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4S Preview: Sensing, Walking and Embodiment With and By Technologies—A Track Away From the Desk

Christopher Peter Wood

25 August, 2016

Backchannels is publishing a series of posts highlighting some of the tracks on the program of the 2016 4S conference, which will convene jointly with the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) in Barcelona, August 31-September 3. The theme of this year’s 4S/EASST conference is “science and technology by other means” For more information on this panel and to view the accepted abstracts, please see the track page.


How do we do and present research about spaces within spaces? In particular how do we move away from the desk (and the projector) to convey more of the subtle interactions which take place between bodies, technologies and their physical situations? This track offers a day of presentations outside the conference venue, walking around the Poblenou area. We are seeking to tap into themes which occur in any space in which technology operates and is used, but tie them to specific references within Barcelona.

In particular we are interested in the ways in which technologies associated with sensing and location construct and are constructed by the spaces in which they operate. Location awareness devices are becoming ever-present both through GPS-enabled smartphones and RFID chips. As this equipment becomes increasingly present and embedded in public space, the production of the body, sensors and ideas of location and presence become more complex and multi-layered. This emergent complexity raises challenges for research methods. Following Tim Ingold we would say that "Locomotion, not cognition, must be the starting point for the study of perceptual activity (Ingold, 2000: 166)”. This is well explored for human senses, but how might the technological objects which we carry with us sense and help build environments? For example, we frequently orient ourselves in relation to GPS sensors, but what is the grain of that infrastructural experience, both in terms of the material base and its less visible applications? We may also consider how sensory approaches could be developed or reframed in relation to machine sensors operating across networks. The presentations in this track all have walking at their heart and therefore play with ideas of embodiment and its extension through the senses and narrative. Walking and discussion have the potential to create new and rewarding spaces for the development and proliferation of knowledge (Wickson et al 2015). We hope that this track can offer fresh techniques to proliferate research and discussion.

The six presentations which make up this track are varied. Several concentrate on themes of narrative, with stories being offered as spatial processes, both through historical residues and the choices we make as we navigate our environment. A speculative design experience offers a future narrative where the city has been redrawn as a bureaucratic process, in which people are moved between residences in a pattern which is algorithmically determined. Other presentations concentrate on the sensory aspects of being within a space, drawing attention to the ways in which we situate ourselves. These modes of being are then passed through biometric sensing or recording technology to feed back to us a different way of understanding our surroundings. Technology also interacts with its surroundings through the traces it leaves behind. A walk through the Poblenou neighbourhood will draw attention to the trajectory of e-waste, tracking several local points of intersection with the global flows associated with the creation and destruction of technical objects.

This track will take place throughout the day on Friday 2nd August. Each walk will meet in the entrance foyer of the conference venue.

Preliminary timetable:

10.00 - 11.00 Reading and making space through performative mapping. Naomi Bueno de Mesquita (KU Leuven)

11.30 - 12.30 The Citizen Rotation Office: An immersive and speculative experience prototype. Luke Sturgeon (Royal College of Art)

13.00 - 14.00 Traces of Waste - A Site-Specific Audio Walk. Flavia Caviezel (Academy of Art and Design), Yvonne Volkart (University of Applied Arts, Basel) et. al.

14.30 - 15.30 Cartographies of Human Sensation. Jonathan Reus, Sissel Marie Tonn-Petersen

16.00 - 17.30 Narrative Journeys: Mapping the Self in Place as a (Re)Vision of Design. Sarah Hitt (Colorado School of Mines) & Toni Lefton (Colorado School of Mines)

18.00 - 19.00 Returning the Ear. Tim Shaw (Newcastle University), Jacek Smolicki (Malmö University - School of Arts and Communications)




Ingold, T. (2000) The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge.

Wickson, Fern, Roger Strand, and Kamilla Lein Kjølberg (2015) The Walkshop Approach to Science and Technology Ethics. Science and Engineering Ethics 21(1): 241–264.

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Descriptions of current work—the makings and doings—of STS scholars across the globe. This includes individual work, as well as collaborations between / with academics, practitioners, and policy makers.