Simulating bodies at the ISA World Congress of Sociology

Charlotte Bates, Rob Imrie and Kim Kullman will be presenting ‘Simulating bodies: sensory ethics and pedagogies in design’, as part of a pre-congress event on the senses and society organised by Phillip Vannini, Royal Roads University, Canada. This event is being organised in connection with the XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology, Yokohama, Japan, July 13-19, 2014.

Simulating bodies: sensory ethics and pedagogies in design

Before embodied encounters between daily users and designed artefacts take place, diverse professionals have already sought to anticipate and shape those encounters through a range of techniques, including computer models, physical prototypes and collaborations with user groups. This paper explores one such technique that has attracted considerably less attention – bodily simulation. Discussing an ongoing multi-sited ethnography of the concept of Universal Design, which represents an attempt to create objects and environments that are sensitive to the variability of bodies and capabilities among everyday users, the paper discusses the practices and tools that designers have begun to employ in order to anticipate and learn about this variability. Such practices and tools include, for example, engaging with spaces blindfolded or in a wheelchair, or wearing costumes that simulate the visual field and movement patterns of an elderly person. The paper claims that this approach not only encourages the cultivation of more bodily aware modes of designing, but also offers important insight into the affective and sensory workings of everyday ethics by suggesting that it is mainly through the effort of feeling and sensing with other bodies, regardless of how modest and precarious these efforts might seem, that people learn responsiveness and responsibility towards their environments. Arguing that this way of feeling and sensing is an acquired skill open to fine-tuning, the paper demonstrates how bodily simulation may be used as a basis for teaching and learning more responsive styles of designing and dwelling.