Note — Oct 18, 2020

What Can Ethnographers Learn From Science Fiction and Speculative Design?

Seen in → No.146

Source →

This one by Laura Forlano (via Shannon Mattern) is from 2013 and I didn’t have/take the time to dig further in this use of design fiction but it’s a super interesting one. Forlano looks at ethnography as a form of time travel and argues that for certain topics they must find ways of studying the future. In the piece she opens the door to using codesign, participatory design, and speculative design to open up new topics of inquiry, bridge both analytical and generative practices, and even writes about “design friction” which “would use the alternative futures and storytelling methods from speculative design in order to interrogate the gaps and seams that we uncover through ethnographic research.”

Increasingly, narratives from science fiction (as well as speculative design and design fiction) are being used as modes of imagining alternative futures in a critical and generative way (without being technodeterministic) in emerging research and design practice, and these practices have much promise for ethnographic methods. […]

From deep hanging out (Geertz, 1998) to interviewing lead users (Von Hippel, 1978) to adopting and experimenting with emerging technologies themselves, I developed strategies that allowed me to glimpse cultures, patterns and behaviors before they were widely known or understood.”

As such, the objects that are created are not the solution to a design problem but rather objects with which to think creatively. […]

We need better ways of turning our descriptive, analytical accounts into those that are prescriptive, and which have greater import in society and policy. We may do this by inhabiting narratives, generating artifacts to think with and engaging more explicitly with the people formerly known as our “informants” as well as with the public at large.