When Species Eat: using collaborative SF design to diversify the collective imaginaries of food ecologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac of Arts Creative Ind and Education


This research project is developed as part of the 3D3/NPIF Doctoral Studentship, and as such is based on the Industrial Strategy report on Biotechnologies. The report detailed how UK industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology research, innovation and infrastructure has the potential to provide a unique platform for growth, connecting businesses and industries in developing and using green, bio-based technologies to create a more sustainable future for all over the next 12 years and beyond (Corbett & Vanderhoven, 2018). This project builds on that proposition, working from within UWE's Digital Cultures Research Centre, in collaboration with an Industry Partner, We the Curious (see attached document 1.2 for further information on the partnership and its terms).

With the dual threats of climate collapse and Brexit on the horizon, we need new ways to conceptualise how we might grow, preserve, transport and prepare food in the near future (Ambler-Edwards et al, 2009; Benton et al, 2019). In response to these concerns, this project proposes an iterative and collaborative public engagement practice which will take as it's starting point current research on food biotechnologies in labs, start-up companies and other consumer research spaces in the Southwest. Drawing from wider debates around synthetic biology and biotechnology in relation to food, agriculture and nutrition, I seek to collectively re-imagine how we might live and eat in the future.

Utilising a collaborative feminist SF design methodology (Dunne & Raby, 2013; Haraway, 2013b), I will develop a critical practice (workshops, street events, design speculations) that will critically engage with the scientific and technological 'imaginaries' of food. By doing so, I aim to create new modes of speculative gastronomic engagement that can playfully disrupt normative subjectivities of ecology and biodiversity in relation to human practices of food production and consumption (Guattari, 2005).

Situating itself within the critical theoretical debates of Science and Technology Studies (STS), particularly in relation to multispecies conviviality (Donati, 2014; Haraway, 2013a; Massey, 2004), and queer, feminist and decolonial approaches to human ecology (de la Parra & Quave, 2017; Gaard, 1997; Williams et al, 2012), the interventions/installations/workshops will be formulated with a view to reimagine how we with co-exist with ecological systems in the future, in order to shape our imperatives in the present.

Project aims/objectives
As part of the project, I will be utilising my experience as both a grassroots food activist and critical artist/designer in order to:
1. Develop a critical speculative/SF practice that playfully engages diverse publics into:
a. common debates around the food biotechnologies within the southwest of England, using food as both material and subject.
b. discussions around how we could potentially produce and consume food in the future, through collective speculative making and play.
2. Develop a collaborative, iterative and ongoing installation for display annually at We the Curious, culminating in a final show, which, alongside the practice methodology and documentation, will form part of the final submission for this doctorate.
I aim to:
1. Disrupt normative imaginaries around the future of food by inviting people to collectively re-imagine technological food futures that disrupt the hegemonic capitalist-realist and techno-scientific narratives of scarcity, lack and individualism often found in the imaginaries of Speculative/Science fictions.
2. Diversify public debates and policy around the future of food biotechnologies by inviting playful reimaginings of food in the future as joyful and abundant.
3. Develop a practice of collaborative and critical speculative design that draws from feminist SF and can act as an emancipatory tool, in order to address some of the common criticisms levelled at SCD as both methodology and practice.


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