University of California Los Angeles Curriculum Evaluation Platform Paper

write a unique 3-4 page essay that explains an aspect of your team project that was particularly important or interesting to you

CAPE Redesign
Group 12
CAPE, as a standardized evaluation platform for courses
and platforms, is an artifact that we students interact
with every quarter.
We focus on redesigning the evaluation feature of CAPE
to better achieve its goal of becoming a “catalyst of
educational renewal”.

We have chosen the script “Students rarely leave comments for
evaluations. ”
“I usually just finish all scale questions and skip all comments”.
—survey participant

We are motivated to change this particular script because student
comments are important for both professors and students. It
helps professors adjust their teaching style and materials
accordingly, and thus helping students to learn more effectively.
Research Process
Our research process extends from our midterm project to the final project.

First, we conducted preliminary research about CAPE’s uses and history
Second, we sent out surveys to further learn about CAPE’s scripts.
Based on results, we chose one of scripts to find possible counter-scripts.
To narrow down our counterscripts, we sketched storyboards and conducted
interviews in class with students, professor, and TA.
Research Process – storyboards

From online survey:
○ 47.06% respond that there are tedious steps to fill out evaluation forms.
○ 23.53% participants find CAPE hard to navigate and access.


From interview
○ Instead of giving explicit rewards, students are motivated to give
comments when the format of the surveys dictates personalness.
■ eg. prof’s own survey via canvas.
○ Students like to know that their evaluations are read to feel more
■ Suggest to add read/unread features.
○ Students want to go back to check their past evaluations.
○ Instructors do not have access to view students’ comments and need to
search their CAPE results.

From Crit day:
○ Cape evaluation does not affect me.
○ Students suggest to make connection with canvas.

From Survey:

Tedious filling steps
→ Divide 1 long survey into 2 short surveys.

Prefer the personal format to ensure that instructors get evaluations →Add
read/unread/selected feature; Send notifications when selected.

Check past evaluations → Add history feature.

Not affect me → Add survey in the middle of one quarter.

To make connection with canvas → Add link to CAPE on canvas.
Hard to navigate → Redesign the interface to facilitate user interaction.
From Interview:
Instructors cannot directly access →Add the instructor’s personal page.
From Crit day:

Divide one long survey to two short surveys: instructor & course

Offer additional CAPE Course evaluation at midterm of the quarter to
make students feel more involved.
○ Delete the scale question for the course recommended rate.
○ Focus on seeking feedback about how to improve course
materials in the rest of the quarter.

Redesigning the CAPE evaluation form by adding Tags to provide
ideas and encourage students to comment.

Redesigning the CAPE evaluation interface
by separating it into students‘ page &
instructors’ page:
○ students / instructors can login to
their personal page and find past and
pending evaluations.
Design Detail
For students:
● Access the personal CAPE page
via canvas
○ Make easier to navigate.
Design Detail
For students:
● View their current and past evaluations.
● Check submitted evaluations status:

read/ unread.
● Check if comments are selected to be
taken into consideration:

