My PhD is concerned with the futures of workers, either humans or machines. I pursuit it through a hybrid methodology that combines theory with design practice. The former revolves around examining the philosophies of work and technology, aiming to understand their role under capitalism, and what is different in times of data and artificial intelligence, if any. Some of the concepts that have emerged so far are value theory, circulation of capital, abstraction, affect and utopianism.
The latter consists of what I provisionally call “Social Design Fiction”, a designerly way of storytelling that focuses on the social, and its entanglements with the technological, rather than on tech-driven innovation. It will be inspired by ethnographic inquiry on the stories, experiences, and struggles of people in and outside the waged workplace. I will then blend these with transmedia narrative techniques and designed artefacts influenced by films, novels, and comics of social, speculative, and magical realism, rather than traditional science fiction. Think of a Black Mirror episode writen by Ken Loach.
My method is neither descriptive (what is), nor anticipatory (what is expected to be), even though it necessarily contains elements from both. I consider it to function on two interrelated levels. On one hand, it aims to inspire (or remind) ways of conceptualising and organising work around values that go against and beyond the economic objectivity and antagonistic relationships of capitalism. But I also hope that, like any good story, it will be aspirational. That it will create an affect, and will enact reflexivity towards the latent potency of the present, the realisation of what people are and do in the here and now.
Here is a collection of projects that built up my PhD proposal, and keep informing my research:
>> Work Fictions is a Social Design Fiction I wrote for the Digital Societies group. Based on a film by Jim Jarmusch.
>> I curate a list of work-related films.
>> Work Aesthetics is an ongoing photography project that documents the aesthetics of everyday work in UK public environments.
>> The Institute of Patent Infringement, in which we hacked 3 Amazon patents for the benefit of working people and society.
>> The Dictionary of Work is a satirical work lexicon.
I have no ambitions nor desires.
To be a poet is not my ambition,
It is my way of being alone.*
I started drafting my PhD proposal about 3 years ago. I did it between waged work and freelancing, but in convertation with them. For the topic, I didn’t look at what was on offer, but I crafted it through a combination of introspection and creative epxression of often contradictory aspects of myself and the world around me. In the end, I am happy I somehow managed to weave together my studies and experience in engineering and design, my artistic skills, my interest in philosophy and society, and my memories from working with builders in Greece, warehouse workers in Italy and academics in the UK. To do something so intrinsic in a way that matters to others, and to give it a form that can be funded, was an incredibly complicated task. It was a long process, and we changed together through it. It was all worth it, as it is, I think, every path towards intellectual and practical autonomy.
My project is funded by the department of Management, University of Bristol, and supervised by Dr. Harry Pitts and Prof. Richard Owen. Everyone here is really sweet.
*Fernando Pessoa as Alberto Caeiro, I, from ‘The Keeper of Sheep’, in Federico Campagna’s Beyond the Anarch – Stirner, Pessoa, Junger, Anarchist Studies 21.2, 2013.