Completed thesis: Sezgi Kaya on technology use in Type-I Diabetes

Sezgi Kaya has successfully completed her Master’s thesis, titled “Biosociality and product design: User practices in Type 1 diabetes management” in November 2019 (Supervisor: Harun Kaygan). Congratulations!

Her thesis involved netnography of a social media diabetes forum, followed by interviews with users of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring systems. She documented users’ biosocial practices around device use with special regard to how the devices contribute to the visibility of the illness and how the devices coordinate the patients’ care networks. She was also interested in the user-experiential implications of dynamic, real-time monitoring of glucose.

Sezgi and I will present the findings of her thesis at the Chronic Living conference in Copenhagen 23-25 April.

Paper at EASST2018 on The Uses of ANT in Design

At the EASST 2018 Conference: Making Science, Technology and Society Together, we presented a paper on the ways in which design scholars have made use of ANT-inspired methodologies. Here is our abstract:

Ali O. Ilhan, Harun Kaygan and Sebnem Timur Ogut, “Uses of ANT in design research: towards a critical dialogue”

Actor Network Theory (ANT) has been increasingly utilized in recent design literature, albeit often with a celebratory rather than critical tone.ANT indeed provides a powerful toolbox to untangle complex technoscientific assemblages, yet—like any other large framework—it is not without its shortcomings. We argue that ANT’s full potential in design research can only be realized through a critical lens.

To this end, we review four distinct uses of ANT terminologies in design research. These are (a) theoretical introductions for design researchers, (b) ANT analyses of design products, which typically foreground the concept of nonhuman agency, (c) ANT analyses of design processes, which often return to Callon and Law’s early work, and (d) the uses of ANT concepts, and especially Latour’s writings, to theoretically ground co-design practices. For each of these headings, we identify key opportunities and potential pitfalls by turning to the original theory and its well-established critiques such as the problematic status of the notion of non-human agency, problem of managerialism and disregard for existing social structures.

We argue that such a critical dialogue with design research can be beneficial also for the STS field at large. Despite its increased relevance today with regard to material, organizational and social change, the agency of design is still largely missing from STS accounts. We demonstrate that current engagements with ANT in design literature provides questions and arguments that complements the STS interest in the mutual shaping of the social and the technological.

We are working on publishing a paper on this, so wish us luck (and perseverance).

Paper at LSA 2016 Conference

We have presented a paper at the Leisure Studies Conference 2016 in Liverpool, 5-7 July 2016. Here is the abstract:

Yunus Tuncel and Harun Kaygan, “Interactions in idle time: online-offline, public-private intersections in mobile interface use”

As the internet and social media become more accessible for users of mobile interfaces, everyday experience takes a multi-faceted and mobile character. With the help of a wide range of mobile interfaces, which include ICTs as well as mp3 players and books, users juggle online and offline interactions, routinely traversing the public and private boundary.

Users’ mobility in everyday life should be understood diversely as it can represent both (online) virtual and (offline) corporeal travel (Urry, 2007; Lyons & Urry, 2005). Mobile interfaces eliminate the need to be physically co-present, and the presence and proximity can also be felt virtually (Line, Jain & Lyons, 2011). Secondly, mobile interfaces enable the instant transition between public and private interactions. Such transitions present a diverse cross relation of public, private, online and offline.

To study how users of mobile interfaces use their idle time in public in the intersection of online and offline, public and private, we conducted a two-stage fieldwork. In the first stage, we observed 30 young adults in three different public environments. In the second stage, we supported our observations with interviews and a cultural probe study.

The paper presents the findings of this fieldwork, focusing on the intersecting moments of online and offline, public and private interactions. We suggest that mobile interfaces expand the social possibilities by enabling users to easily switch between these interactions. We conclude the study by proposing a framework which can be used to systematically understand such interactions.

