Abstracts- Day 2 (April 30)


Darcy Bender—Parsons School for Design
Post-its in the Trash: Disposability in Design Thinking

Design thinking is a term that has surged in popularity in recent years and its methods are now being used by Fortune 500 companies, NGOs, start-ups and governments. Through creative, ‘human-centered’ techniques, design thinking promises to result in innovative solutions to problems from designing the newest version of an app to providing access to clean water in rural areas. One of the key phases of the process is ‘ideation’, in which trained facilitators and ‘users’ employ divergent thinking to brainstorm as many ideas as possible while ignoring any perceived limitations of practicality or feasibility. These sessions compel participants see ideas as plentiful and cheap (much like the post-its on which they are written) and facilitators are encouraged to use the time to extract the tacit knowledge of the ‘users.’ From the ideas generated during these sessions, prototypes are created in order to test and refine ideas in the real world. These prototypes are designed to be expendable as they are only a trial to serve future iterations. Design thinking has disposability embedded in its framework, but what exactly are we losing in the quest for innovation?

As a designer interested in discard studies, my presentation will explore the ways in which designers and design thinking promote disposability. Drawing on my own experiences as a graduate student in Parsons’ School of Design Strategies, I will examine the potential impacts of this culture on the material environment as well as the social implications especially when working with marginalized populations and in spaces of social and environmental justice. I argue that in the search for endless innovation, designers must critically examine their assumption that new is always better and doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Hillary Predko (Non-affiliated)
Kipple: A Field Guide to Useless Objects

Our species creates an endless stream of objects that serve myriad purposes, and span the entire planet. The vast majority of objects we create, however, will eventually end up discarded in landfills. The only end of life designed into them is lying disused. This work will interrogate the secret lives of objects, and the ways entropy wears them down and scatters them to the wind. In his 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick named the phenomenon of the material world breaking apart, but staying present. He calls it Kipple.

“Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.”

Kipple is the pile of cords, and molded plastic do dads we don’t know what to do with when we pack up our apartment to move. In a world where we have designed both obsolescence and permanence into our products, for the time being we have no choice but to live surrounded by kipple. This body of work will explore the tensions between utility and mortality, drawing on my work as an artist, product designer, and following my travels in China through factories and wholesale markets. I aim present ways we can move to a paradigm of material culture where waste equals food, and landfills can be meadows through a strategic design framework.

Travis Hnidan—STS, York University
Constructing Junk: Towards an Ontology of Waste Through Engineered Infrastructures

How does something become junk? Is an object junk after its utility ends, or only after it has been tossed? Should the discarded products of planned obsolescence and throwaway culture—if they fulfill their intended temporality before disuse—be considered junk? How long would artifact lifespans be so that when these artifacts are junked, they fall out of the realm of discard studies (and into history or archaeology, for example)? I will explore answers to these questions through my conference paper, turning an ethnographic eye to my time spent conducting construction inspection for a landfill near Slave Lake, Alberta. Contributing to the field of discard studies, this account will also provide insights into engineering studies and infrastructure studies.

Following a devastating wildfire in May 2011 that destroyed over 300 properties, the community of Slave Lake rushed to: repair damaged infrastructure, build temporary subdivisions to house displaced families, and construct a new landfill cell to receive the increased waste from the fire. Having recently graduated from an engineering program, my first on-the-job training threw me into this environment. I will construct an ontology of junk reflecting on the four months I spent in the fire-damaged community and its servicing landfill—witnessing the management of regular waste and disaster waste; the evaluation and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure; and, the design and construction of temporary and less temporary infrastructures. The many moves to manage waste—to sustain a community that existed and thrived off of Alberta’s oil industry—highlight the temporariness of infrastructure and an engineer’s role in making things to be wasted. Further, these modern infrastructures that both manage and eventually become junk obscure local Indigenous infrastructures. As a landfill is built to house waste until such time that both seemingly fade from view, so might discard studies build an ontology of its subject.

Jeffrey Wajsberg—STS, York University
Curating intimate distance: Notes on scientific belonging and the queer failures of linguistics

By most any standard, it was a success story. Edward Sapir arrived at Yale University, 1931, a Sterling Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics. There, he inaugurated the Yale Language Laboratory, a nexus for research in cultural anthropology, linguistics, and indigenous studies—and, in participation with the newly founded Linguistic Society of America (1924), helped to organize some of the first summer Linguistic Institutes, an emergent training centre for the scientific study of language. At last, linguists had positioned themselves to reap the benefits of professionalization: salaried positions, scholarly networks, new outlets for publication, and recognition (however ambivalent) as a science. My talk compares the scene of the First Yale School to another of Sapir’s institutional settings, the Geological Survey of Canada, where he had previously headed the Anthropological Division (1910–1925). The situation was a stark contrast, with woefully diminishing budgets and a research team unprepared to ascertain linguistic data. Here, linguistics had yet to gain its footing: it was a science in service, both to the Canadian government at the Victoria Memorial Museum and as a resource to the better-established discipline of anthropology. As Judith Halberstam puts it, in The Queer Art of Failure: “Under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world” (2–3). It is out of these conditions, I argue, that Sapir cultivated a relation of intimate distance for himself and his disciples: intimate distance—to be, simultaneously, a part of and apart from—is an affect of objectivity that expressed an inchoate desire for disciplinarity, allayed the vicissitudes and unexpected encounters of fieldwork, empowered use of their own bodies as apparatus, and sustained the fantasy of completion characteristic of “salvage” ethnography.

