Assignment & Exercises

Through a series of seven exercises for sensing practice, participants will compose an assignment that illustrates a sense and presents that project on Friday morning.  

Overview and Rationale

 “Sensing practices refer to the ways in which sensing and practice emerge, take hold and form attachments across environmental, material, political and aesthetic concerns, subjects and milieus.” 

~Jennifer Gabrys & Helen Pritchard

During DFMI, you will participate in a series of exercises designed to facilitate “sensing practices.” Following Jennifer Gabrys and Helen Pritchard’s definition, our exercises (that together build toward the assignment) will try to get at how to sense across the multiple registers through which senses emerge. The senses we practice will not be limited to the supposed “five” senses as defined by Aristotle but instead be radically expanded to include many more senses that may include the more-than-human senses that help organize other bodies, systems, networks, etc. How might one’s sense of balance be explored? What would it look like to study a sense of movement? Through what modes and techniques should a sense of belonging be examined? How would we trace a sense of urgency? 

The purpose of developing sensing practices for, with, and as research methods is to cultivate sensibilities (sense-abilities) for the multiple kinds of bodies that compose our worlds. Again, turning to Gabrys and Pritchard, sensing practices “are ways of articulating what matters, of signalling an expressive register of relevance, and affecting and being affected.” Thus, sensing practices help us do scholarship that inventively responds to the “pragmatic question of how one performatively contributes to the stretch of expression in the world or conversely prolongs its capture” (Deleuze qtd in Thrift). We are then not looking to merely represent a sense but to elaborate on its function by continuing to perform it through our projects by carefully considering the sense that mobilizes political, aesthetic, and ethical bodies. 


Sense Sketch

Participants at DFMI will work towards cultivating a sensing practice by individually or collaboratively identifying a more-than-human sense, collecting data on that sense, processing data for a short project that will sensitize a reader to that chosen sense. 

The form of the projects should be inspired by the Arduino Sketches we will be working with all week. Projects do not have to exactly represent an Arduino sketch but could perform the activities that a sketch (and its relata) does. Most of these, as you will see, include instructions, function definition, code, diagrams, notes, etc. The basic job of a sketch is to instruct someone else, at a distance, how to replicate an operation using similar materials. The Sense Sketch shares the same goal. 

Your Sense Sketch should include a short definition of the sense you identified; a procedure for tracing that sense (a quasi-methods section); diagrams for the relationships that compose the sense, and perhaps some notes that pertain the the kinds of events that sense might actuate if exercised productively. 

The final form of the project is wholly determined by the kinds of data and towards which sense(s) you have selected. These can be some combination of short writing, illustrations, diagrams, recordings, etc. The hope is that the products from the short exercises will build toward this assignment, so please consider this with and through the exercises as they unfold throughout the week.

Participants will present and discuss assignments in the final session on Friday morning. 

Exercise One: More-than-Aristotelian Sense

“Non-representational theories are geared instead towards the cultivation of a minor experimental empiricism taking the form of what Alfred North Whitehead calls ‘novel togetherness’” 

~Derek McCormack

When we experience any sense, we are encountering a relation in the world. To rely only on the  “five senses” is to elide a great number of relations in favor of a traditionally defined human-centered experience. That said, we are habituated to think about sense through those five senses. In our first exercises, let’s work with that habit rather than against it. 

In this first exercise, select a traditional sense, trace out senses that collude or collide with it, and align those with an electronic sensing practice. 

Taking a cue from our initial discussion, select one of the traditional Aristotelian senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting) perform a short 15-20 minute walk through campus noting the walk  through that sense. First, note (with paper and pen or digital device) the relations afforded by that sense. Second, after a few minutes of that, note then the senses that support or detract from that sense. Does sound amplify a sight? Does touch give hearing a tone? Does taste rely on smell? Third, through your smart device, use one of the sensing applications to select one of the electronic sensors. As you walk back from where you ended up, note the quantified data change in relation to your movement. If you are using a paid version, record the walk back to save for later. Note how an electronic sense differs from biological sensing. In what ways do the senses collude, collide, cohere?

Exercise Two: Sense-at-a-distance

“Remote sensing is the sensing of something without direct contact: That which is sensed is never immediately, fully, present. In the case of remote sensing of the more high-technological kind, what is sensed is a disturbance or modification of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is then registered in a sensing body of one kind or another, usually through a form of image capture.”

~ Derek P. McCormack

Human bodies are not the only bodies that sense. All organisms and things organized sense and are sensed which is what makes those things bodies (of one sort or another). Tracing out and even building sense practices help us examine and trace how bodies outside of our own sensorium interact and invent with/against one another. 

In the second exercise, use the experience of building a sensor with your kit to consider what sense the body you are building might detect, sketch what body might be sensing, and speculate on the relation between sensing and actuation. 

In two sessions, you will be introduced to the basics of arduinos and sensing. Building on the previous exercise, we will be building a new sense in the world as a way to better understand sensing practices. What senses might be further build? What actions might we initiate from those senses? This exercise invites you to consider these questions through a series of steps. First, as you are learning to build the arduino device, consider this an exercise in building a new sense and take a few notes on what it means to create a sense a sense. Second, map out the relations necessary for this “individual” sense to occur. Third, consider the relationship between the sense and activation of an actuator.

