack the six principles he proposed as integral to heterotopias and discuss their effect upon the affect between the mirror and its observer. 

I will continue to examine the mirror’s impact upon humanity by looking briefly at catoptrics which is the study of reflection and the mirror’s formation of images. I will touch on the history of catoptrics from Euclid in 280 BC to the discovery and development of quantum physics and how light is absorbed and emitted by atoms. 

I will suggest that the potential power of the affect produced by the mirror has held its place as an object throughout human history, affecting our idea of self.(Well,T. 2022) We will discuss whether our understanding of space and time and our sense of reality are confused by the deceptive representation depicted in the object and consider whether it could be said that mirror gazing prepares the viewer for engagement with social media. Galloway suggests that: “Reflective surfaces have been overthrown by transparent thresholds.” (Galloway, A. 2008)  

 He quotes Michel Serres in suggesting that the exchange between the observer and the mirror or transparent threshold is a form of mediation, either the simultaneous realisation of the other and the self, or the “disintegration of self and other into contradiction” (Galloway, A. 2008) 

I will discuss the idea of mediation regarding the interaction between the observer and the mirror and then address the affect of the mirror in relation to mental health and specifically the fear of death. I will mention that Olesen explains this fear can be traced back to early human’s fear of still water as it was believed that the reflection seen in the water was that of one’s soul “which could be separated from the body, even before death” (Olesen, J. No Date) 

I will argue that the belief that the soul could be reflected in a mirror and separated from the body is consistent with Foucault’s heterotopic proposition that the existence of a space that is real and unreal at the same time, while touching on Mol’s proposition of object manipulation. (Mol, A. 2002 pp 4,5) 

I will conclude with the proposal that the qualities that were identified as heterotopic by Foucault, are those which have the strongest affect on their observer.  

Foucault, M. (1967) ‘OF OTHER SPACES’ Translated by Jay Miskowiec, Published by French journal Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité, (1984). Available at: https://monoskop.org/images/b/b0/Foucault_Michel_1984_1986_Of_Other_Spaces.pdf Accessed: 20/11/22

Well,T. (2018) ‘Why Is Seeing Your Own Reflection So Important?’ Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/the-clarity/201808/why-is-seeing-your-own-reflection-so-important Accessed: 21/11/22

Galloway, A. ‘The Unworkable Interface’ (2008) Vol. 39, No. 4, Re-examining Literary Theories and Practices (Autumn, 2008), pp. 931-955 (25 pages) Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press, available at: https://www-jstor-org.plymouth.idm.oclc.org/stable/20533123?searchText=catoptrics&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dcatoptrics%26groupefq%3DWyJyZXZpZXciLCJyZXNlYXJjaF9yZXBvcnQiLCJtcF9yZXNlYXJjaF9yZXBvcnRfcGFydCIsInNlYXJjaF9jaGFwdGVyIiwic2VhcmNoX2FydGljbGUiLCJjb250cmlidXRlZF90ZXh0Il0%253D%26pagemark%3DeyJwYWdlIjoyLCJzdGFydHMiOnsiSlNUT1JCYXNpYyI6MjR9fQ%253D%253D&ab_segments=0%2FSYC-6646_basic_search%2Fcontrol&refreqid=fastly-default%3A019fed8b894588b63cef8cd5b4ff6e13&seq=2#metadata_info_tab_contents accessed on 20/11/22

Olesen, J. (No Date) ‘Fear of Mirrors Phobia – Catoptrophobia or Spectrophobia’. Available at: https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-mirrors-phobia-catoptrophobia/ Accessed: 24/11/22

Mol, A., (2002) The Body Multiple, Ontology in Medical Practice. Published by Duke University Press, (2007) Durham, North Carolina





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Linan Zhang. The Multiple Realities of Face Coverings.

The object chosen for this presentation is a face covering that we all became familiar with during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been a lot of debates and inconsistencies regarding the question of whether face coverings should be worn by the general public as one of the measures to effectively contain the spread of the virus; particularly at the early stage of the global pandemic shown by various governmental health policies and conflicting journal articles published by academics. These assertions are claimed to be based on scientific evidence, yet presumably, the same science has managed to support contradicting stances thus creating multiple realities.

I would like to use this opportunity to rehearse my thesis structure by presenting three seemingly separate problems: a clinical training collaboration that failed to achieve the expected result, the controversy of face coverings, and the problematic international development discourse. Yet, all of them allude to the existence of multiple realities and the need to mediate frictions and conflicts between them. By building a theoretical framework borrowing the idea of Foucault as well as from the book Laboratory Life by Latour and Woolgar, I argue that knowledge should not be considered the absolute truth because it is always contextual and circumstantial, and the epistemological quality of an object is inseparable from social factors. Radical constructivism reaffirms the possibility to have multiple realities as individuals construct their own reality differently through unique experiences. However, having multiple realities can undermine the meaning and the result of communication and knowledge sharing. Therefore, the neopragmatist thinking of Richard Rorty and his theoretical framework of liberal ironism is then introduced as a mediation process. With this framework, it is possible to identify a network of reasoning when making a decision and raise awareness about the ever-changing nature of knowledge which influences the decision. Even though adopting a liberal ironist mindset cannot provide metaphysical answers to questions regarding the objective world, it can certainly reduce cruelty, humiliation, and tensions for all realities to co-exist peacefully.