Haritha Popuri—Theater and Performance, York University
Eddington Slips, Kafka’s Ellipse, and Benjamin’s Dialectical Disruption

57 pages later, I realized my undergraduate thesis could be summed up in three words: “Cool story, bro.” It seems enthusiasm will only get you so far when writing about Kafka, Kant, and quantum theory. Particularly when you have had little to no experience reading Kafka, Kant, and quantum theory. And especially when their esoteric interpreter is Walter Benjamin. My goal was to unpack Benjamin’s puzzling claim that the physical world Sir Arthur Eddington presents in the 1927 Gifford Lectures on science and religion best captures the uncertainty permeating the world in Kafka’s stories. This world, Benjamin contends, revolves around two foci: the Jewish mystical experience and the experience of the modern city-dweller, corresponding to that of the modern physicist. The determinate world of lawful order had dematerialized, both scientifically and, in the post-WWI era, politically as well. The only way Kafka saw to assert the individual as an irreducible fact against this new regime of probability was to reach back into the Jewish tradition. Here too, metaphysics had to be abandoned, the truth content of wisdom rotting away to leave behind only the practice of interpretation. This was Benjamin’s sole meditation on the subject before his untimely death in 1940; he had abandoned Kafka for the sake of his essays on Charles Baudelaire, also a failed effort in his lifetime. If selected for your conference, I would like to do three things: entertain you with the tale of my misbegotten project; find out if any York STS students saw Daniela Helbig’s talk on this letter in 2011 (she is one of the few historians of science to investigate it); and finally, present new insights based on my recent studies in performance theory to address the centrality of deferred action in both Kafka’s world and Eddington’s.


Felix Walpole—IHPST, University of Toronto
“Junk DNA” and the Emergence of the Post-Genomic Genome. Implications for Genomic Medicine.

Since the completion of the Human Genome Project (HGP) in 2003, our conceptual understanding of the genome—what it is and what it does—has changed dramatically. Contrary to the expectations surrounding the HGP, a decade later it is clear that the genome can no longer be reduced to a collection of individual genes, or the recipe for phenotypic development. Increasingly, the notion of the genome as static, stable, and causally primary, is being re-characterized as a responsive, reactive and functionally active entity that is inseparable from the entire developmental system of an individual organism.
An important feature of this conceptual shift has been the emerging importance of “Junk DNA”. While junk DNA has largely been considered irrelevant to genetic analysis due to its “non-coding” character, the exploration of this region of the genome is now recognized as an important and excitingly fruitful area of research that has resulted in significant implications for our understanding of health and disease.

This talk will explore the relevance of the evolving view of the genome to the nascent field of genomic medicine. It is argued that this conceptual transformation of the genome precipitates an inherently holistic approach to genomic medicine, both in the lab and the clinic, and that this supplies a major advantage over preceding ‘genetic’ approaches to understanding the cause and potential management of disease. The distinction between genetic and genomic or ‘post-genomic’ approaches is drawn out via a discussion of ‘chronic’ conditions that are characterized as having a myriad of causes in comparison to a singularly identifiable ‘genetic cause’

Jennifer Marshall—Pharmacy, University of Toronto
Discursive formations in the junk DNA debate

The term junk DNA has been used to describe regions of the genome that do not play a functional role in human development or physiology. Recently, large-scale genetics projects have begun to study junk DNA in more detail, looking for functional elements in the “dark matter” of the genome. Some authors writing on the topic have considered the use of the term “junk” to be evidence of scientific hubris through the dismissal of these parts of the genome as useless garbage. However these DNA territories have been investigated since the 1960s and in fact have attracted researchers like explorers to conquer and decipher.

While some researchers aim to attach meaning or function to these DNA regions, others uphold the idea that they are functionless and the result of random evolutionary processes. These sides of the debate can sometimes become vitriolic battle zones. A reason for this could be that the debate about junk DNA touches upon foundational discourses about humanity and human genetic heritage. Is junk DNA anathema to the selective pressures of evolution? Or is it a by-product of genetic drift? In other words, is evolution purposeful or random? Intelligent designers have also joined in the fray, since “junk” is not tolerated in an intentional universe.

This presentation is based on preliminary findings from a critical discourse analysis examining academic, media, and blog texts about the junk DNA debate and aims to explore the power of foundational genetic discourses. The presentation will also tie these discourses to ideas around “junk,” human genetic heritage, and disability.

