Performative texts of a speculative ethics

Performative texts are autoethnographic accounts of past experiences in which written words perform through visual and spatial compositions alongside verbal readings aloud. I present three performative texts about moments of discomfort in designing with milk from my own breastfeeding relationship. They are to refect upon felt experiences of potential harm and to understand social and material relations of care. From these I offer three possibilities for how interaction design might consider the ethics of first-person research in attending to more-than-human entanglements: unsafe spaces, situated escapes, and censored inclusion. These possibilities contribute to research for more sustainable futures by exploring the decentering of humans through an intimate engagement with the self.

This process was inspired by a PhD course Autoethnographic methods: Building ethnographic refexivity through creative arts-based practice by Annette Markham and Lisbeth Frølunde.

A first performative

A first performative text that revisits a time when I used a chemical agent purchased online to preserve and solidify our milk at home. I chose to revisit this moment because it was a time when I felt my design work could be of material harm to my child, my partner, and myself.

A second performative

A second performative text that revisits two diferent encounters during the same academic event during which I didn’t feel good about sharing my breastfeeding experiences as research. I chose to revisit these encounters because they were a time during which I didn’t feel good about sharing my breastfeeding experiences as research, and more specifcally, I felt emotional discomfort towards my own well-being.

A third performative

A third performative text that revisits when I received reviews for a publication on my breastfeeding experiences and was asked to add a content warning to my paper and an associated video presentation. I chose to revisit this moment because I felt (and continue to feel) conficted in adding the content warning at the beginning of my paper and the video presentation of the paper, and unsure whether I should continue to include it in subsequent research dissemination.

From these, in an academic paper I reflect upon possibilities for how design might consider the ethics of first-person research in attending to more-than-human entanglements: unsafe spaces, situated escapes, and censored inclusion. These possibilities and the approach of performative texts contribute to research for more sustainable futures by exploring the decentering of humans through an intimate engagement with the self.

Publications & Creative Outputs

Karey Helms. 2022. A Speculative Ethics for Designing with Bodily Fluids. ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Extended Abstracts (CHI 2022, alt.chi) New Orleans, LA, USA.
PDF, DOI, Video (8 min), Video (30 sec)