More-Than-Human Design Research: Call for postgraduate applications

Posted on Oct 6, 2014 in Conferences, Workshops & CFPs

The VUW School of Design More-Than-Human Design Research Lab seeks postgraduate students who:

  • are critical, creative, and highly motivated;
  • want to better understand technosocial values and practices;
  • are concerned about the future of our planet;
  • care about animals, plants, and the land;
  • are interested in collaborating with social scientists, biological and materials scientists, engineers and technologists;
  • want to work with local communities and public organisations.

BACKGROUND

The World Wildlife Fund and other scientists recently reported that the Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past forty years, and researchers across disciplines refer to our current era as the Anthropocene: a period of unprecedented human influence on the planet and its resources. Natural resource management and contemporary climate change are arguably the most pressing political, economic, ethical, and environmental challenges facing humanity—and we need new ways of thinking, making, and doing things with (not to) the nonhuman world. The More-Than-Human Design Research Lab explicitly addresses these issues and concerns by dedicating itself to the development and assessment of new empirically-grounded theoretical models and creative research methods.

After decades of object or technology-centred design practices, human-centred approaches now dominate the discipline. This shift to better support people’s needs and values provided a much required corrective, however it has arguably resulted in an opposite, but similar, imbalance. More-than-human design acknowledges the deep interconnectedness of social, biological, and material life–focussing on relations between humans and nonhumans.

Anthropologists, cultural geographers, and sociologists of science and technology have long focussed their attention on holistic or ecological ways of understanding interactions between people, places, objects, and ideas. Well-established, and continuously evolving, theoretical frameworks and research methods have tackled the question of how people shape, and are shaped by, their relations with nonhuman animals, plants, materials and artefacts.

This kind of thinking also recently found its way into technology design with the challenge to take nonhuman animals more seriously, and the formation of a standing Animal-Computer Interaction Special Interest Group (SIG). However, it is also true that technologists and product designers have long been part of environmental research and resource management. A more-than-human design focus brings people back into these equations without losing the focus on animals, plants, and other materials.

The More-Than-Human Design Research Lab aims to:

  • determine and describe how design theory and practice can move beyond the product or the human to more explicitly address the relations and interactions between social and material worlds;
  • identify, compare and contrast strategies for design to actively support, and participate in, activities for public engagement with science and technology.

To accomplish these aims, we have two primary research objectives:

  • develop and assess combined empirical and creative research methods;
  • create and integrate specific designs into broader academic, government, industry, and community-based initiatives in environmental stewardship and resource management.

And the following postgraduate teaching and learning objectives:

  • recognise how cultural values and technoscientific knowledge shape our understandings of, and interactions with, the natural world;
  • identify and differentiate the roles of culture, science, technology, and design in environmental stewardship and resource management;
  • design visual, object and/or service-based responses to cultural, technoscientific and/or environmental issues;
  • assess the relevance of design choices and analyse their impact;
  • communicate effectively both verbally and in writing.

Recent and upcoming projects led by Dr Anne Galloway include meat and wool in an Internet of Things, public controversies surrounding native wildlife conservation and cats, and the use of UAVs (drones) in livestock management. The research and design skills needed to work on these projects range from biological and environmental sciences, ethnography and speculative design, to coding for identification, location and sensor technologies, data analysis and visualisation, video production and post-production, and web design.

Paid research assistantships for 2014-2015 are available on a competitive basis, and the following list is indicative of the range of methods and tools needed to accomplish our objectives, working in collaboration with Prof Winston Seah (VUW Engineering & Computer Science):

  • qualitative methods (including ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, analysis & writing)
  • video production & post-production (including GoPro HD cameras)
  • physical computing (including RFID, GPS, UAVs, microcontrollers & sensors)
  • data analysis & visualisation
  • web & mobile media design

Applicants are also highly encouraged to propose any and all interesting projects related to human-animal-machine ecologies and/or how design can help bring humans and nonhumans together in environmental stewardship and resource management.

PROGRAMME DETAILS & DEADLINES

Master of Design — applications accepted year-round

Doctor of Philosophy — applications due 1 March, 1 July, and 1 November

For those applying from outside NZ, here is some helpful information on student visas.

WHY VUW & WELLINGTON?

This is a great place to live and grow your career!

You’ll be surrounded by exciting research and have access to excellent facilities.

Good scholarships are available on a competitive basis, and the School of Design offers additional teaching and research opportunities.

Wellington is awesome.

If you have any questions about postgraduate studies with the More-Than-Human Design Research Lab, please contact Dr Anne Galloway (anne.galloway AT vuw.ac.nz).