I travelled to Trondheim Norway in June to give a paper at the Social Construction of Technology Coming of Age: New Challenges and Opportunities Ahead workshop hosted by Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Centre for Technology and Society, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture. Organisers: Professor Vivian A. Lagesen and Professor Knut H. Sørensen.
My paper for OFF 2014 on the theme “Scenarios and Design” to explore the possible synergies and differences between work on design and the so-called ‘intuitive logics’ school in scenarios.
A rock may retain its structure after certain elements have been leached out of it and been replaced by an entirely different kind of material. Since the apparent structure of the old rock remains, the new product is termed a pseudomorph. A similar metamorphosis is possible in culture: new forces, activities, institutions, instead of crystalizing independently into their own appropriate forms, may creep into the structure of an existing civilization (Mumford 1963, 265). Cultural pseudomorphism as a concern and a constraint on innovation poses a challenge for both designers and scenario planners who view their craft as a way to probe entrenched ideas and contexts by facilitating a process for envisioning alternative futures. I argue that cultural pseudomorphism as diagnosed by architectural and technology critic Lewis Mumford, a term derived geology meaning “false form,” is an under theorized factor that impacts both the terms for decision making and the framework for analyzing the efficacy of a given scenario or design. Do scenario processes intended to transform produce merely a future pseudomorph where the shape of a future that appears to be novel in fact clings to legacy contexts and ideas? Does the use of props, narratives, images and material objects in design and scenario processes alleviate or accentuate conditions that lead participants to envision futures with pseudomorphic qualities? I will explore this question by analyzing how material and experiential devices in scenario work contribute to the production of future narratives. My research in critical technology studies on the nature of collective capacities as intertwined and constrained by technological systems will inform how I theorize design and scenario work. This work will evolve my practice as an organizer of participatory technology assessment.
Mumford, Lewis. 1963. Technics and Civilization. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.