Text and photos by Rachel Douglas-Jones.
On October 12th at Osaka University in Japan, an ETHOS-spirited Ada Lovelace day unfolded as part of a visiting fellowship held by Rachel Douglas-Jones during her sabbatical.
The event had two parts: first, a critical pedagogies roundtable hosted by Asli Kemiksiz and Atsuro Morita, with Rachel participating from ETHOS and Hugo Reinert participating from the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities (OSEH), Norway. Uniting the different settings was the theme of crisis, left open to definition by participants.
Critical Pedagogies in Times of Crisis
Kemiksiz opened by describing the FICT project, the Fragmentary Institute of Comparative Timelines, a project of transforming ‘what is’ towards ‘what could have been’ via anthropological speculation. As they explained, it started online during the pandemic of 2020, as part of the JSPS grant currently held by Morita, “Planetary Crisis and Local Change”. Using prompts to ‘defamiliarize participants with their realities by pushing them to imagine what-if situations’ (FICT 2020), participants were invited to make worlds and create artefacts: the first prompt, as the website documents, ‘asked participants and educators to imagine worlds where European Colonialism and everything that happened consequently had not taken place’. The resulting online exhibition and its resources are well worth an exploration, as they document the way speculative research techniques relate both to crisis and critique, through fieldnotes, material culture, histories, museum studies, ritual studies and translations studies.
Rachel spoke next, overviewing the institutional context into which ETHOS makes its critical feminist pedagogical contributions. She used the forthcoming ETHOS article “Spaceships and Poetry” as an outline to describe feminist placemaking, relating to ‘crisis’ not through the speculative ‘what is’ but the present –real and manufactured– crises of technology. She described the 2017 Requiem for a Spacecraft event, which drew together an unexpected crowd from across the university, and placed technology in a strongly affective, political, and more-than-human role, as NASA crashed the long-lived probe into Saturn’s atmosphere in order to avoid a biocontaination risk to its moons. She foregrounded the role of ethnography in IT by describing Marisa Cohn’s fieldwork with software engineers and programmers and encouraged students of Coexistence Studies and Anthropology at Osaka University to attend to the computational worlds around them. Speaking from the forthcoming article, she highlighted the role of the ETHOS lab in supporting students in learning to ask better questions.
Her talk was followed by Hugo Reinert, who spoke about the 5-year project of the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities, an internally funded initiative to bring together different parts of the university and offer a hub of academic and public-facing activity. Reinert described his role in the Certificate in Environmental Humanities, a space that was more ‘playful’ for students, who were taking it as an additional course of study on top of their masters courses. Focusing on critical pedagogies, Reinert showed student expeditions that were aimed at grounding them ‘in place’ – the city of Oslo and its surroundings. In the company of experts, students walked rivers, went to quarries, visited bat-houses, and learned to see through the eyes of geologists, archaeologists, bee-keepers, activists, and many more. With the environmental crisis pressing, the teachers on the certificate posed themselves with the question of what kinds of knowledge, practice and worlds would equip students to make worlds otherwise.
Erasure Poetry and AI
After a short break in the hot afternoon, and plenty of tea, we embarked on the multilingual poetry workshop. Rachel Douglas-Jones presented ETHOS’s work over the past few years, using the GDPR as an example policy. She showed examples of types of erasure that prior poets had undertaken, inviting participants to choose and invent their own. Erasure poetry of policy can be done on a wide range of texts, and Rachel made the case for its ethnographic generativity and pedagogical fruitfulness by highlighting recent workshops held in Aotearoa New Zealand where participants suggested taking higher education government policy as the starting text.
In this workshop, we used the EU AI regulation and three pieces of guidance on AI from Japan’s advisory commission. Participants were invited to select a sheet from any of the stacks and spent around 45 minutes creating their poems using scissors, glue, pens, pencils, highlighters, and a shredder. The round of presentations saw poems that drew out the language of ‘high risk’ in the EU AI act, and that visually played with a sense of threat and vulnerability by adding snakes and mice to the text. Others drew out the repetition of ‘should be considered’, a phrase in Japanese which carries a connotation that nobody will actually take care of this prompting rich discussions of responsibility and where it lies in technology governance. One poem contrasted the different styles within the different documents by merging two and reading them on a single sheet, jumping from the optimism of the Japanese language foreword to the pessimism of the restricted use section of the EU AI Act.
With thanks to all participants for their thoughtful engagement in both the roundtable discussion and the workshop that followed!