STIR magazine launch: Of countermemories and recursive futurities

I was invited to speak at the launch of STIR magazine’s new edition on the 14th. It was great getting to chat interesting stuff with folk doing some fantastic stuff in the area of speculative design, history of tech and critical approaches.

Below is the transcript of my talk.

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Mozfest 2018: The co-designed city; building smart cities with embedded social justice

A sign telling people when the workshop would start (it started at 11am)

For Mozfest 2018, I decided to go a little deeper on the topic of smart cities. The first workshop I ever facilitated there had been on the topic of pervasive computing which has many intersections with smart cities but now I wanted to explore some of the outcomes a bit further.

I am still a bit obsessed with this whole question of approaches to designing complex systems and design jams allow me to explore that. Plus it means I get to better understand the issues that come up with collaborative approaches instead of… just lecturing people.



The session will be structured as a design jam where participants go through the user centred creation process to prototype features for (or even an entire) smart city which puts intersectionality at the heart of its digital and physical architecture.

Combining methods inspired by critical design and community centred practice and traditional Igbo masquerade (mmanwu) performance, we will start by ideating based on not only issues but also existing solutions we see in our own contexts, then perform light ethnography amongst fellow Mozfest attendees and the local community before getting down to prototyping our solutions through cardboard, code and post-its!

Following an iterative design and test process, we will end up with prototypes of a human+environment centred smart city.


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Pursuing a neo-Aristotelian model of gender?

Gender uniessentialism is important because it intersects with questions of the self and identity and also because of the connection it draws between what we are, gendered individuals, and, as a consequence, what we ought to do. In other words, gender uniessentialism is, among other things, a theory about our social agency and the gendered norms that govern and shape it.

–Charlotte Witt


The Price of Nice Nails

I have never been one for manicures. The first and only time I ever had one was at College, courtesy of a Beauty student who needed someone to practice on.

Still, even in the cities of London and Manchester, I’ve noticed the nail salon spring up in often unexpected places, much like mushrooms lighting up the dankest streets in the dullest parts of town. Their low prices obviously mask even lower wages for the workers, as highlighted in ‘The Price of Nice Nails‘ by Sarah Maslin Nir.

Such cases are always complicated to figure out. Yes, workers are being exploited but in their exploitation they are also able to make money and better lives for themselves and their families. We’ve heard the usual rigamarole of argument and counter argument. It’s tough. As the daughter of immigrants myself, it might sound strange, but I understand the value of these places that allow children like me to go to school and get into University but also allow us to emulate the fashion models and society belles when we cannot afford to.

However, in an age where employment and immigration are the issues on everyone’s lips and the spectre of AI and automated workers looms, this stood out:

Around the time her first semester of English classes wrapped up, Ms. Ren asked for another raise. It was then she learned there are actually two price lists at her salon. One is for customers. The other is jotted down in a hidden-away notebook and lists the prices employees must pay the owner to learn new skills: such as $100 for eyebrow waxing, $100 to learn how to apply gel and cure it with ultraviolet light. A raise would require a new skill — her boss suggested eyebrows and gel — and the cash fee.

She was in the nail salon van when her boss told her of the fee, as he drove her to a different Long Island salon he owns. He shuttles employees between the two shops, depending upon which is busiest. An iPad propped on the dashboard played video feeds from both salons. Ms. Ren responded to the new fee with uncharacteristic furor.

Her boss relented: He would give her a 50 percent discount. She refused.

“I already paid when I first came,” she said. “Now I’m an employee and have been here for so long. Why do I still have to pay to pick up new skills?”

It’s almost as though one can see the future of work in these next few paragraphs. Workers constantly being upgraded and encouraged (perhaps quite firmly in some cases) to take further skills, the payment for them out of their own pocket – or perhaps that of the business for the better class employer – in the meantime the latest technology of the day being used as the marshal, the middle man. Not so much replacing the worker as a potential colleague, but instead becoming their prefect, their warden.