Subversion, Conversion, Development - Public Interests in Technologies

24 April 2008 - 26 April 2008

CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane


Dr Robin Boast (Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
Dr James Leach (Anthropology, University of Aberdeen)
Dr Lee Wilson (CRASSH, University of Cambridge)

As part of the 'New forms of knowledge for the 21st Century' research agenda at Cambridge University, the workshop explored why designers and developers of new technologies should be interested in producing objects that users can modify, redeploy or redevelop. This exploration demanded an examination of presuppositions that underpin the knowledge practices associated with the various productions of information communication technologies (ICT). A central question was that of diversity: diversity of use, of purpose, and of value(s). Does diversity matter, in the production and use of ICT, and if so, why?

The aims of the workshop were:

  • To promote the development of ICT media that ensures diverse and local public constituencies and interests.

  • To encourage an approach to ICT development - in education and civic society - that will adopt and enable diversity of use, local modification and creativity.

  • To encourage cultural and educational institutions to disseminate their vast bodies of information for the use of diverse communities, with diverse interests and knowledges, in a way that will enable and empower reuse, modification and local significance.

To address these questions, the workshop explored two overlapping themes: modification of use, and modifications of social processes facilitated by, or inspired by, engagements with ICT. How have new technologies come to be incorporated in existing social practices? In what ways have peoples use of ICTs facilitated greater agency and capacity for political engagement? In making issues public, or through making publics, how has the use of ICT given or amplified the voice of particular communities? How might models of collaborative work, of effective organization or action be facilitated by ICT? Could the resultant models be used as an inspiration for developing appropriate and usable social interventions, or further technological objects? What are the implications that these instances might have for a 'user centered' or 'user owned' ICT agenda.


The workshop aimed to make concrete a subversion of the idea of single kind of user, or for that matter designer, and the desire to predict or meet the needs of the end user through products which all too rapidly become obsolete. Furthermore, to question the assumption that obsolescence is inevitable, and that value creation must rely on professional development of new objects rather than public innovations and redesign of existing objects.

Thus, our use of 'subversion' did not imply socially undesirable action, but rather meant to use, or re-use, in unintentional or unforeseen ways. Our point of departure was that knowledge, and hence knowing, is not singular, nor is it determined from an authoritative center, but is multiple, local and diverse. Furthermore, that knowledges might be thought of as those practices, certainties, stories and understandings that are held and maintained by groups of people. All forms of knowledge, defined as deeply embedded and profound expertise, are, in principle, valuable and deserve a voice. We did not however assume a commensurability of knowledge practices. Rather, through a focus on the politics of production, and the ways in which knowledge practices are modified or transformed, the workshop explored, shared and developed means of expressing, archiving and sharing accounts of knowledges through cultural objects.


This workshop then brought together in dialogue developers of ICT technologies, indigenous people and community representatives who use and form social networks around ICTs in interesting or subversive ways, and academics who are both users of, developers of and commentators on these processes. While the workshop encouraged those who interrogate the current faith in the digital as the answer to social, educational and archival problems, the intention of this workshop was to offer developers a chance to begin to engage with the perspective of particular, socially innovative end users in order to foster diversity of use.


Sponsored by:


Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge


For administrative enquiries contact










24th April


17.15 - 17.45 


17.45 - 18.30 

Opening Ceremony (by web-link)
gkisedtanamoogk (Otter Clan Longhouse, Wampanoag Federation Manitomp, Adjunct Faculty University of Maine)


Open Objects Initiative Presentation
Dawn Nafus (Intel Research), James Leach (Anthropology, University of Aberdeen) 

19.00 - 19.30

Welcoming Address
Prof. Dame Marilyn Strathern
(Anthropology, University of Cambridge) 


Drinks Reception and buffet
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge

25th April  

9.00 - 9.30

Registration and coffee


Theme 1 Modifications and extensions of Use
Chair: Robin Boast (Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of

9.30 - 11.00

Session 1

Poline Bala (University of Malaysia, Sarawak)
Redeploying technologies: ICT for greater agency and capacity for political engagement in the Kelabit Highlands

