Transmission in Motion

Seminar Blogs

“Wearing Technology: Tackling Complexity Through an Assemblage of Approaches” – Eleonora Stacchiotti

During the seventh meeting of the Transmission in Motion seminar, students and researchers from different backgrounds had the chance to discover and learn more about the intersection of theory and practice in the context of smart clothing research. Fashion designer Pauline van Dongen and Media and Culture scholar Lianne Touissant presented their works. As they collaborate since they first met during the years of their PhD projects in the early 2010s, this session was dedicated to the importance of the continuous exchange between theoretical and practical knowledges in design research.

Both of them started their PhD’s in 2013 as the launch of Crafting Wearables, a project born thanks to the support and the funding of public and private Dutch cultural institutions and Universities. If Pauline was already pursuing a career as a fashion designer in her studio, Lianne started her PhD just after the completion of her Master’s. Since the PhD projects were strictly academic and theoretical, Pauline reported that she had to get acquainted with a new way of thinking (design) research before being able to produce academic texts. Similarly, Lianne, as always trained as a scholar and used to do intellectual work over practical tasks, had to experiment a bit with her ability “to make” things to reach an appropriate level of comprehension and understanding of tech fashion design. What happened to the two of them is conceptualizable as a breach of the borders among different disciplines, so that research could bloom at the cracking edge between intellectual and manual activity.

The process of fluidification and blurring of borders between practice-based and theoretical research allowed them to have a more hands-on approach to the object of inquiry while basing their exploration on solid academic ground. They did not focus on just one factor and only on one approach to reach their goal but gave space to a multiplicity of perspectives. Wearables – being born at the intersection of technological advancement and fashion crafts – are framed as mediators between the wearers’ bodily experience and their immediate surroundings. Like so, the creation of a piece of clothing is not just a mere creative act aiming at a profit but becomes an act of co-creation between the consumers and the designers. At the same time, academic insight into wearables considers the intricate relation between bodies, designers and surroundings to analyze the emergence of such pieces of clothing in a specific context.

Such interdisciplinarity made me think of new materialist approaches to knowledge production and divulgation. For example, in her Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2010), American philosopher Jane Bennett wants to approach the world of things and events by blurring the lines dividing different agents co-participating in one specific phenomenon. She makes use of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the assemblage to come up with a theory of agency and action that crosses and blurs the human and non-human divide. Her use of the concept of assemblage aims to complicate the attitude towards complex phenomena, which are not influenced by any central head but emerge as properties of making something happen (2010, 24). In this framework, each phenomenon is not solidly determined but is distributed “along a continuum, extrudes from multiple sites” (2010, 28) where various entities live in an intimate but conflictual relation. In this intimate-yet-conflictual relation, practices of making and reflecting through and for technology must be included. Bennett put such an approach into work to illustrate the causes of the energy blackout that took place in North America in Summer 2003. As the problem was extensive and intricate, Bennett ascribed it to a collection of different factors – such as the change in the electrons flow pattern and the consumed transmission wires but also the new regulations ruling on transmission companies. This proved that to understand a problem in an extensive system, one cannot look at it from one single perspective because it would neither explain nor assess the causes generating it (2010, 26). Similarly, in process of knowledge production, one cannot expect to have a complete understanding of a problem by approaching it just from one point of view, as nowadays many elements that are present in our daily life are created and mediated by technology, which works at levels that slip away of human understanding. Only complex and multidisciplinary methodologies can help us with the articulation of an exploratory, analytical practice of comprehension of the contemporary world.


  • Bennett, J., 2010. Vibrant Matter: A political ecology of things. Durham: Duke University Press.

*Image credits: FactoryTh, image uploaded in iStock Photos on Mat 22nd 2015. Available at