What can STS learn from art and design?

Speaker: Dr Jane Calvert # STIS, University of Edinburgh; Speaker: Dr Pablo Schyfter # STIS, University of Edinburgh

20th Oct 2014

15:30 - 17:00

Conference Room, David Hume Tower

In this presentation we reflect on a project called 'Synthetic Aesthetics', which brought together synthetic biologists with artists and designers in paired reciprocal exchanges. We - the STS researchers on the project - started our research assuming that we were going to observe and document these exchanges, but we were quickly struck by the similarities between our objectives and those of the artists and designers. In different ways, we seemed to be trying to do very similar things. We shared interests in forging new collaborations with synthetic biologists, and 'opening up' the science by exploring implicit assumptions, driving commitments, and possible alternatives. We also sought to critically interrogate dominant research agendas. But there were clearly differences between us, the most important being that the artists and designers made tangible artefacts, which had an immediacy and an ability to travel, and that seemed to allow different types of discussions from those initiated by our academic texts. The artists and designers also appeared to have the freedom to be more playful, challenging and perhaps more subversive in their interactions with synthetic biology. In this paper we ask what STS researchers can learn from art and design - in terms of practices, ambitions and concepts. We also ask whether engaging more closely with artists and designers can enrich social scientific work, by enabling an emergent form of critique.