Interaction Design WikiDesign, Technology and Society

If/Only: design, technology and society 2019

If/Only: design, technology and society 2019 

Spring 2019


Dr Joëlle Bitton, 

Dr Jean-Baptiste Labrune,  

Verena Ziegler, 

Office hours by appointment 

Class sessions include a lecture/discussion each Monday from 13.00-15.00 ZT 4.T31.


The seminar proposes a critical examination of political components of design as it articulates technology and society. 
Design is often understood on the surface as an activity producing more or less useful or ornamental things - outside the scope of its entanglements with questions of policy, trade, labor, gender, resources, power structures. Yet, designers can hold an agenda in these matters and designed artefacts and systems can affect how people live, communicate and act. This seminar thus proposes to uncover the material dimension of politics. Through case studies, observations of situations, film excerpts, exercises, guest lectures and essays, we will look at those entanglements as well as address systems that may not seem 'designed' as such but that present components of being planned and organised for a particular purpose. 

The 12 sessions of the seminar are structured around 3 sections: 

  1. Spaces, Artifacts and Ecosystems held by Verena Ziegler
  2. Technoculture and Society held by Dr Jean-Baptiste Labrune

  3. The Design of Trade held by Dr Joëlle Bitton

Session 01 – 18.02 Observation I 

Introduction of course outline and first section: Spaces, Artifacts and Ecosystems

Clarification regarding expectations and assignments to be accomplish throughout the seminar

From what perspective do the two texts speak about the streets perception and systems? 

Session 02 – 25.02 Observations II Spaces and Politics  

Questions to answer in preparation to the seminar:

Please try to compare the two texts, how do the authors look at surveillance strategies (from a governmental perspective, from a citizen perspective, from a political perspective,...) 

Try to map out (or highlight in the text) the Essays trajectory opinions and characteristics.

>>> Informal, short presentations of observations (2 min.)

Session 03 - 04.03. Spaces 

>>> Short presentations/performances of observations (2 min.)

Didier Faustino,

Readings to be read in advance, preparation of presentations of observations and preparation of notes (from the readings).

Session 04 – 11.03 Artifacts and Politics 

Readings to be read in advance and preparation of notes.

Session 05 – 18.03 Ecosystems 

>>> Short Presentations of Essay investigations (2 min.)

Readings to be read in advance, preparation of presentations of essay investigations and preparation of notes (from the readings).

Session 06 – 01.04 Cybernetics Revisited

Readings to be read in advance and preparation of notes.

Short Bio:

Jean-Baptiste Labrune
Jb Labrune is a designer and researcher specializing in the development and study of creative processes in the context of new programmable materials, critical design and avant garde places mixing artists, scientists and thinkers. His researches focus on the notion of “Exaptation”, the way in which users of technologies reconfigure and hack them, producing original and unexpected functions and uses. He completed his PhD at INRIA and postdoc at MIT, then became a researcher at Bell Labs and interaction design professor at ENSAD (Arts Décos School). He then joined SciencesPo University as a senior lecturer while launching his practice at Radical Design Studio. He organized many “hybrid” workshops in art & sciences venues in France (Arts Décos, Beaux-Arts, Palais de Tokyo, Mains d’Oeuvres) & internationally (Mediamatic, Interaction Design Institute Ivréa, IMAL, Hangar, Hyperwerk, Akademie Schloss Solitude, MIT Medialab).

Session 07 – 08.04 The Uses of Literacy

Readings to be read in advance and preparation of notes.

Session 08 – 15.04 Anthropology of Hacking

Readings to be read in advance and preparation of notes.

Session 09 – 29.04 Accelerationism

Readings to be read in advance and preparation of notes.

Session 10 – 06.05 - On the History and Empowerment of West African Workers 

Guest Lecture: Dr Cassandra Thiesen-Mark, Universität Basel

This lecture considers the history of the inclusion of West African labourers in the global economy: what specific mechanisms and terms defined this process? What was the promise of the creation of a system of free wage labour? And how convincing was its implementation in this part of the world? It will cover the current and past struggles of these male and female by exploring how they have managed to secure sources of power and security in the overwhelming absence of state- or employer-related social welfare mechanisms.


Short Bio: 

Dr. Cassandra Mark-Thiesen is currently a lecturer and researcher at the history department of the University of Basel. She completed her doctoral research in African History at Oxford University in 2014. Her research focus lies in the social and economic history of West Africa. Her current research project traces the history of agricultural development policies and practices in Liberia between 1944 and 1957. Her first book Mediators, Contract Men and Colonial Capital: Mechanized Gold Mining in the Gold Coast Colony, 1879-1909, which is part of the African Studies Series of the University of Rochester Press, traced the economic factors behind indirect recruitment for Ghana’s early colonial gold mines. It paid special attention to a variety of West African labor agents orchestrating this form of migration; both male and female, career-and profit-oriented. General research interests include Africa during the age of developmentalism, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, rural history, the history of African intermediaries, the history of work.

Readings to be read in advance and preparation of notes.

