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Just Futures Co-Lab



“tech won’t save us” follows the rallying cry of techwontsave.us on how and why the integration of technology and politics matters. Image courtesy of Kush Patel


Vision

The Just Futures Co-lab acknowledges technologically mediated futures in the plural and as visions that are also structurally accessible and socially just in the present. We have come together to call this space a “co-lab” to make explicit in name and practice the anti-caste, anti-colonial, queer, and feminist processes and politics of collaborative and community-centered knowledge production and project making in and with the digital.


Orientations and Approaches

With an orientation to learn from, with, and alongside individuals and communities along the campus-community spectrum, our scholarship will respond to and remain rooted in participatory learning, equitable labor, mutual accountability, and embodied research in history, theory, and design studies. We acknowledge how digital technologies aid in social exploitation, surveillance, disenfranchisement, and even epistemic and spatial violence. Our humanities- and design-based approaches to digital research and pedagogy, we expect, will not only produce cultural critiques, but also model possible alternatives for scholarly and interpersonal care in all such co-productions.


Positionality: Our approach to scholarship is orientated towards engaged and ethical knowledge-making work in and around situated, interconnected, and socially just futures. This work would include orientations, approaches, and modes of engagement that are as much in-ward inquiries as much as out-there involvements.

Collectivity: The co-lab will function as a pedagogy of collective and community-centered learning. Our goal is to scaffold, foster, incubate, and mentor graduate scholarship, as well as ideas and methodologies that may extend into directions beyond the curriculum.

Care: We see this space and the critiques we produce to embody care-based relations with the people, lands, networks, and infrastructures that jointly constitute the context in which we live, learn, and hold ourselves accountable.


Inquiries

Care, Maintenance, and Information Infrastructures


Situated work of caring and maintaining bodies and infrastructures. Image courtesy of Naveen Bagalkot


Recently, maintenance and care work has gained more focus in discourses across architecture and urban design, digital humanities, human computer interaction, and information communication technology (ICT) for development. Historically, the work that goes into maintaining and making socio-technical infrastructures work was understudied and hardly considered in the designing of infrastructures. The recent works call for an in-depth understanding of this work, which we term as “‘infrastructural work,” in order to better account for its place, utility, and value in the design of socio-technical systems. This is particularly relevant for sites in the Global South, where most often the technical infrastructure is non-existent or marginal. Drawing from the notion of infrastructure work from the field of Science and Technology Studies, urban cultural studies, as well as media studies, and care work in feminist studies, the focus here is to uncover the invisible care and maintenance work performed by invisible infrastructural actors, and re-center this through participatory and collaborative design of more equitable and just infrastructures.

- Participatory study, make visible, and augment informal and invisible care work through which people make infrastructure work for them.


Intersectional Feminist Histories and Futures


Writings and positions that guide. Image courtesy of Kush Patel


Discourses on speculative and critical design as well as feminist techno-utopias have emerged as a set of the leading ways to critique both commercial and “mainstream” design thinking, design research and innovation, and broader attempts at world-making through design, which often operate towards imagining and developing only a particular kind of future globally as a universal, patriarchal, and colonising force. However, these discourses are also challenged by counter-perspectives of decolonizing its current Euro-centric, cis-het, able-bodied, upper caste, and settler perspectives, calling for a more just practice that is rooted in local, heterogeneous, and trans-national ways of knowing, living, and thinking about our interdependent futures. Drawing from intersectional feminist and queer studies, this space is to work towards problematising both the idea of futures and who gets to imagine it, through situated and collective questioning, challenging and resisting status-quo.

- Co-construct spaces for facilitating and archiving “collective histories and speculations” that challenge mainstream imaginations, norms and practices with and from the margins.


Projects and Engagements

Post Graduate Trans-Disciplinary Research


Community Owned Health Knowledge Infrastructure

Project Initiated by: Naveen Bagalkot

We are building a pilot for a Community-Owned Health Knowledge Infrastructure (COwHKi) using low-cost, open source and locally configurable components for/with a collective of women health navigators (HNs) trained and supported by the Movement for Alternatives and Youth Awareness (MAYA), in Channapatna, Karnataka, India. Building on ongoing collaborative engagements and using our feminist and situated practice of participatory design, we plan to utilise the COwHKi to: a) build a community archive of locally rooted and relevant health information, and b) collectively speculate on the possibilities it offers towards both supporting the current and emerging care work of the HNs and enabling other forms of engagement by the community stakeholders with the evolving archive.


Futures at the “Peripheries”

Project Initiated by: Naveen Bagalkot

What if the history of technology—both its imagination and implementation—in India did not evolve in the way it did, controlled by the colonizing carriers of imagination from Silicon Valley to the hallowed institutions of design and technology (and their “Centers of Excellence / Innovation”) in India? What if, instead, we had centered the heterogeneous technical practices of making by the doers of technology—artisans, manual workers and technicians—and the imaginations they held? Our vision is to foreground and make visible the technological imaginations rooted in the everyday practices of the people who are on the many “peripheries”—gender, caste, profession, education, class—of the mainstream society, whose very use of technology, digital and material, demonstrates the reductive and narrowness of the elite and colonizing institutional imagination. Such a foregrounding could create portals into technoscapes that could-be, rather than dictated by the should-be of techno-utopian determinism.


Queer Futurities

Project Initiated by: Kush Patel

What constitutes a queer archive? What is its material form, content, and location? What are the personal, community, and/or institutional dimensions of its construction and maintenance? What are the design strategies of keeping an archive of queer work alive and meaningful for everyday survival? We’ll pilot this project by starting with building a diverse bibliographic database: a) on queer individuals’ intersections with design; b) on projects centering queerness in design; and c) on works about queer designers. What do we mean by design? Following Sasha Costanza-Chock’s writings on design justice, we will approach design in relation to space, technology, and social change, or the making and remaking of worlds—including, but not limited to, ecologies and histories of the built environment—“by any media necessary.” We will cover all geographies and design contexts for these bibliographic references. What do we mean when we talk about “queer” or “queerness?” We will preface this project and its pilot with an understanding that the histories and identities of gender and sexuality are plural and that the analytical complexity of this multiplicity connects and overlaps with experiences of race, indigeneity, caste, class, disability, faith, geographical difference, and education.


Public Seminar and Reading Group Series



Seminar texts and social annotations building a community. Image courtesy of Kush Patel


As a space for scholarship and pedagogy, we will be coordinating a yearlong seminar and reading group series to complement and deepen the work we do. The programming of this series will involve graduate students who might be interested in co-leading with the more scholarly dimensions of each project and in working with us to culminate the year with a supporting publication.


Who We Are

Naveen Bagalkot naveen.bagalkot@manipal.edu
Kush Patel (they/he): kush.patel@manipal.edu