Re-Imagining the Body: Design, Data, Values and Intersectionality
There are few terrains that evoke such socio-political anxieties and ambitions as the human body. Our contemporary moment is characterized by a shift in who can understand, analyze and ‘hack’ the body. Consumer biosensors, citizen science movements such as biohacking, and patient power movements such as participatory medicine, all use technology to challenge the status quo around who can demonstrate expertise about the body. They bring both opportunities and responsibilities. How do we engage with this computational turn that now marks the everyday experience of our biology?
In this course, we will take a close look at critical debates and scholarship about the body. We will draw from art, design, theory and activism. This course will introduce and ground itself in the philosophies of critical technical practice and reflective design. That is, not only will we examine the various ways in which society conceives of the body, through the lens of data, posthumanism, nation, race, gender and dis/ability, we will also unpack how we have been personally formed by those very debates and influences. What underlying values and assumptions do you bring to engaging the body through technology? What kinds of norms are you reinforcing with your actions? What would you like to change?
This course will culminate in a set of group projects, all in conversation with each other, that we will publish online in service to a public audience. Each group project will offer a critical and reflective perspective on a theme of your choosing. You will choose a trajectory most suitable to your learning and communication preference, from three tracks:
Unpack a narrative about the body with a curated digital archive/gallery of representations (text/video/image/sound).
Articulate reflective and critical perspectives in written essay format.
Design a speculative, critical or reflective digital artifact to challenge existing values and assumptions.
Depending on your own prior experience, this class will begin, extend or support the following skills.
Intersectionality: Analyze how concepts of the body are interconnected with other systems of power. These could include, but are not limited to gender, age, ability, literacy, race, and membership in privileged knowledge institutions (universities, scientific labs, medical institutions). Demonstrate how these categories are mutually constituted and intersect with different technological engagements with the body.
Critical self-awareness: Demonstrate self-reflexivity about one’s values, ideas and goals, and how they are connected to one’s own body status and socio-economic position.
Engaged Practice: Explore how to advocate for differences in bodies, identities, marginalized communities, and non-normative practices. Understand the ways in which knowledge institutions are assigned legitimacy. Learn to recognize and support other non-traditional and diverse ways of producing knowledge about the body that are also valuable.
Creativity: Synthesize diverse perspectives, the aesthetics of writing/imagery/sound/touch, and activism to engage with issues of the body in a manner that is imaginative, inspiring and generative.