Jim Enote (A:shiwi Map Art Project)
Gathering community around mapping projects

David Turnbull (Australian Centre for Science, Innovation andSociety (ACSIS), University of Melbourne)
Distributed, dialogical and diverse: emergent processes in biology, knowledge production and creativity

Jerome Lewis (Anthropology, UCL)Re-presenting the world - the production of maps by non-literate hunter-gatherers as a way of communicating their world to outsiders

11.00 - 11.30


11.30 - 13.00

Session 2

Matt Jones (Future Interaction Technology Lab, Swansea University)
Narrowcast Yourself - User Generated Content and a Rural Indian Village

Juan Salazar (Anthropology, University of Western Sydney)
Maps as media for social change

Helen Verran (School of Philosophy, University of Melbourne) and Michael Christie (School of Education, Charles Darwin University)
Indigenous knowledge and resource management in Northern Australia

Joline Blais and gkisedtanamoogk (University of Maine)
Request For Ceremony

13.00 - 14.00


14.00 - 14.30

Keynote Intervention: Dawn Nafus (Intel Research)
Design, Sustainability and Industry

14.30 - 16.30

Theme 2 Modifications of Social Process
Chair: Lee Wilson (CRASSH, University of Cambridge) 


Session 3

James Leach (University of Aberdeen) and Wendy Seltzer (Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School)
Cross Cultural Partnership Agreement template

Beth Kolko (Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School)
ICT in Central Asia

Hildegard Diemberger (University of Cambridge) and Stephen Hugh-Jones (University of Cambridge)
Tibetan ancient scriptures in a digital age

Will Tuladhar-Douglas (Religious Studies, University of Aberdeen)
Technologies are busting with implicit intentions: the cases of writing

Govindan Parayil (Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, University of Oslo)
The capabilities to bridge the digital divide: the missing link in connecting rural India
Merlyna Lim (Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, Arizona State University)
Civic Networks: The Internet and civil society activism in Indonesia

16.30 - 17.00 Coffee

17.00 - 17.30

Tim Ingold (University of Aberdeen)
Reflections on the day

17.30 - 18.00

Open Floor
Chair: David Turnbull (ACSIS, University of Melbourne)

18.30 (for 19.15) Conference dinner, Saltmarsh Rooms, King's College



26th April  
9.00 - 9.30 Coffee

9.30 - 11.30

Panel 1 Exploration: Decentring Design
Chair: Mike Bravo (University of Cambridge)


Matt Ratto (University of Toronto)
Critical thinking and critical making: conceptualizing material engagement and knowledge

Laura Watts (Lancaster University)
Liminal Futures: Landscapes of Innovation in the High-tech Industry

Jennifer Baird (Virtual Museums of Canada Investment Program) 
From ‘Ask the Authority’ to ’Question the Authority’ to ‘Share the Authority’?

John Bowers (Goldsmiths, University of London,
Interaction Design Centre, University of Limerick)
Making it up: threshold devices in the curious home,
the recipe station in the farmers market, and the music of the 4093 nand gate

Bart Barendregt (Anthropology, Leiden University)
Mobile modernities in contemporary Indonesia

11.30 - 12.00


12.00 - 13.00

Discussion: Open technologies and new possibilities for development?
Chair: Ramesh Srinvasan (Information Studies, UCLA) 

John Norman (Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies, University of Cambridge), Alan Blackwell (Computer Lab, University of Cambridge) and Wendy Selzer (Harvard Law School) and Nina Wakeford (Goldsmiths)

13.00 - 14.00 Lunch

14.00 - 16.30

Panel 2 Subversion, conversion or development?
(Coffee available throughout)

Chair: James Leach (University of Aberdeen)  

Giles Lane (Proboscis)Public authoring, scavenging and agency
Gregers Peterson (Copenhagen Business School)
Wireless technology, subversive politics
Jon Ippolito (University of Main)
Whose tool is this anyway? Art and creative misuse
Comment: Daria Loi (Design Researcher, Intel)
Open Discussion

16.30 - 17.00 

Closing Ceremony 
gkisedtanamoogk (Otter Clan Longhouse, Wampanoag Federation Manitomp, Adjunct Faculty University of Maine)


End of conference