Poetic Operations Collaborative (POC) is a design research lab using technological creativity towards social justice at the University of Washington Bothell. Our goal is to use inclusive design, community-based design and human centered design to develop technologies that work towards a more just, sustainable and healthy future for all people, by centering the experiences of oppressed groups.

Speculative Design

The best way to change the future is to invent it. Artists in the 20th and 21st centuries often imagined new technologies long before those technologies were turned into consumer products. Artists, in research labs such as the POC, have the freedom to imagine possibilities for technology beyond the current demands of the market and beyond the lowest common denominator limitations necessary for an imagined audience of “everyone”. Our lab uses speculative design to create prototypes for future technologies for future cities, societies and worlds. We work to contribute to futures that are less violent and more healthy by designing the future.

Practice-Based Research

POC’s primary method is practice-based research, combining research in design, media art practice and rigorous study of forms of embodied difference including race, gender, sexuality, ability and nationality, in order to understand the interactions between technology and difference.

Trans of Color Poetics

POC uses trans of color poetics in our media art and design. Dr. micha cárdenas has proposed trans of color poetics to include media strategies that can open possibilities of life for trans people of color in movement, where movement includes urban mobility, transnational migration, performance and social movement. Through our practice-based research projects we engage in a hybrid theory/practice approach.

Laverne Cox has described the present moment as a “state of emergency for trans people”, which invites further consideration of necropolitics (Hughes). In his 2003 essay “Necropolitics”, Achille Mbembe offers a response to biopolitics from a global south context. He states “contemporary experiences of human destruction suggest that it is possible to develop a reading of politics, sovereignty, and the subject different from the one we inherited from the philosophical discourse of modernity. Instead of considering reason as the truth of the subject, we can look to other foundational categories that are less abstract and more tactile, such as life and death” (14). Mbembe argues that contemporary governance gains authority not only through the promise of life, but also through the guarantee of death, for populations deemed undesirable. cárdenas has proposed trans of color poetics as a poetics of media and movement that works to increase the chances of life for trans people of color and reduce the likelihood of death. Mbembe describes invisible killings as one way necropolitics operates today, and the fact that only ten of the twenty one trans women murdered this year have even been investigated makes clear that this is a useful theoretical framework.

Science of the Oppressed

Science of the Oppressed emerged from the *particle group* and The Electronic Disturbance Theater, which Dr. cárdenas is a member of. Echoing the term used earlier by Monique Wittig, in 2009 *particle group* wrote an article titled nanoGeoPolitica/Poetica/Pelicula – fabricating with minor scales in which they propose a model of science that would ask: what is science and in whose interest? They state,

 We can imagine Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, Chela Sandoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed, Critical Art Ensemble’s tactical science, Natalie Jeremijenko’s public experiments and what the Electronic Disturbance Theater has framed today as the “science of the oppressed”…
…each gesture diagrams alternative social forms of life and art that fall between the known and unknown, between fiction and the real, between clean science and dirty science —
…each a part of a long history of an epistemology of social production which privileges the standpoint of the proletariat, the multitude, the open hacks of the DIY moments, and of autonomous investigators who stage test zones of cognitive styles-as/and out of — concrete practices as speculation and speculation as concrete practices — at the speed of dreams.

Science of the Oppressed starts by rejecting hierarchies of knowledge that privilege academic knowledge or knowledge produced by professionals, instead calling for a knowledge production based in experiences of oppression. In this science, the skills developed daily by people who experience oppression, and forms of violence such as borders, are crucial tools for thinking new solutions to existing social problems.

Science of the Oppressed intends to reimagine knowledge production and research in the service of oppressed communities, in concert with social movements.


Works Cited

Mbembé, J.-A. “Necropolitics.” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (2003): 11–40.

Hughes, Sarah. “Laverne Cox: ‘We Live in a Binary World: It Can Change.’” The Independent. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2014.