  • Foucault, M. (2003) The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Translated from French by Tavistock Publications Limited. London and New York: Routledge Classics.
  • Foucault, M. (1999) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated from French by A. Lane. London: Penguin Books.
  • Latour, B. and Woolgar, S. (1986) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  • Rorty, R. (1989) Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

11th January 2023

Johara Bellali. The relationship with a pillow as a connector to warm data.

Using Sara Ahmed’s (2010) concept of circularity of affects and the importance of cultural norms in studying ordinary objects, this seminar will explore the pillow and its material evolution as it intra-acts with humans and more than humans. The materials pillows are made of have been varied and have enacted emotional and physical changes in the body of the beholder. As it’s use expanded, so did the amount of body parts the beholder put in contact with the pillow, illustrating a shift in values and an increase in relationships. I will present how the pillow has been used to not only be a technology of rest or sleep but also as a connector to capture relations with value systems.

On that basis, focusing on the iterative process of coming in contact with the texture, the shape, the smell, and other sensations the pillow creates; I would like to test a theory of co-production and adaptive capacity. The circularity of affect between the pillow and the beholder depends on the capacity for them to perceive, sense and respond to information that is not only factual but also contextual. Nora Bateson calls this contextual information the warm data, the stuff in between. Building on the historical connector role of the pillow, I would like to explore whether attuning to the quality of the relationship between the pillow and the beholder can increase the co-production and adaptive capacity of the system. Thus, what is needed to perceive and sense the quality of the relationship between beholder and object?

‘Happy Objects’ (2010) in Ahmed, S., The Promise of Happiness. Duke University Press, pp. 21–49. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822392781-002.

Bateson, N. and Brubeck, S.B. (2016) Small arcs of larger circles: framing through other patterns. First edition. Axminster, England: Triarchy Press. pp.79-81

Tim Crabtree: An insulation panel

… foregrounding material factors and reconfiguring our very understanding of matter are prerequisites for any plausible account of coexistence and its conditions in the twenty-first century. (Coole, & Frost, 2010: 2).

The emphasis on objects’ being in flux, impermanent, and composite – that is, ‘built from swarms of subcomponents’ – extends throughout vibrant materialism, actor-network theory, and the new materialisms at large. (Seaman, M. 2021: 19)

My inquiry relates to the development of community economy initiatives, in particular diverse forms of affordable housing. “Affordable” is understood both as the cost of purchase or rent as well as the cost of maintaining a comfortable environment within the house – cool in summer and warm in winter.

How could a contemporary building be insulated in ways that avoid issues relating to petro-chemical-based insulation panels? These are inert, impermeable, and sit within a “void” between concrete and brick layers. How might we reflect the understandings contained in more traditional buildings, where flows of air and moisture are an integral part of dwelling and affect the atmosphere within? In the presentation, I will tell the story of working with farmers, foresters, soils, clays, the sun, the rain (and drought), digital designers and fabricators, carpenters, people in housing need and others. The result has been a range of insulation panels made of timber and hemp mixed with lime or clay.

I have come to understand this as a hybrid research collective (Callon & Law, 1995; Cameron et al, 2014), comprising both human and non-human actants. We have participated in processes where agency is emergent across the collective and where human intentions are frustrated by technology, materials, climate and other processes. The inquiry is influenced by my engagement with phenomenologies, socio-materialities, new materialisms and post-humanisms. Drawing also on the work of Tim Ingold (2010, 2021), we might see our insulation panels as implicated in on-going relational processes of correspondence. Once made the hemp mixture continues to shrink, the timber warps, the panel absorbs and then releases moisture. It is not inert and does not sit in a void.

I have been responding to the work of Gibson-Graham and others within the field of community economies, and in particular to this proposition:

Unlike the proliferative fullness of the diverse economy, the community economy is an emptiness—as it has to be, if the project of building it is to be political, experimental, open, and democratic.  A community economy is an ethical and political space of decision, not a geographic or social commonality, and community is its outcome rather than a ground (my emphasis).

Gibson-Graham (1996: xv)

What, then, is going on within the spaces that are being created? What is the nature of the decisions that we are making, and what is the nature of the community that emerges from the processes I am engaged in? How does my developing understanding influence my practice as an economist, trained to think of “resources” as inputs to systems of production and consumption?

References

Callon, M. and Law, J., 1995. Agency and the hybrid collectif. The South Atlantic Quarterly, 94(2), 481-507.

Cameron, J., Gibson, K. & Hill, A. (2014). Cultivating hybrid collectives: research methods for enacting community food economies in Australia and the Philippines, Local Environment, 19:1, 118-132. https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2013.855892

Coole, D., & Frost, S. L. (2010). Introducing the New Materialisms. In D. Coole, & S. Frost (Eds.), New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (pp. 1-43). Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822392996-001

Gibson-Graham, J.K. (1996). The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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

Ingold, T. (2021). Imagining for Real. Essays on Creation, Attention and Correspondence. London: Routledge.

Seaman, M. (2021). Objects of affection: The book and the household in late medieval England. Manchester: Manchester University Press.