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Class 03 | 12 Mar 2020

  1. Studio activities
    1. First online class
    2. Slack
    3. Exercises
      1. Social Objects
        1. Paper
        2. Investigations
  2. Assignment: new social objects
    1. Conversation: Assessment
  3. Resources
    1. 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy
    2. A History of the World in 100 Objects
    3. The Thing From the Future

Studio activities

First online class

This class is the first to take place online during the university lockdown!

We met online at a Google Hangout. It seemed to work OK for a group chat – we’ll do the same again next week (I’ll send an email to everyone with a link the morning that class starts).


We also have a new place to discuss our work – a workspace on Slack:

We’ll be using this to communicate between one another whilst we can’t be there in person. You’ve been allocated a partner to work with – please keep all of the links and ideas and notes and so on in Slack, so you can find them later.


Social Objects


We read through some of Maurizio Ferraris’ paper on documentality and social objects together, and had a brief discussion about what it meant.

If you’re unclear about this, or would like to learn more, here is a video of Prof. Ferraris introducing the topic:


We then paired up to investigate a social object ourselves, which was then presented back to the class. In each instance, teams were asked to define:

  • What the social object is
  • What the ‘act of inscription’ is
  • Who issues it?
  • Who checks it?
  • Where does it come from?
  • What is it used for?
  • Was it always meant to have the function it has today?

The social objects investigated were:

  • Books
  • Bank cards
  • Paper money
  • One child per family certificate
  • Education certificate for Chinese higher education
  • Immigration cards to study in the Netherlands

In each instance, the conversations ended up opening more and more questions about what things were. Each social object we look at leads to a series of further assumptions. If we followed almost any of the investigation further, we’d be asking questions such as:

  • What is money?
  • What is a state?
  • How do you define _______?
  • What is value?
  • Who decides what is trustworthy?
  • Which parts of the story rely on fiction? Which parts rely on belief? Which parts are objectively real?

This is good! Think about as many social objects as you can over the next few weeks and try to unpick what they are, where they come from, etc… :)

Assignment: new social objects

Last week you had to create and document a ritual. This week’s assignment is to create and document a new social object. In your pairs, first present your work from last week to each other, then work together to define a new social object.

You can use any method you wish to create a social object. The most productive methods will involve a clearly defined place and time that the objects exist within. (e.g. 1893, Kandahar; 2050, Den Bosch).

Useful questions:

  • What should it do?
  • Who is it for? Why is it needed?
  • What rituals are involved?
  • What’s the act of inscription?
  • Who remembers? What is the purpose of the memory? Who has the authority to validate this ‘thing’? How are the things safeguarded?
  • How long does it last?
  • How might this be used to liberate or constrain people?
  • What materials are used?

You can use any method to instigate your social object. The less like pre-existing systems it is, the more fun it will be to develop and define. Creating a thing that is like a passport but a different colour won’t be fun.

Try to make your act of inscription performative or ritualistic. Think about the ceremonies that Grayson Perry investigated, how often it is the act of performing something that creates the inscription (e.g. creating scars on a body).

Recommended means to create a new social object:

  • Use a card game, like The Thing From the Future (there is a free play-at-home version here) to create a scenario and define an object.
  • Use a counterfactual technique to imagine an alternative present with different social institutions. For example:
    • The current concept of statehood is based on the idea of Westphalian sovereignty, decided as part of the Treaty of Westfalia in 1648. What might a passport, driving licence, ID card, mortgage, corporation, book, religion, cult, etc, look like if the treaty had drawn different conclusions about what states can and can’t do?
    • What would a state ID look like if the Confederate states had won the American Civil war? (This idea was explored in the film The Confederate States of America.)
    • Ask yourself a question such as: what if cars had only ever been allowed for miltary/government use? What if time had never been standardised, so every town used a different time? What if email had never been invented?
  • Pick a transition which exists (or doesn’t exist yet) but isn’t recognised by society. For example, the transition from baby to toddler, from teenager to adult, from one gender to another, from middle age to being an ‘elder’, etc.

You can place your social object in a real imagined past, future, or present. You need to clearly communicate about the society your social object exists in: what are the ‘world’ rules? Think about how this is done in your favourite fiction worlds.

By next class, please generate convincing documentation of the social object. This could include a film, photographs, artefacts, documents, virtual materials, etc. You will have to present the social object, its context, its rules, and the world it exists in next week. There will be an upload form soon.

Please communicate with one another in the Slack channel, as it’s a useful place to keep notes, links, references, etc.

Conversation: Assessment

This course is here for you to enhance your personal practice!

You should therefore be involved in the creation of the assessment criteria. If you have any ideas about elements of assessment which would improve your own work in the future, please write them in the #assessment channel on Slack.

Currently the assessment criteria are based on the Scripted Design course – presenting 2-3 elements of the work you’ve made in class and during assignments plus the larger final assignment. But this course should be democratic: any suggestions are more than welcome!


50 Things That Made The Modern Economy

This podcast breaks down one thing per week - often a social object - and explains the back-story and context of its creation and how it has changed over time. Recent episodes include stock options, prohibition, chatbots, oil and paper money.


A History of the World in 100 Objects

Similar to 50 things… but about objects (largely objects which were taken from other places to the British Museum).


The Thing From the Future

Great game to create contexts for ficitonal objects! There’s a free version you can download and print out. Very good for idea generation.


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