Debating the political potential of experimental knowledge

In the social sciences there has been a recent but growing interest in experimental cultures and on their affordances in re-shaping social methods and knowledge. The experimental is going “live” (Marres 2012) by being approached as a process rather than as a site (Corsín Jiménez 2013). Open-endness, practice/material-orientedness, the incorporation of failure, the transformation of informants into counterparts, the abandonment of a representationalist paradigm, knowledge as craft, are some of the characteristics of experimental ‘ways of knowing’.

Drawing on a set of digital practices such as hacking, prototyping, open sourcing and on experiences of intense collaborations with different communities of expertise or practice – designers, artists, architects, bloggers – a group of scholars coming from anthropology and/or STS have been exploring new ways of producing knowledge based on experimental cultures. Among them, Alberto Corsín Jiménez’s explorations of prototyping as a cultural and epistemic form (2013; also Corsín Jiménez, Estalella & Zoohaus forthcoming), Adolfo Estalella and Tomás Sanchéz-Criado’s proposal for re-functioning of traditional ethnography through an exercise of experimental collaboration (forthcoming); Wendy Gunn and colleagues’ methodological proposal for Design Anthropology, an interdisciplinary proposal for doing anthropological research through design and design through anthropology (2013); and Matt Ratto’s pedagogic and methodological experiments with “critical making”, “a mode of materially productive engagement that is intended to bridge the gap between creative physical and conceptual exploration” (2011: 252). Although heterogeneous and not necessarily related to each other, what these proposals have in common is an approach to the process of knowledge as a process of becoming, as something transformative – practiced explicitly as “a technology of question formation” (Faubion in Marcus 2013: 400).

To discuss what “epistemic cultures built on collaboration, provisionality, recycling, experimentation and creativity” (Corsín Jiménez 2013: 382) could bring in terms of political innovation within academia and beyond and to elaborate on the new models of scholarship that experimental cultures could foster in the social sciences, we are organizing a seminar in Coimbra for the next 29th of June. Are experimental epistemic cultures and practices re-designing the current infrastructures of knowledge – and academia as we know it? And if so, in which ways? How does the ‘experimental’ articulates with the current structures of research policies and funding? How does it combine with the actual academic organizational ecosystems? The seminar aims at reflecting on what kind of ‘political’ do these experimental practices perform – what kind of ‘political’ do they bring-into-provisional-being – or, as Corsín Jiménez & Estalella (2010) put it, what kind of hope do they prototype?

To that aim, the seminar will foster a dialogue between different ways of experimenting and bringing the ‘political’ into being in the making of social knowledge.


Centro de Estudos Sociais CES, Coimbra (Sala 1)

29 of June 2015

10 am – 17 pm

Introduction [presentation available]

Chiara Carrozza & Andrea Gaspar

Urban pedagogies in beta: emplacing Free Culture in the city [presentation available]

Adolfo Estalella

Estalella 1




Response-able experimenting: response-ability and the politics of experimental knowledge

João Arriscado Nunes

What artistic methodologies do to the ethnographic method? Fieldwork roles, modes of register and the politics of fieldwork

Ricardo Seiça Salgado

Arts-based research and teaching [presentation available]

Alison Neilson and Rita São Marcos

Design and free culture: meaningful interactions [presentation available]

Ana Isabel Carvalho and Ricardo Lafuente


Full programme with bios and abstract here



Corsín Jiménez, Alberto, Estalella, Adolfo and Zoohaus. 2013. “The interior design of (free) knowledge”, Journal of Cultural Economy 7(4): 493-515.

Corsín Jiménez, Alberto. 2013. “Introduction: The prototype: more than many and less than one”. Journal of Cultural Economy 7(4): 381-398.

Corsín Jiménez, Alberto, & Estalella, Adolfo. 2010. “The prototype: a sociology in abeyance”. Prototyping prototyping, ed. Christopher Kelty. Accessed November 8, 2014.

Estalella, Adolfo & Criado, Tomás Sánchez (eds.), Forthcoming. Ethnography as experimental collaboration. EASA Book Series, Berghahn.

Gunn, Wendy, et al (eds.) 2013. Design Anthropology: theory and practice. London & New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Marcus, George. 2013. “Prototyping and contemporary anthropological experiments with ethnographic method”. Journal of Cultural Economy 7(4): 399-410.

Marres, Noortje. 2012. “The experiment in living”. In Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford, eds. Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social. London and New York: Routledge, 76-95.

Ratto, Matt. 2011. “Critical making: conceptual and material studies in technology and social life”. The Information Society 27: 252-260.

Cite this blog post
Chiara Carrozza (2015, June 15). Debating the political potential of experimental knowledge. The importance of being digital. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from