Loughborough University
Lee-Smith_B731964_Thesis_Open_Access.pdf (36.23 MB)

Things, be~things, and beings: exploring the existence of technological be~things and beings and their implications for our relationships with design, technology, data, and the physical-digital world

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posted on 2024-04-16, 15:35 authored by Matthew Lee-SmithMatthew Lee-Smith

Assemblages of technology and data, their construction, actions, and interactions, are fundamental to what goes on around most humans. Everything that ‘acts’ can be seen as assemblages of these two components, even humans. However, everything cannot be merely understood in terms of technology and data on their own. There is still space for the emergent, the unexpected, the entangled, and the quantum.

Understanding ‘techno-informational assemblages’ in this way can be seen as post-anthropocentric (part of the posthuman movement) or moving beyond human-centredness and human exceptionalism. In particular, this shift sees these assemblages as something not entirely in the possession or control of humans. It also permits a reimagination of techno-informational assemblages that moves beyond the need for them to serve a human purpose. This thesis explores the reimagination permitted by post-anthropocentrism and post-dualism (another branch of posthumanism) through a Discursive Research through Design methodology across three studies.

The first investigates critical design concepts that explore alternative experiences and uses of technology and data, resulting in a pair of fully realised research products, Carver (which ‘harvests’ data) and Himilco (which ‘expresses’ those harvested data). Further reflections on the two led to a provocative shift that sees Himilco become ‘a himilco’ (akin to a species). From a data-dependent technological object, through a living object, to a technological being. From object to subject. This transformation founded and fed back into a ‘post-anthropocentric design framework’.

Initially called the Data Hungry Home, this framework was deployed in the second study. The framework was taken up by design academics to create a wide variety of conceptual technological beings and data-harvesting devices. However, the main focus of the study was not on what they created, but on how they reflected on the concept of technological beings when doing so. Through a thematic analysis of the qualitative data, this evaluation demonstrated an ambivalence within the participants. On the one hand, being able to design technological beings and see technology and data from a non-human perspective. On the other, not being able to detach the application of technology, data, and design from human-centred use and benefit.

These findings, and the reflections they inspired, underpinned the third study. This included the creation of the novel term ‘be~thing’ to describe techno-informational assemblages that sit between the (false) dichotomy of ‘thing’ and ‘being’. This study engaged members of the entangled with the himilcos, requiring the participants to collect data from the outside world, ‘feed’ the himilcos and share the same space whilst the himilcos expressed these data, reflecting on what they experienced. As with the second study, the inherent lack of a defined ‘purpose’ of the himilcos perplexed many, however, it also brought about reflections on how technology can be neither for nor against us, but ‘peaceful’ and ‘fragile’.

This thesis concludes by refining the Data Hungry Home framework, including renaming it the Technological Being Framework, integrating what was learned from the studies that ensued. It also skirmishes with and learns from, the fundamental tenets of design and our perception and expectations of technology and data, asking not just ‘what new experiences can be imagined’ but ‘through what mechanisms can our perceptions be shifted’. The findings of this thesis demonstrate the creative potential behind post-anthropocentric design frameworks and the structural hurdles we must overcome in design to be able to fully engage with this potentiality.


EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Embedded Intelligence

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University. This is a redacted version of the e-thesis. The unredacted version of this e-thesis has a permanent embargo due to copyrighted material present within it and is kept in closed access.


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Tracy Ross ; Garrath T. Wilson ; Posco Tso ; Stefano Cavazzi ; Jeremy G Morley

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  • Doctoral

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