Concepts of Fabulation

On June 8-9, the Nordic Fabulation Network held its first workshop in Umeå. This workshop was attended by 26 researchers based in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The focus of the first workshop was “Concepts”, and apart from kicking off the project and establishing a community, we aimed to start exploring the conceptual framings around futures of care and fabulation.

In the room, there were 15 researchers who are core members of the NordForsk project “Nordic Fabulation Network”, 4 humanities and social science researchers, most of them funded by the WASP-HS project “Crafting Livable AI Futures”, and 9 invited design and HCI researchers, from Umeå and abroad. We hoped that by bringing together this vibrant group of researchers working in different disciplines such as Political Science, Design Research, Science and Technology Studies, working on issues of social justice, critical theory, and feminist technoscience, we could create a network with the knowledge and competence to address the urgent issues faced by all societies—but European Nordic societies in particular—around emerging technologies, climate change, population displacement, and geopolitical instability.

Day 1 – North Stars

The first day was set in a way that discussions would start from specific research topics and situated lived experiences of each participant, and then progressively deconstructed in dialogue with one another, towards a map of topics and areas that require intervention. Our goal was to set the stage for future collaborative work within the network, and as such we strived to generate themes and areas that need care in our more-than-human Nordic societies.

The day started with a fantastic and inspiring keynote on emotion AI and fabulation from Noura Howell, Assistant Professor in Digital Media at Georgia Tech. She shared her recent research focused on imagining alternative futures around biodata and biometrics through design research and fabulation!

Noura’s talk and the discussion that ensued set the stage for the first workshop activity. Before the workshop, we looked at the academic work of each participant and created suggestions for topics to spark discussions around Nordic futures. We also took a cue from Klumbyté and colleagues’ excellent work [2] and asked all participants to situate themselves and their work within their own communities of practice by bringing a photo or something that describes the kind of communities that are significant to them, or that they feel that they belong to. Through this activity, we were able to start the discussion from the lived experience of each researcher around the topics of:

Topic 1 – Body and Healthcare Futures 

  • How do we care for our bodies, who cares for our bodies?

Topic 2 – Energy and Environment Futures 

  • How is Nordic nature constructed? Who should care for it and how?

Topic 3 – Futures for whom? 

  • Who gets to be Nordic? Does “Nordicness” matter? How? Who and what is (not) part of the future?

Topic 4 – Urban and Civic Futures

  • How should participation and democracy be enacted? How should we plan the places that we live in?

Topic 5 – Intergenerational Care Futures 

  • How should we care for each other during different stages of our lives? Which institutions (e.g. schools) are implicated in these futures?

For each topic, we prepared a discussion script around Dummit’s exercises of the implosion [1]. This first discussion allowed participants to get to know one another and each other’s work while unpacking each theme, as well as the stories and mythologies that drive the understanding of these topics in our different Nordic societies.

The discussion continued after lunch following a World Café Format, where participants rotated around three tables: 1) Assembling “missing” things, 2) Core future visions, and 3) The more-than-human. This allowed participants to share what they had discussed in the morning in a way that highlighted these three dimensions, focused on what futures we wanted, and which neglected relations we should care for.

The first day ended with a walk-and-talk activity in Umeå, where the participants were invited to relate experientially with the city of Umeå and talk to one another about the themes/topics/ideas that resonated with them. We visited places like the Women’s History Museum, the natural play areas around the city, etc. All of these places held stories, narratives, and myths about Nordic cultures and livelihoods, and we all found experiences that we considered important to work on.

Day 2 – Fabulating

The second day was focused on unpacking what’s in a story or in a fable, which concepts can the process of Fabulation rely on, and how can they be mobilized towards imagining alternative futures.

To achieve this, in the morning we held a storytelling circle, where everyone brought and shared a story that resonates with them and their culture. This was a very intimate session where we shared topics related to our upbringing, identities, morals, and symbols. We all also shared which elements, characters, and worlds in different stories are able to inspire and move us.

Later, we conducted a surveying session (“arpentage”), which is a form of collective reading aimed at building a shared understanding of theoretical subjects [3]. With this, we aimed at exposing participants to the theoretical foundations of fabulation by inviting participants to read fragments of texts on fabulation (see <link to literature>). After this session, we created a collage that partly connected theoretical concepts and cut out quotes from the texts, with topics discussed in the workshop on the first day!

Overall, we were very happy with the richness of discussions, and with the generosity and warmth brought by all the participants. We are still in the process of synthesizing all the results and discussions that took place, and we hope to share with you the results soon!

References on this blog post

1. Pierre Delvenne, Lucas Bechoux, Valérie Beniest, Léonard Chemineau, Wim Decock, Sarah Delvaux, Catherine Fallon, Jean-Baptiste Fanouillere, Colin Glesner, Luce Lebrun, and others. 2022. Entering into resonance: vibrations around a common world from encounters between the 9th art and science. In Annual Congress of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S).

2. Joseph Dumit. 2014. Writing the Implosion: Teaching the World One Thing at a Time. Cultural Anthropology 29, 2: 344–362.

3. Goda Klumbytė, Claude Draude, and Alex S. Taylor. 2022. Critical Tools for Machine Learning: Working with Intersectional Critical Concepts in Machine Learning Systems Design. In Proceedings of the 2022 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (FAccT ’22), 1528–1541.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *