Reflections on Machines of Knowledge & Design Thinking and Maker Culture

Well, it’s almost that time again! The period is nearing its end and soon we will be handing in our final assignments for 2020! Though it has been tough to keep motivated and focused in this final stretch of this long, long year, especially with the added difficulties and stressors of working under COVID-19 restrictions, I do feel that I have grown this period in terms of academic knowledge, design skillsets and practical experience from collaborating in challenging group projects. Therefore I would like to take a moment to reflect on the period that has been and share some insights I’ve had for potential further research, such as for my MA thesis.

Firstly, some of the most interesting aspects of the Machines of Knowledge course this period have been the methods and tools we have learned to make use of in the area of distant reading and text analysis. For the uninitiated, these are methods of computer-assisted reading of larger corpora of text data – whereby humanities, social science or scholars from other fields can analyse their selected data from a new angle. I found it particularly interesting hearing how some scholars of literature have used this method to find new thematic, linguistic and stylistic patterns within their text collections, or perhaps even more impactfully, between authors or whole groups of authors. This gave them valuable and heretofore undiscoverable insights about these volumes and authors, which could revolutionise the way we understand these works. As a political science major during my bachelors, I was particularly struck when we discussed how, from a post-colonial or feminist perspective, this type of methodology could reveal new information enriching our understanding of inequalities and power structures in our societies – for example, by giving us an overview of the major scientific discoveries and knowledge which have been contributed to by uncredited women, lgbtq+ individuals and/or ethnic/cultural minorities, by allowing large-scale comparisons between their lesser-known works/notes and what has been published by ‘big names’ in science.

Looking forward with this method, I would consider applying this lens to look at the toxicity within online communities, continuing in a way the work I did in my bachelor’s thesis where I used qualitative sociological methods to study the ideological foundations of incel communities online. Using a mixed-method approach employing distant reading and tools like Voyant or Netlytic together with closer-reading methods or ethnography could provide a broader scope to my research. Coupling methods from this course could help me, on one hand, to gain broad insights into the spread and patterns within my selected data, while then using the methods I learned during my previous study, like critical discourse analysis, would allow me to zoom in on specific examples to gain more a tangible grasp on how my datasets look in context. This could be very useful to look further into the discursive patterns and influence of alt-right communities online.

Alternatively, another option for pursuing my thesis could be to incorporate some of the methods covered in the course Design Thinking and Maker Culture. If I were to incorporate some of the methods from this course, I would focus on areas such as User-Centred Design, Critical Making, the Design Lifecycle and Design Ethnography to look into how certain projects have failed to serve their user base or meet their goals – likely in the area of sustainability or social justice. By applying a theoretical lens which incorporates elements of design thinking, I feel that I could gain some valuable insights to what causes such social projects to fail – approaching the process reflexively to see what we can learn from the failures or shortcomings of ambitious social/humanitarian projects. Paired with other social sciences methods of research and analysis, such as interviewing, for example, I hope that this could combine the best of the theoretical information which can be from the academic knowledge production cycle, and the more hands-on, hopefully actionable insights which can be found in design-focused research and critique.

While this is surely not an exhaustive list of thesis possibilities and I’m sure I will think of more, I am glad that there were some topics that piqued my interest this term which may provide me with new avenues for discovery in the future. For now though, it’s time to take a well-earned break! I wish you a happy holiday and best of luck in the new year! Tot ziens!

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