"He enriches my ignorance." This quote, from New Zealand writer Ian Wedde talking about his dog, opens one of the chapters of the next book by writer and academic Donna Haraway; this phrase, and the ways of knowing it invokes, struck me as a way to think about designing practices. Haraway visited the James Martin Institute at Saïd Business School last week and I was one of the people who joined her seminar after reading two draft chapters from the new book. The book, as I understand it, tries to rethink human/non-human relations, by presenting what Haraway refered to as "knots" such as her own practice of agility training with her dog/partner Cayenne (already rehearsed in previous work); crittercams (cameras attached to animals for entertainment or research); feral cats: and other examples where humans are entangled with other creatures and with technologies which enact difficult, messy problems.
Haraway talked in terms of "discomfort" being her way in; her work as an attempt to "make worlds by grappling with the ordinary" , enriching some of her reflections on STS (Science and Technology Studies), an approach to doing sociology whose other leading scholars include my colleague Steve Woolgar (who hosted Haraway), Bruno Latour and others. Her comments were an echo of attempts by design and art theorists to characterise the nature of (some?) practitioner work where the kinds of tensions, or knots, that Haraway describes are made manifest in the work. When Haraway said "I'm trying to remain uncomfortable for a lifetime" in relation to her teaching and research practices as a feminist scholar, I was reminded of the messy ambiguity within creative processes: the not-knowing which designers and artists seem well able to tolerate before a project is resolved in some way. Of course this same indeterminacy or necessary ambiguity has been described elsewhere: Buchanan's essay "Wicked Problems in Design Thinking", for example, (in the design studies tradition), or Jonathan Rosenhead's paper "Into the Swamp" (in operations research). I'm currently finding Lacan's model of the Real, Symbolic and the Imaginary a useful way to think about this, where the Real is that which cannot be symbolised. I understood Haraway's use of the term "indigestion" in a similar way. I am wondering if (some) design and art practices are a (the?) way to work through the ignorance, the indigestion, or the Real.