Making Futures 2021

Introduction to Session Two: Life-Cycles of Material Worlds

The seventh edition of our Making Futures biennial international research conference will be held on 16th September 2021.

With the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow just two weeks away, this session explores how makers are seeking to address the Global Climate Emergency not only in terms of direct changes to their material practices, but how such practices are connected to broader social-economic issues concerning whether capitalism can adapt to create a new ecological political economy that encompasses socially equitable practices and non-human, as well as human, life forms and systems beyond utilitarian economic conceptions of surplus value. The session will do this by addressing ‘Life-cycles of Material Worlds’ on two interrelated levels:

1. (Re)configuring existing material practices:

Will examine the research, development and implementation of projects (completed or ongoing) in which makers are proactively exploring sustainably engaged practices. These initiatives might, for example, pursue localised sourcing, involve innovations in materials, technology, tools and techniques (analogue and/or digital). They might also incorporate cradle-to-cradle design-and-make strategies and associated approaches to translating waste into new source of value through re-cycling, up-cycling, sharing, make and mend, and maintenance. In this regard the session is also keen to explore projects adopting a ‘Jugaad’ style ‘frugal innovation’ approach. As well (re)configuring material practices, this session hopes to hear from makers developing longer-term approaches to the issues at hand. Associated with Transition Design, this systems-level tactic typically seeks to understand the interconnectedness of social, economic and natural systems as a starting point for appropriate design-led interventions.

2. Craft as an intermediary condition between human and non-human material cultures:

Operating in acute recognition of the Climate Emergency, commentators (especially those linked to the philosophy of New Materialism), have sought to develop narratives that reach beyond anthropocentric thinking and the nature-culture dualities that typically inform production-based material relations (i.e., that typically reduce all to the story of homo-economicus) to underscore the relations between life forms - human and non-human, including inanimate materials - so as to view all as forms of ‘being’ with agency in a stupendously intricately interrelated world. Since the late 19th century at least, craft can be thought of as existing in a boundary state with respect to industrial production, allowing it to usefully problematise human labour, the transformation of materials, factory organisation, scales of production, and the overarching principles of capitalist value extraction. But our quest here is to see whether craft might now, with its concern to sensually and bodily manipulate and engage in the life-cycles of material worlds, be thought of as existing in a boundary state with respect to human and non-human natures in ways that enable it to reflect on these transactions between different modes of being in ways. that enrich our appreciation of these relations afresh? We are therefore interested in imaginative presentations that speculatively seek to address this issue, and indeed, the whole question of how we might start to re-formulate and re-narrate craft in the context of the Climate Emergency.