Paper at 15th STS Conference Graz 2016

We presented a paper at the 15th Annual STS Conference: Critical Issues in Science, Technology and Society Studies in Graz on 9-10 May 2016. The abstract is below:

Burak Taşdizen and Harun Kaygan, “Between open-source and commerce: micropolitics of authorship and originality in a knitting community”

DIY communities are celebrated for they democratize design through empowering users and help display creativity and express personal identity; and they are often presented as a counterpoint to mainstream patterns of production and consumption (Atkinson, 2006; Edwards, 2006). However, the pro-user and anti-commercial aspect of DIY tends to be overplayed. Knitting, a DIY activity which has at its core the free circulation and building upon of existing knitting patterns, is an example in which we can witness everyday social interactions between DIYers that may help qualify DIY’s open and counter-commercial image. To understand this better, we have conducted a three-month ethnographic study at a knitting community in Ankara. The community gathers in a space that is reserved for this purpose in a shop, governed by the shop owners and two knitting tutors, where women knitters come together to knit, to practice, and to exchange ideas and critiques. In this special setting, the micropolitics that surround the authorship and originality of knitted artefacts become particularly visible. Conflicts arise between and among tutors and knitters over the circulation of knitting patterns, as participants claim ownership and authorship on the patterns, as well as their own interpretations of and improvements over the patterns, against those who try to decode and reproduce those. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how an uncritical view of DIY as thoroughly democratic and transparent conceals the practices of value attribution around the patterns and know-how at the level of actual practice, and highlight the need to constantly watch out for gravitations from open-source sharing towards commercial ownership, from the collective towards the hierarchical, so that we can underline practices that strengthen the activist, countercultural potential of DIY.

Paper at DGTF Tagung 2015: Reassembling Relationships

We presented a paper at the 12th Annual Conference of the German Society of Design Theory and Research (DGTF): Reassembling Relationships: People, Systems, Things in Potsdam on 16–17 October 2015. Below is the abstract:

Hande Işık and Harun Kaygan, “Reading the Body: Assessing Emerging Health and Wellness Technologies and Interactions”

Recent growth in the development of innovative technologies for healthcare and wellness have enabled the redesign and even the overall transformation of processes, services, and products for health-related activities. In this context, emerging trends in health technologies prioritize the empowerment of users to maintain their health and prevent any problems before they occur. For this purpose, emerging technologies become more and more personal and pervasive in users’ everyday lives, anytime anywhere (Connely et al., 2006; Varshney, 2007; Weiser, 1993; Fox & Duggan, 2012). Technological features such as context awareness, implicit and calm interaction and similar others play a crucial transformational role in product development (Weiser, 1993; Poslad, 2011). Mobility and wearability come to the fore as means to enable such features in ways that to fit the needs of health and wellness technologies, making it easier for the latter to maintain a constant connection with users’ lives (Consolvo et al., 2008; Kuru, 2013; Movassaghi et al., 2014). These technologies work constantly at the background, collect user data silently, and remind its presence only when necessary, dramatically changing current conceptions of human product interaction (Pellegrino, 2006; Weiser & Brown, 1997).

Such technological change has been increasingly blurring the boundaries between people, mobile technologies and their interaction by making technologies work as extensions of humans, and in turn, people as extensions of technologies. Thomas Fuchs (2006) compared the effects of these developments to schizophrenia, as they dissolve the boundaries of body and experience through constant, mobile and long-distance outward connectivity (as by Internet) and reify the patient/user’s subjectivity through constant inward monitoring of bodily and psychical processes (as by MRIs). Indeed, as users and mobile technologies get intertwined through the above mentioned technological interfaces, bodily processes are unearthed, explored, mapped, and represented to users so that they gain awareness on their bodily processes, with guidance to change or maintain these processes purposefully , and thus even reimagine themselves.

If we are not to follow Fuchs’ line of argumentation that argues for a pretechnological human authenticity, and accept the mutual construction of humanity and technology, such technologies of healthcare and wellness call for a systematic analysis in terms of their premises and effects. Indeed, one can say that these technologies have political implications in that they rely on and sustain today’s dominant biopolitical mode of governance that concerns itself with individuals’ health and well-being (Lemke, 2011; Foucault, 1980). On the other hand, as Verbeek (2012) formulates, an ethics of new technology has to differentiate between dominance and power, and acknowledge that a transparent and continuous companionship of human and technology enables the former to develop awareness of and thus actively construct itself.

