24 Apr 2008 - 26 Apr 2008 All day 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 apm50@cam.ac.uk









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