Transmission in Motion

Seminar Blogs

“The state is not a cold monster, the state is the art of the thaumaturges” – Laura Jimenez Rojas

On this occasion at the TiM seminar we had the opportunity to come closer to the lure of Whitehead from a very new perspective. Adam Nocek introduced the framework of speculative design as an interdisciplinary approach to think of the circular processes in which lifeworlds and humans constitute each other.

To start, it is important to address some of the groundings of ontological design, which is going to be the basis for a speculative design in the terms that Nocek exposed. Ontological design, as Anne-Marie Willis succinctly present it, “is a way of characterizing the relation between human beings and lifeworlds. (…) [It is] a double movement: we design our world, while our world acts back on us and designs us.”[1]. Willis positions ontological design in three continuous inter-connected regions, namely: first, the conventionally designed objects; second, the design of both material and immaterial infrastructure of systems; and third, the designing of habits of mind. I would like to focus on the second region as I think it entails what I found most interested in Nocek’s contribution to the seminar: the system of the governmental design.

Nocek suggested a proposition in which the concept of “dispositif” by Foucault finds a relation to the notion of “sociality” by Whitehead. At first sight, this connection might seem unusual. However, the way in which Nocek brought them together was possible by virtue of the design thinking, a humanistic practice that goes beyond what we traditionally consider to be the task of a designer.

The coordination of heterogeneities is what underlies this procedure. On the one hand, Foucault’s notion of the “dispositif” is presented as an outcome of what Nocek names the “governmental design strategy”, where material and immaterial -practices- compose a particular way of governing. Following Foucault: “The state is not a cold monster; it is the correlative of a particular way of governing. The problem is how this way of governing develops (…) and how it invents, forms, and develops new practices.”[2]

On the other hand, Whitehead’s concept of “sociality” allows us to focus on the non-human scale. This approach highlights the relevance of other ontologies which, as Nocek argues, concede the idea that “other world is possible” and that “there is room for something more”.

In this way, becoming to being is the process that both “dispositif” and “sociality” avow in the terms of a governmental speculative design. In order to have a glimpse of its possible operation, a speculative design project was mentioned: “Dust & Shadow”. This is a project by the network of transdisciplinary labs FoAM that explores the environmental issues of the desert of the North-American Southwest. Amongst their practices, the re-examination of emerging lifestyles through experimental publications led me to some evocative propositions that resonate with Nocek’s speculative invitation.

In “Fieldnotes 2”, FoAM collective express: “The political and economic thaumaturges alternate between experimenting with hybrid governance structures and fighting shadowy battles(…)” Here the practices that build up the “dispositif” are taking shape. Then, it continues, “(…) the government functions as a medium between humans and other entities in the district.” Whitehead’s “socialities” start to emerge, when “(…) Water, for example, is treated as a nonaligned political entity in its own right. The shadow minister of trans-local affairs advocates “the social responsibility of a coven” and inclusion of an act for the rights of “diverse states of matter(…)”[3]. This experimental way of thinking about the government practices and its relationship with the “socialities” implicates a way in which “speculative design” can start a change. The designing of alternative ways of writing and thinking, in which the heterogeneities find a way to talk and make other worlds possible.

[1] Willis, Anne-Marie. Ontological Designing: 80

[2] Foucault, Michel. The Birth of Biopolitics: 6

[3] Kuzmanovic, Maja and Gaffney, Nik. Dust & Shadow, Fieldnotes #2


  • Foucault, Michel. “The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-79”. Edited by Michel Senellart. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
  • Kuzmanovic, Maja and Gaffney, Nik. Dust & Shadow, Fieldnotes #2, Posted on Feb. 26, 2018, 7:22 p.m.
  • Willis, Anne-Marie.“Ontological Designing – laying the ground”. Designing Philosophy Papers Collection Three. Team D/E/S Publications, Ravensbourne, Qld, 2007.
  • Image from Fieldnotes #2, Posted on Feb. 26, 2018, 7:22 p.m.