...at the same time: speculative feminisms amid boundary objects

I hang out with nepantleras, “those who facilitate passage between worlds,” both people, and actually lots of objects. (AnzaldĂșa 2002) Increasingly I think of writing as a cognitive companionship humans have arranged with their favorite objects and ecologies, managing and being managed through and among complexly enfolded systems and artifacts.

A design fiction: (very) roughly 5000 years ago in (at least) two segmenting ecologies on our planet humans messed around with some cognitive companions, each coordinating multiple agencies characteristically. In Mesopotamia tiny clay token sheep were enclosed in clay envelopes with markings indicating what was inside. In the Andes strings were wrapped around sticks and attached to a main cord. In the first case the favored sensory technology for making was molding and inscribing clay. Worlds set into motion from this sort of making eventually sustain so-called “true writing”: that is to say, writing that companions preferentially with language. In the second case makings involved spinning plant and animal fiber and feeling, tying, and untying knots. Worlds set into motion there eventually sustain a different sort of writing, one said to be “without words,” instead preferentially coordinating actions and practices directly as their very ecologies. (Boone 1994)

This second sort of companionship, at the very edge of what has been mostly meant by this word “writing,” is meaningful today precisely because machine language is binary, and it turns out, so is this knotted device, or khipu, and so are elements of the worlds it coordinates. This “design fiction” speculatively entangles “design, science, fact and fiction” as a practice “that, hopefully, provides different, undisciplined ways of envisioning new kinds of environments, artifacts and practices.... Design Fiction is making things that tell stories. It’s like science-fiction in that the stories bring into focus certain matters-of-concern, such as how life is lived, questioning how technology is used and its implications, speculating about the course of events; all of the unique abilities of science-fiction to incite imagination-filling conversations….” (Bleecker 2009)

Nepantleras – including the so-called wizards or gurus of technology organizations – because they live in “enough worlds at the same time,” in the words of technoscience theorist Lucy Suchman, are folks with a feel for work-arounds in ranges. (Suchman & Scharmer 1999) They practice systems coordination and facilitate the work-arounds of collaboration, often through the agency of the objects called by feminist Leigh Star “boundary objects.”

Star reflects on the origins of the concept of a boundary object: “As I delved deeper into the relations between developers and users, it became clear that a kind of communicative tangle was occurring. I used the work of Gregory Bateson, who had studied these sorts of communicative mishaps under the heading of ‘double binds.’ As with Bateson’s work on schizophrenics, and what he called ‘the transcontextual syndrome,’’ the messages that were coming at level one from the systems developers were not being heard on that level by the users and vice versa. What was obvious to one was a mystery to another. What was trivial to one was a barrier to another. Yet, clarifying this was never easy. The users liked the interface when they were sat in front of it. Yet, they did not know how to make a reliable working infrastructure out of it. They would ask the … team, who would reply in terms alien to them. I began to see this as a problem of infrastructure – and its relative nature.” (2010: 610; Bateson 1972: 276)

Khipu, design fictions, boundary objects, all these participate with nepantleras, not just to facilitate moving among worlds, but to augment their realities: to learn and demonstrate how to be affected or moved, how to open up unexpected elements of one’s own embodiments in lively and re-sensitizing worlds. Collaborations and many makings across transcontextualities are among the projects of a feminist transdisciplinary posthumanities and its work to live in enough worlds at the same time, to re/write cognitive companionships, and to open to ecological complexity.