Regarding the question of how and to what extent these technologies can and do empower their users in self-constitution while eluding dominating effects, the literature on their design and consumption focuses largely on the pragmatic aspects of interaction. This paper aims instead to present a systematic analysis, referring both to the theoretical framework discussed above and to human computer interaction studies in order to reveal how new positions and relationships are being established and transformed around these technologies. In order to do this, we examine a number of mobile health and wellness products, assessing their representations of bodily processes, especially as regards issues of transparency and empowerment. The selection of products is carried out based on the innovations in interaction that bring bodily processes into view. These include monitoring apps and products, which read bodily processes such as sleep cycles, heart rate, and brainwaves, rendering them graphically observable and manipulable to some extent; running and exercise apps that keeps track of routines while at the same time enabling creative connections, for example, amongst people or between people and landscape; and others, such as the Smartbra, which objectifies emotions to regulate eating behaviour. The analysis results in a unique systematic perspective that brings pragmatic and critical views together and thus fill the gap in the literature, especially on design.

Papers at 4T Conference 2015: Design in Times of Turmoil

We have presented two papers from the course ID707 Critique of Design I, at the 4T Conference 2015, 14-15 May 2015 at Yaşar University, İzmir. Below you can find the abstracts for the papers:

Hatice S. Aydın and Harun Kaygan, “Replacement, Displacement: Materiality of Cardboard on the Street”

Corrugated cardboard is a material that is primarily used in packaging. Produced out of recycled pulp, which is both cost effective and sustainable, the light and durable structure makes it possible to carry loads efficiently. However, it is in its later appropriations on the street that the qualities of cardboard shine, as it is put to reuse in the form of shelter, structure, container and signage by various groups of people.

In response to Tim Ingold’s (2007) critique that materials are still neglected despite the recent return in the social sciences and anthropology to materialist approaches, the study turns to the theoretical approach suggested by the psychologist James J. Gibson (1979) to emphasize how material properties and cultural practices are intermeshed. The theoretical discussion is supported by field observations and one-to-one interviews on everyday life practices of five social groups who inhabit the street by cardboard: the homeless, the refugee, the recycler, the peddler, the activist. The study highlights the two key affordances of the cardboard: place-making and mobility. Each of the participant groups are found to have their own practices with the cardboard, mediating their conditions of existence and these two key affordances.

Burak Taşdizen and Harun Kaygan, “Immoral Objects: A Psychogeography of Gentrification in Ulus”

Once the political and economic centre of a thriving, young republic, Ulus neighbourhood in Ankara has faced a destiny of ignorance after the 1980s, due to the shift towards Kizilay as the capital’s new economic centre (Bademli, 1987). The district, which is home to not only the republican but also the religious traditions of the city, has started to be occupied by bazaars and surrounded by slums, giving it a multi-layered character. Today this distinctive character of the district, is targeted as morally suspect, condemned for having overshadowed the spirituality and morality of Hacibayram, a significant religious site in the district (Ankara Metropolitan Municipality, 2014). On these grounds, Ulus has been witnessing a major urban transformation, namely, the Ulus Historical City Centre Project. The aim of this paper is to search for this “immorality” in the bazaars of Ulus, through the employment of a psychogeographic methodology. For this purpose, we have made a series of observations in different areas in Ulus, including Itfaiye Meydani, Telefoncular Pazari, etc., looking closely at the different objects offered on the shelves, as well as how they are presented to the passers-by. From these observations emerges a subjective map, which provides personal insights to the material environment, the significant practices it invites, and the different social groups that reside in Ulus, all of which therefore have a direct impact on this sense of “immorality”. The map describes and so unravels the immorality of Ulus into three constituents: informal economy of its bazaars which contrast the glorified consumption of the shopping malls, the masculinities it fosters, and the reflective nostalgia it harbours in opposition to the restorative nostalgia of the nearby Hacıbayram area.