Session 11 – 13.05 - India’s shifting place in the world wide web of cotton, c. 1600-1950

Guest Lecture: Prof Dr Harald Fischer-Tiné, Institut für Geschichte, ETH
Taking India as its main geographical focus, this lecture will explore the construction and transformation of the world wide web of cotton between the 16th and the 20th centuries. On a more abstract level it makes a plea for a multiperspectival approach to the history of material objects through illustrating how deeply the history of commodities and the history of consumption are tangled up with social and political history.


  • Sven Beckert, "Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the Worldwide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the American Civil War". The American Historical Review, Vol. 109, No. 5 (December 2004), Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association.
  • Giorgi Riello, "The Globalization of cotton textiles. Indian Cottons, Europe, and the Atlantic World, 1600–1850". In Prasannan Parthasarathi and Giorgio Riello, eds, The Spinning World: A Global History of Cotton Textiles, 1200-1850 (Oxford, 2009).

Short Bio:

Harald Fischer-Tiné is Professor of Modern Global History at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zürich). He has studied South Asian history, political science and Hindi at the University of Heidelberg (from where he earned his PhD in 2000) and the Central Hindi Institute in Agra (India). He has published extensively on South Asian colonial history and the history of the British Empire. His research interests include global and transnational history, the history of knowledge and the social and cultural history of colonial South Asia. His most recent monographs are: Shyamji Krishnavarma: Sanskrit, Sociology and Anti-Imperialism (London and Delhi, 2014); Pidgin-Knowledge: Wissen und Kolonialismus (Berlin - Zurich, 2013, in German. He has also (co)-edited ten anthologies, the most recent of which are: Anxieties, Fear and Panic in Colonial Settings (Houndmills, 2017); Global Anti-Vice Activism, 1890–1950: Fighting Drinks, Drugs, and “Immorality” (Cambridge, 2016), with Jessica Pliley and Robert Kramm; Colonial Switzerland: Rethinking Colonialism from the Margins (New York and Houndmills, 2015), with Patricia Purtschert; and A History of Alcohol and Drugs in Modern South Asia: Intoxicating Affairs (London, 2013), with Jana Tschurenev.

His articles and book reviews have appeared in many journals including the American Historical Review, Past & Present, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Modern Asian Studies and Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. Currently, Harald Fischer-Tiné is concluding the manuscript of a research monograph on the history of the American YMCA in South Asia (1890–1960).

Readings to be read in advance and preparation of notes.

Session 12 – 20.05 - Silk Road: Old and New Networks

Guest Lecture: Mi You, Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln
The starting point is the Silk Roads, a network of trade routes and cultural transfer passages connecting Eurasia and the rest of the world. Eurasia is a landmass that embraces a space between Europe and Asia. Albeit simplistic, taking this definition of Eurasia promises an exploratory, open-ended and collaborative journey into a complex way of thinking through old and new networks, which questions existing borders and distinctions in all dimensions such as the geographical, cultural, geopolitical, and social ones – and in turn calls for new connections and pathways across cosmic, geologic, media-theoretical and nomadic dimensions.


Short Bio:

Mi YOU travels physically and metaphysically on the silk road. She curated performative programs at Asian Culture Center (Gwangju) and the inaugural Ulaanbaatar International Media Art Festival (2016) taking the silk road as a figuration for deep-time, de-centralized and nomadic imageries. With Binna Choi, she is co-initiator of a long-term research/curation project Unmapping Eurasia (2018-). She is faculty member at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, and writes on art, performance philosophy and science and technology studies. She is member of Academy of Arts of the World (Germany) and serves as director of Arthub (Shanghai) advisor to The Institute for Provocation (Beijing).


The seminar proposes a critical conversation, addressing political components of design and their influence on human life. Methods of discussion, observation and critical thinking are practiced throughout.
Grades will be based on the oral and written presentations and on class participation. Contributing to constructive group feedback is an essential aspect of class participation. Regular attendance is required. Two or more unexcused absences will affect the final grade. Arriving late on more than one occasion will also affect the grade.

Class participation 20% 

Journal/Blog 20%

In-class assignments 20%

Final Assignment 40%

Any assignment that remains unfulfilled receives a failing grade. 



A separate 'Journal' is developed by each student that reflects on learnings from the seminar. It should be in the form of an online blog (ie. WordPress, Tumblr or other):

Exercise Observation

The theoretical discussion of the subject is substantiated by a practical observation that can be presented in a freely selectable form. However, this should address the following questions:

(1) What is the origin of space?

(2) Why is this political?

(3) How is space observed and perceived?

(4) How changed does space become through observation and perception?

(5) How does the reader perceive space through the nature of the description?


The final assignment should develop a question from the topics dealt with and include these in form of a critical or argumentative essay.

Extent of the essay about 2500 words with references and bibliography.

The essay can be written in German or English. 

Essay deadline: 07.06.2019 uploaded to the IAD server: (folder essay assignment) smb:// & PROJEKTE/19FS/Sem4_If only_theory


Readings are made available in the shared IAD server: smb:// & PROJEKTE/19FS/Sem4_If only_theory

Students blogs:

If Only: design, technology and society