Material beliefs: designing speculatively with biotechnology for public engagement


Session Title:

  • Posthumanism I

Presentation Title:

  • Material beliefs: designing speculatively with biotechnology for public engagement



  • Abstract

    Material Beliefs was a two-year interdisciplinary project funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council. It aimed to take ’emerging biomedical and cybernetic technology out of labs and into public spaces’. The project provided access to technologies that will offer new configurations of bodies and materials: How can design stimulate a discussion about the value of these new forms of hybridity?

    Rather than focusing on the outcomes of bioengineering research, Material Beliefs approached research as an unfinished and ongoing set of practices, happening in laboratories and separate from public spaces. The aim is to make labs permeable, so that non-specialists could consider the research. With this in mind, labs were opened up as sites for collaboration between scientists and engineers, designers, and members of the public.

    Alongside the everyday business of the lab, which might include submitting funding proposals, conducting experiments and gathering data, and then writing and publishing academic papers, the collaborations produced a parallel set of proceedings captured through drawings, photographs, films and discussions. This led to the design of speculative prototypes, which transformed the parallel activity into something tangible. These prototypes were exhibited, reconfiguring emerging laboratory research into a platform that encouraged a debate about the relationship between science and society.

    This paper opens with some description of the lab as a site for collaboration between design and engineering, then moves onto some examples of outcomes, and finally expands upon some strategies for opening up these activities to the public.