Paper at UTAK 2014: Participatory Design as Design Activism


UTAK 2014 (Ulusal Tasarım Araştırmaları Konferansı – National Design Research Conference) was organized on 10-12 September 2014 by the Department of Industrial Design at Middle East Technical University, with the aim to provide a platform for the sharing of the latest design research and educational methods in Turkish language. The organizing committee was as follows:

Conference coordinator: Pınar Kaygan
Conference committee: Naz Börekçi, Aykut Coşkun, Çağla Doğan, Gülay Hasdoğan, Harun Kaygan, Fatma Korkut, Sedef Süner

Besides our role in the organizing committee, we presented a paper that was an outcome of the course ID708 from 2012-13 Fall Semester, run by Harun Kaygan and Osman Şişman. Below you can find a Turkish translation of the abstract:

Sedef Süner and Harun Kaygan, “Participatory Design as Design Activism and the Designer’s Experience in Participation: The Case of METU Assistant Solidarity Initiative”

A topic of debate from mainstream politics to urban politics, from education to design, the concept of participation is defined as the institution of democracy through the inclusion of multiple parties in decision making. However, after Bill Cooke and Uma Kothari who argued that participation is a form of tyranny, and Markus Miessen who criticised it as fake romanticism, it is also possible to interpret the concept as merely justifying the options enforced by powerful parties through a pretence of conciliation and without questioning the actual distribution of power between those who participate and those who make the call. When we look at the field of design, we see that the optimist outlook is dominant, whereby users are included in decision making processes under the paradigm of user-centred design. The participatory approaches are often limited to setups where users contribute with their knowledge and experiences. They neither question the distribution of roles nor benefit from the above mentioned criticism, and we seldom encounter a search for new approaches. The intersection between participation and design activism (Fuad-Luke) or political design (DiSalvo) can provide us with new participatory scenarios as well as new perspectives to the role of design and designers in political processes. When the designer is a part of and a participant in a political struggle, it may be possible to experience a transformation of participation in and through design. This paper discusses different levels and forms of participation through a case in which a designer is involved in the Assistant Solidarity Initiative while also running a project for a graduate course.

Papers at 5T Conference 2014: Resistance with/in/to Design

Products of ID 707 Critique of Design I course, we have presented two papers at the 5T Conference on Resistance With/In/To Design, 15-16 May 2014 at Yaşar University, İzmir. Below you can find the abstracts for the papers:

Nagihan Tuna and Harun Kaygan, “Beyond prevention: Exploring the new technologies of graffiti”

The Victorian Government defined graffiti as “any form of writing, drawing, marking, scratching or otherwise defacing property by any means.” (Graffiti Prevention Act, 2007). Modern graffiti art originated in the 1960s and spread globally, while new tools are developed and place- and scale-related constraints have decreased. This can be done in various styles and using various materials, while the motivation can vary from social recognition to political expression. Still, design literature has mainly approached this issue from the perspective of prevention due to its illegal status. Nevertheless, the use of graffiti during the recent protests has gained attention as a type of design activism. The messages in the streets convey what is happening in the society. In spite of the attempts to regularly remove them, with its remains, graffiti may be one of the most lasting techniques of political protest. Moreover, with the advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) communication, collaboration and demonstration techniques of activists have changed (Garret, 2006). Mobile phones for example have become one of the tools used for making and sharing graffiti. The aim of this paper is to discuss the impact of these advances on graffiti art. For this purpose, we explore and compare existing and proposed technological systems for environmental, or legal, graffiti in the literature, and question whether and to what extent their use is compatible with the practices and motivations of graffiti makers.

Yunus Tuncel and Harun Kaygan, “Abstracted objects: Creating the soundscapes of Gezi Park”

During the recent protest rallies (in Gezi Park, Wall Street, and elsewhere) sound assumed a major role by creating unique soundscapes, not only in the squares where the demonstrations took place, but also in neighborhoods. The objects that are supposed to be kept at home, such as pots and pans or whistles, revolted and flowed out onto the streets to join car horns and slogans. One way to learn from these objects is to see them as “abstractions”, to borrow a term from phonography (Simpson, 2003). The sounds of these objects are abstracted from their “normal” uses in the private sphere and appropriated into the public sphere to provide a basis for festivity, which challenged and reshaped the preexisting web of meanings. In this paper, first, the concept of “abstraction” is described and theoretically elaborated. Then by referring to examples from the Gezi and Occupy protests, and from other phonographic practices and tools from the literature, it is questioned how abstraction could be understood, and realized, as a tool of design activism. Interviews are conducted with people who closely followed the protests to have a better understanding of the practices of and motivations behind abstraction. Ultimately, the aim of this paper is to investigate the relationship between designed objects and their abstracted sounds in the context of design activism.