Designing engagements with animals to find, imagine, or emphasize non-speciesist practices
Hello, my name is Michelle Westerlaken and I am a Research Associate on the Smart Forests project in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge. I have a PhD in Interaction Design from Malmö University in Sweden. As an interdisciplinary researcher and designer my work builds on posthumanism, feminist technoscience, critical animal studies, and decolonial theory to investigate possibilities for more sustainable contributions on a planet in a state of mass-extinction.
In the Smart Forests project, funded by the European Research Council, we investigate the social-political impacts of technologies that are increasingly used to monitor and govern forest environments.
My dissertation, “Imagining Multispecies Worlds,” presents a Multispecies Bestiary in which 10 protagonist species (including, among others, forests, worms, mice, and monsters) guide the reader through a collection of multispecies stories. These stories illustrate a repertoire of world-making practices with other species in which we recognize and engage with the ability to respond to each other. The project involved visiting research undertaken at the Hong-Kong Polytechnic University, Laguna College of Art and Design in California, and The University of Malta.
As a designer, I work with participatory methods that examine possibilities for humans and other species to propose interaction modalities for multispecies ways of living on this planet. So far, these projects have involved design negotiations together with cats, dogs, ants, and penguins, and various interactive technologies. Central to my work are the ways in which theory and participatory research practices continuously inform and inspire each other.
Besides doing research, I taught undergraduate and graduate courses on the topics of design theory, playful interaction, interactive storytelling, and experimental game design. What draws me into the woods can be summarized as a desire to learn to observe, care for, and forage within the multispecies worlds that are made as forests increasingly express themselves through sensing technologies.
During the last ten years, I collected existing examples of technologically mediated (human -) animal interaction in all kinds of contexts that I am sharing on this blog together with my own projects and reflections. On this website you can also find my academic publications and my interaction design portfolio.