Nox Dineen-Porter—STS, York University
“Pointless Without My Fitbit”: The Rising Primacy and Perceived Objectivity of the Digital Body

As the relationship between our bodies and the digital world shifts, so too does our relationship to our bodies themselves. Personal health technologies focus the gaze directly on, and even into, the body while simultaneously virtualizing it. The act of wearing an activity tracker or sensor (e.g. Fitbit, Apple Watch, etc.) changes the wearer’s experience of the body and its boundaries. The body is no longer limited to just the corporeal individual, it is the physical body, the sensor placed on the body, and the digital body built from the data echo of the body’s states or movements. The boundary between the body and the world shifts from the edge of the skin to the edge of a silicone device strapped to the skin and into a virtual landscape, ultimately enmeshing the user as part of a digital assemblage or data hybrid. The day to day embodient, performance, and experience of health by individuals may be profoundly altered by the practices of self-­tracking, quantification, and analysis of one’s self and one’s health as data, creating a digital body, that is perceived to be inherently objective. Drawing from ethnographic research among the Quantified Self community, this paper explores the primacy of the virtual over the physical in the pursuit of activity tracking statistics, and asks what happens if the two bodies, the corporeal and the digital, fall out of sync. Which body’s state is more “real” to the user, and which may be junk?

Jon Cantin—STS, York University

We all know the old adage “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure” or something like that. But it is a good one to note because it tells us 1. Junk is in the eye of the beholder, and 2. The status/label of junk(ness) is temporary and relative. It also prompts further, albeit seemingly simple questions, like how do we know when something is junk? Who perceives it as junk? Who labels something as junk?
Answers to these questions will likely come up throughout this conference, and I would like to pursue the topic on two fronts (but will likely have to choose just one). Logos and junk, in daily life and graduate life in particular, the reification, transcription, translation, etc., of ideas and thoughts into written, digital, and spoken forms. I am curious about the ways we attempt to make more permanent, our thoughts, ideas, and feelings throughout a day (in agendas, through conversation, how this relates to memory), the cathartic drive this implies, and how temporary the use-value of these actions are (and what the environmental consequences are).
The paper I propose will explore the dichotomy of junk and not-junk in relation to time, society, and the ideology of use-value. For this project I will drawing on the works of Deleuze, Derrida, Marx and Althusser.

Vladislav Sekulic—Physiology, University of Toronto
Trash talk: self­-defeating tendencies in devaluing the work of others in scientific research

The scientific process is sometimes viewed, particularly by scientists themselves, as a purely objective and inevitable uncovering of metaphysical truths about the world. However, extensive work in sociological, historical, and philosophical studies of science has shown that “science” is, in fact, a messy and ultimately human endeavour, conditioned by social and historical factors. One interpretation of these observations may be that science seems to “work” not only in spite of the messiness, but exactly because of it. The question remains, however, whether there are areas in the scientific process that lead to incorrect conclusions and false paths. This paper reflexively explores, from the perspective of a practicing scientist, the curious phenomenon of “trash talking” and the consequences it entails in terms of scientific methods and research results. Whether during the writing of peer review comments, reading of papers, or grappling with research funding decisions, there is a tendency for balanced critique to extend into disproportionately harsh criticism. I will explore possible reasons behind these tendencies and argue that this shift into hostile appraisement of the work of peers inevitably leads to the accruing of mistakes in one’s own research. Inconvenient reports in the literature that contradict one’s own data or theories may be dismissed as “trash”, and objections may be raised that seem on the surface to be reasonable but do not hold to scrutiny. By failing to self­-criticize when encountering instances of disagreement with the literature, real methodological problems in one’s own work can be ignored. With the sharp rise of reports of irreproducibility in the sciences, it is critical to take honest stock of the ways in which mistakes and improper methods can creep into one’s own research when we throw the work of others onto the trash heap.

Cory Lewis—IHPST, University of Toronto
How to Intelligently Ignore Almost Everything: The Finitary Predicament for Academics

We are tiny, and the universe is huge. Chris Cherniak(1986) describes this as the finitary predicament, that state where the complexity of the world far outstrips your meagre powers to comprehend it. As a result of being in this predicament, we have to intelligently ignore almost everything. Worse, we have to toss the greater part of it away without even looking at it. To put this more concretely: you cannot read all of the books in Robarts – nobody could. And you can’t even reasonably flip through each one to see what it is about. And that raises the seemingly unsolvable problem: how do you decide which books you can ignore before you’ve read them? You can’t look at them all to see which ones are important, you have to just skip most of them. So how do you intelligently ignore almost everything you could potentially learn? I doubt there is any single answer.

In this talk, I want to consider how the finitary predicament manifests in academic life. What effect does it have on us, when we absolutely must be ignorant of most things in our own fields, never mind the wider world of research? Can we even admit to ourselves that this is the situation all of us are in? I will argue that we often act as though this is not our situation, as though a person could reasonably keep abreast of all of the major developments across the intellectual world. We do this through the excessive use of jargon, for example, or by not taking seriously the need to provide explanations non-experts could potentially benefit from. My aim in this talk will be achieved if my listeners come away a bit more inclined to treat the finitary predicament as a shared condition, rather than a shameful secret.