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LECTURE 4/18: Matt Ratto – Prompts, Parts, and Publics: Critical Making as practice, as research program

Matt Ratto

Prompts, Parts, and Publics: Critical Making as practice, as research program

Thursday, April 18th, 7pm

6 E 16th Street, 12th Floor, Main lab

Please join us for a lecture by Matt Ratto, Assistant Professor and director of the Critical Making lab in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. A description of his talk and biography are included below.

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Prompts, Parts, and Publics: Critical Making as practice, as research program

At a conference a group builds electronics flowers, using them to explore dimensions of sharing and network technologies; (Ratto and Hoekema, 2009a) in a city, urban agriculturalists use simple robots to explore small-scale farming and automation; (DiSalvo, 2012) in their workplace, designers construct an IV bag in the shape of a teddy bear and rely on the cognitive dissonance to convey affectual sensibilities about health and childhood; (Dunn and Raby, 2001)  in a company a group of designers and sales people build wearable sensors to test theories of cognitive plasticity and embodiment; (Ratto, 2010) at the university, a class of students uses arduinos and electronics to explore critical information issues;( Ratto, 2009b)  and in her studio, an artist clones ten trees and places them around the world as part of a material experience-experiment on nature-nuture relations (Jerimijenko, 2004)

These examples, drawn from my own work and from the work of others, serve as examples of what I frame as ‘critical making’, (Ratto and Hoekema, 2009a; Ratto, 2011a, Ratto, 2011b), materially productive hands-on work intended to uncover and explore conceptual uncertainties, parse the world in ways that language cannot, and to disseminate the results of these explorations through embodied, material forms. The use of the term critical making, rather than related terms such as critical design, (Dunn and Raby, 2001) design thinking, (Martin, 2009) or constructionism (Harel and Papert, 1991) is purposeful. Rather than focus on how more reflexive practices can improve the quality of the material world, the term critical making – like critical thinking –  highlights an intention to explore how more substantial engagements with material production will improve the quality of our conceptualizations of our world. In this talk, I will provide details regarding my pedagogical and research engagements with critical material practices. I will use these examples to highlight the intersections between prompts, parts, and publics necessary to establish critical making as part of a scholarly, but design-oriented mode of work.

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Bio:

Matt Ratto is an Assistant Professor and director of the Critical Making lab in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. He received his PhD from the University of California, San Diego in 2003, writing his dissertation on the social organization of the Linux development community. Past appointments include a postdoctoral position with the Netherlands Institute for Scientific Information (NIWI), researcher and founding member of the Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Amsterdam (VKS-KNAW), visiting scholar at the University of Amsterdam, and a research position in the Humlab, University of Umea, Sweden. His previous studies have addressed the use of computer simulation and modeling technologies in Archaeology, the interplay between social organization and software code, the ramifications of particular software design sensibilities on our ability to function as citizens and as members of expert collectives, and the role of digital commons-based peer production in scientific communities.

His current research focuses on how hands-on productive work – making – can supplement and extend critical reflection on the relations between digital technologies and society. In particular, Ratto’s work addresses the movement of digital media and information from screens and into the material environment. This trend, known as ‘ambient’ or ‘ubiquitous’ computing, or more colloquially as the ‘Internet of Things’, is the primary focus of his work and builds upon the new possibilities offered by open source software and hardware, and the developing technologies of 3D printing and rapid prototyping. Since 2007, Ratto has carried out workshops in ‘critical making’ in Amsterdam, London, Canada, the US, and Scotland.

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*This talk is supported by a Team Mutual Mentoring grant awarded by the Provost’s office to Katherine Moriwaki, Nitin Sawhney, Jane Pirone, Peter Asaro, and Otto Von Busch.