Responding to the “Post-user, post-consumer” thread on Blackbeltjones.

Dear friends, designers, thinkers; the user debate is biting its own tail. It was so already before we contributed to it, and I’m worried that it’s likely to go on fruitlessly so as long as it takes for granted a quite specific interpretation of atomism—the belief that the world is made of individuals with inherent characteristics and definite boundaries.

I’m tempted to propose that to be seriously committed to the user question, requires a pause, a willingness to question this worldview. What counts as a person? What might it mean to design not for preexisting, independent individuals with fixed boundaries but for partially known, locally enacted performances, out of which ‘individuals’ may temporarily materialize as relational effects?

How might a non-atomistic metaphysics be enacted in the mundane practices of design, amidst the very real pressures of for-profit mass production? How might one sustainably practice design, insisting that the division between people and machines and other nonhumans is not a stable, universal lawlike division, but a locally negotiated temporary cut? What would it mean to even ask such a thing? To risk it?

At the very least, it leads to following threads that weave their ways through locations quite ‘Other’ to the blogosphere. I want to point to Karen Barad‘s thinking on agential realism. Her article is here, password-protected as if to say: ‘for academics only.’ And I’d be surprised if non-academics would profit much from her cryptic writing even if it was technically accessible (but do note, her book is forthcoming). What’s it going to take to make a difference? Boring wormholes that traverse discourses? speaking allegorically? magical realism? I don’t know.

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