Community Meeting ( September 6 ): Limits of design

Justin Obara obara.justin at
Tue Sep 5 18:01:11 UTC 2017

At this week’s Community Meeting
<> (
September 6, 2017 ) Peter Fuzesi will be visiting the IDRC and leading a
community meeting on "Limits of design".


I am a doctoral student at Lancaster University, supervised by Professors
Lucy Suchman and Carol Thomas. My doctoral research project (Working title:
>From designing for different users to economies of difference) stands at
the intersection of Disability Studies and Science Technology and Society
(STS). I am interested in how corporeal and technological norms and
standards are co-articulated and circulate in bodies, devices and figures
such as that of the user.

My presentation is based on an ethnographic study on how users are
within the UK's public healthcare system, and looks at a specialized
Service Centre that delivers Environmental Control and Augmentative
Alternative Communication Systems for “Clients with Complex Needs”. The
site is peculiar insofar as every individual user is delivered a
personalized system, which aims to take into account the user's wider
social, cultural and material environment and its changes. To meet these
diverse and changing needs and to retain a flexibility to re-design
systems, the Service Centre functions as a site for not only designing,
maintaining but also (literally) delivering and commissioning technologies.
By doing so, the work practices of those working at the Centre also augment
and reconfigure market relations and infrastructures, and redraw the
established boundaries between development/design and use/consumption.

Although arguably the professionals in the Service Centre grapple with
design problems, the language and discipline of design remains absent and
the development of novel technological
devices is not seen as a primary concern. It is more fitting to describe
professional practices at the Centre as the artful integration (Suchman,
1999) of existing technologies into an arrangement that works for the user
in a given material and social environment. Although this iterative process
of constant negotiation between the developer and individual results in
several inventive solutions there are serious limitations to generalize
these highly situated arrangements, specifically relevant for only one
individual. This raises questions about the ways design and its products
can be evaluated, and the ways standards, regimes of evidence and
market success
and failure frame our understanding of technology design and use. In sum,
approaching and problematizing this site enables a critical reflection on
the normative implications of concepts such as user, product/project,
design and technology in relation to liberal individualism, mass production
and commodity exchange.


2:30 - 4:00pm ET


Locally: IDRC Office <>
Remotely: fluid_standup
video conference

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