Exercise Three: Sensing Environments

“Many imaginations of the field have pictured it as static, as synchronic. A revision of that imaginary would make the field itself dynamic; and it would make fieldwork into a relation between two active agents. It would recognize it as a two-way encounter. 

~Doreen Massey

Environments host multiple bodies and proliferate sense; or, rather, the multiple senses that create and delineate bodies also invite environments to emerge and form. Either way we might look at it, the atmospheric conditions characteristic to environments activate senses in ways that might be alien to our common senses. We feel when it is humid, but do we know the barometric and moisture conditions that contribute to our sense of humidity? These questions can also be related to political movements as well as our environments help incite or dampen a sense. 

In the third exercise, build on the previous work of building a sensor and actuators to begin tuning into environments and political action (broadly construed). 

In the two directed build sessions, leverage the experience of building an environmental sensor to speculate onto ambient conditions and environments. For this exercise, consider the network links that enable the arduino to sense temperature or humidity or any other environmental conditions. What sense practice is being deployed? Following Gabrys’s Citizen Sense project(s), speculate on what other political projects (individual, collective, or otherwise) could emerge from this type of sensing. Write, sketch, or illustrate 200-300 words (or the equivalent) about the kinds of political bodies that one or several of these kinds of devices could mobilize.  

Exercise Four: Cultivating-Sense

“Art can alter how we sense, feel, and know; arts-based inquiry can expose and subvert the colonial ecological sensorium, and in the process, open up perceptions of more-than-human worlds.”

~Natasha Myers

Senses are mobile, malleable, multiple. In all our readings, discussions, exercises, and activities, we have seen how senses cannot be easily located or easily defined but they certainly can be felt. Repeating and developing a facility for any given sense calls upon us to identify and hone a practice for tuning in. 

With the fourth exercise–extending the practice from the previous activities–identify a sense and a scene toward which you will speculate on and build a new arduino device. 

In the final build session, take a few moments to survey the available sensors and actuators to consider what kinds of sense you might build a device to detect. This sense should come from and towards your research aims, you are not limited to only what we have in the lab. If appropriate sensors are available, research available code libraries to see if you can build a prototype. If no appropriate sensor is available, identify the proper sensor and gather the needed materials (sketches and diagrams) that will be helpful to build that device. 

Exercise Five: Fielding-Sense

“Even if I could by gradual degrees be transformed into a bat, nothing in my present constitution enables me to imagine what the experiences of such a future stage of myself thus metamorphosed would be like. The best evidence would come from the experiences of bats, if we only knew what they were like” 

~Thomas Nagel 

Sensing practice through a field site (even practice sites we’ll use) is not easy. It takes time and repetition to hone in on a sense and to trace the relationships that compose it. When we collect these tracings (notes, recordings, qualitative information, interviews, etc), we build a bank of material from which our projects emerge and take shape. 

In the fifth exercise, use  your embodied senses and any device you might find appropriate to collect data on the sense you are building towards. 

Participants will travel off campus toward two sites. In the Austin Public Library and the Lady Bird Lake Trail, participants will be asked to identify sites and relationships that compose their chosen sense. In tracking that sense, participants may use their own embodied sense in concert with some form of technological sense collection (arduino device, sonic sense, photography, writing, etc.). 

Exercise Six: Narrating-Sense

“It seems to me that multispecies ethnography fundamentally must narrate life—that is, describe and analyze life forms in their social relations.” 

~John Hartigan, Jr. 

Once we have collected data through a regimen of sensing practices, we must survey it to begin a process of selection whereby the narrative of the project takes shape. Selection is a creative endeavour whereby a researcher examines the material gathered and becomes sensitive to its trends, movements, tendencies in ways that might suggest something characteristic of the senses s/he is tracing. 

In the sixth exercise, gather your materials together and take notes on what you have, what you need, and where the data (both actual and virtual) might go next.

Using the experience from the studio exercises as well as the data from the trips to sites, begin to sketch some possible narratives for the data. How might you use the data itself (processed in the next exercise) as part of a project? What sense is being evoked from the media gathered? What texts might help amplify your findings? Write an outline or diagram for what material you have and what components it might fulfill for your project.

Exercise Seven: Processing-Sense

“To approach the ancient philosophy of common sense–the sensus communis–we might begin at the beginning, by asking: How do we make ourselves actually sensitive?
~Bruno Latour

Once we have gathered research data, our job in traditional qualitative work is to code that data for analysis and ethical representation. Building on those traditional techniques, we will look to process that data by using it as part of our projects through non-representational techniques. How might our recordings, interviews, qualitative information, and notes be processed not necessarily to exactly represent but to extend their expressions? Following Latour in “Sensitizing”, how might we sensitize our readers through our work rather than just represent with our work what senses we are examining? 

In the seventh and final exercise, gather together all of the sense data you collected and re-collect it anew. 

Through two directed and one un-directed sessions, participants will sift through the data collected to select threads of sensing data that can be processed for the purpose of sensitizing a reader. The task here is to transform the data into visualization, audio, prose or other media to share and amplify the practices you have encountered for a reader. 

In a sense, you will have been a distant sensor for that audience.