What we don’t talk about when we talk about design

Objectifying from Lilly Irani on Vimeo.

I made a version of this video for a Delhi public photography exhibit called Blow Up. It is based on ideas that Kavita and I have been talking about for a while. I will avoid captioning too much, but I’ll say that I’m reminded of Donna Haraway’s reminder in When Species Meet that we are all in “differential relations of dying.” This is my first foray into video production so I’d love discussion — constructive feedback, tips, and thoughts on film as a medium for critical academic output.

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3 Responses
  1. Zinc says:

    I enjoyed this video, Lilly, including the last scene 🙂 I like that you assumed some familiarity of the audience with the infamous Summers memo. I also thought your caption about “policy choice” seemed calm and thoughtful, and avoided casting the blame on any one agent, even though the temptation to castigate is strong (for a flavor of the responses at the time, see: http://www.pcdf.org/1992/29korten.htm), and the memo continues to rankle, given that this is the same Dr. Summers who made the infamous comment about women in science, and the same one who advised Obama on controversial bail-outs after the recent recession.

    I have rarely met a feminist in America who doesn’t roll their eyes recalling Summers’ comments about women. They know what they’re angry about, and why. And I’ve rarely met an environmentalist from a developing context who doesn’t have those 1991 memo phrases burnt into their political memory. They know what they’re angry about, too. And I know a lot of blue-collar folks who are angry at Summers for shafting the American worker. But I rarely have engagements that combine historical memory and political outrage around women’s rights, workers’ rights, and environmental health rights simultaneously — and that’s why Summers’ legacy of inane pronouncements is fascinating (as are his post-hoc attempts at wriggling out of them) — he pulls these issues together as no activist has been abe to! Someone needs to write a muck-raking biography of this guy.

  2. I loved watching this video — especially the cuts and music during the first part (majority) of the video. I agree with Zelda that the document at the end raises a lot of questions, and seems to take the video in a new/different direction. I felt like the video’s goal was to raise awareness and make me think about my choices as an electronics consumer (and disposer of electronics), but then that last video made me feel like I was supposed to be angry at someone and I wasn’t sure who.

  3. Zelda says:

    For almost its entire history, video has been a medium for cultural criticism– both in the short forms typical of museum/gallery installations and screenings and the longer (“documentary”) forms typical of festivals. And for at least the last two decades a good proportion of this has been generated from within academia. So you won’t get any argument from me on film/video as a medium of critical reflection. Whether it can be understood as a legitimate medium that substitutes for, say, the critical essay or book in certain humanistic or social scientific disciplines is another question.

    With respect to your video, Lilly, I was most curious about the provenance of the typewritten document at the end: who generated this, why, and to what purpose? Context is extremely important when such outrageous statements are made. (I actually paused the video so I could read it all.) As a result the caption “exporting e-waste…” etc. almost comes across as misdirection– an attempt to pull our attention away from something very specific and damning with a broad generalization. Sure it’s a policy choice– just about anything can be that– but is it a past, present or potential policy choice? A deliberate or inadvertent (unintended consequence) choice? A policy of the exporters or the importers, or both?

    I get (I think) that this video is meant to be more like a visual mnemonic for the idea of invisible computer-related waste and its human effects than an extended meditation on a big problem– but that document at the end changed the terms of the video for me.