○ Students will receive email
■ “Your comment for course
Comm 124A is selected by Prof.
Irani Thanks…”
Design Detail
For instructors:
● Instead of searching their names and
courses to see the comments, they can view
past CAPE results including:
○ Midterm Course Evaluation:
■ Top tags to get general ideas
students’ feedback about
courses intuitively.
■ Download the pdf evaluation
result for later review.
■ Delete the evaluation to protect
■ Full details
Design Detail
For instructors:
● And Also:
○ Final Evaluation:
■ Instructor and course
recommend rates
■ TOP tags based on students’
● Avoid seeing biased and
inappropriate comments.
● click to see related full
○ Full details
Thank you !
Chia-yu Chang
Han Bao
Tong Yuan
Qingsi Xu
Zheng Wang
COMM 124A Final
1. Scale and Comment sections too far away
2. No reflected changes from commenting
3. Evaluation form too long
4. Comment section not inviting
After conducting 15 interviews, our group found several things that challenged our
previous assumptions. First, we thought that students will be more motivated to leave
comments on surveys if given some physical benefits, like extra credits. However, some
interview participants expressed that benefits are not necessary at times when the format
of the surveys dictates personalness. For example, they mentioned that if surveys are
created and sent by professors and survey responses are sent back to professors directly
then they will more likely fill it out. It turns out that as long as the surveys are personal,
students would be motivated enough to leave more feedback without any explicit reward.
One other finding was also surprising: some would like to see specific questions that ask
about students’ preferences over different learning styles. We thought students would
prefer more general questions as they require less mental processing, but apparently
sometimes specific questions are more likely to elicit responses. Also, we found that
students are mostly using rating systems to check the class average grade but not
comments. Since they think that comments tend to be a subjective idea of a student. They
think only people with lots of emotions will leave comments. Students want to see objective
comments of the professor or the course to decide if they are taking this course or not.
However, an objective comment is hard to get since all students that leave comments are
involved in the course.
From the interviews, we concluded that we would definitely incorporate the
“comments will reflect in changes” counterscript as many students resonate with this
storyboard. We would need to think about how to design this in detail by considering the
suggestions of using a “read/unread” feature” and making it more personal. In order to
consider our scripts more comprehensively, we need to learn more about how Cape works
with instructors. Based on that, we can make our counterscript more practical. However,
how to balance between being more personal and being an institutional platform is an
essential issue we need to keep in mind.We would also think about incorporating more
specific questions on CAPE instead of broad questions as well.
Summarized Interview Notes:
Storyboard question:
1. Have you ever experienced similar problems/situations shown in the
storyboard? If so, which ones did you experience? Did those situations cause
you problems?
Yes, I have experienced similar situations. Sometimes the professor
didn’t change anything, even the students left comments.
Never read never a consideration —refer directly to email professor
c. never really know your feedback be read and used)
2. Do you think the methods shown in the storyboard solve problems? Why or
why not?
a. I think the methods shown in storyboard will solve the problem.
Because most of the students have the same problem.
b. Like the follow-up one, think can also add function like read/ unread
Cape question:
1. Have you ever used CAPE before? What did you use it for?
a. Yes, I use it for check the class average grade.
b. Yes, both view and evaluate
c. Evaluate, most time for extra credit
View ratings only:
Explain CAPE evaluation feature
1. How helpful do you think the ratings for prof/courses are?
I feel it is not really helpful. Because everyone has their own way to
study, some of the students like this course and some of them don’t
like it.
2. What would you like to see in the ratings? Like is there anything you would
like to change or add?
I like to see the comments of how the professor teaches. Like does
this professor want the students to learn by themselves or does the
professor explain everything in detail.
Evaluate only or view and evaluate:
1. How often do you leave comments? Why?
a. I only leave comments a few times. Because sometimes other
people’s comments are not right.
b. Seldom, because comments are lots of mental work.
c. Seldom, because i am not sure if professors will actually read it or not
d. Seldom, i think only strong emotions will lead to comments
2. Under what circumstance are you more likely to leave comments?
a. When I feel the course is hard to get a good grade.
b. Surveys are directed to professors, more personal. Cape is more like
institutional. Prefer canvas survey, google form.
c. Direct message to instructors
3. In what ways do you think your comments might impact courses/prof?
I think sending an email to the professor will be more useful.
4. Have you ever experienced the following challenges when you were filling
out the evaluation form? Please elaborate
a. Tedious process
b. Confusion about the question
c. Hard to navigate: where I can fill the form; where I can find my
finished form, no record, can not go back (when finished)
d. Other
5. What do you think about the overall evaluation experience?
Having an evaluation is helpful.
b. Neural
6. Is there anything you would like to change about the evaluation form? Like its
design, the way it’s sent to you, the time by which it’s sent to you
a. I think the design should be change.
b. Inseatd of scale questions, more specific questions
c. Be more personal, directly go to professors to save time to make
d. Add features of read/unread, to make us more involved
7. Have you received any follow-up after you left comments on the evaluation
form? Like did your comment reflect changes on the courses or on prof’s
a. I didn’t get any follow-up after.
b. never
Original notes:
Interview Question:
Storyboard question:
1. Have you ever experienced similar problems/situations shown in the
a. Yes, I have experienced similar situations.
If so, which ones did you experience? Did those situations cause you
b.Sometimes the professor didn’t change anything, even the students left
3. Do you think methods shown in the storyboard solve problems? Why or why
c.I think the methods shown in storyboard will solve the problem. Because
most of the students have the same problem.
Cape question:
1. Have you ever used CAPE before? What did you use it for?
a.Yes, I use it to check the class average grade.
If answered no to 1:
Explain CAPE and its uses
1. What other platforms have you used to give feedback to classes/professors?
Like rate my professor, reddit, course survey on canvas.
2. What did you like/not like about it?
If answered yes to 1:
1. Did you use it to view ratings of classes/professors or to evaluate
classes/professors or both?
a.I use it to view ratings of classes/professors
View ratings only:
Explain CAPE evaluation feature
1. How helpful do you think the ratings for prof/courses are?
a. I feel it is not really helpful. Because everyone has their own way to study,
some of the students like this course and some of them don’t like it.
2. What would you like to see in the ratings? Like is there anything you would
like to change or add?
a. I like to see the comments of how the professor teaches. Like does this
professor want the students to learn by themselves or does the professor
explain everything detaily.
Evaluate only or view and evaluate:
1. How often do you leave comments? Why?
a. I only leave comments a few times. Because sometimes other people’s
comments are not right.
2. Under what circumstance are you more likely to leave comments?
b. When I feel the course is hard to get a good grade.
3. In what ways do you think your comments might impact courses/prof?
c. I think sending an email to the professor will be more useful.
4. Have you ever experienced the following challenges when you were filling out the
evaluation form? Please elaborate
a. Tedious process
b. Confusion about the question
c. Hard to navigate
d. Other
5. What do you think about the overall evaluation experience?
a. Having an evaluation is helpful.
6. Is there anything you would like to change about the evaluation form? Like its
design, the way it’s sent to you, the time by which it’s sent to you
I think the design should be change.
Have you received any follow-up after you left comments on the evaluation form? Like did
your comment reflect changes on the courses or on prof’s teaching?
a. I didn’t get any follow up after. So I’m not sure.
In what ways would you feel more involved in the evaluation process?
b. Talk more about how the professor teach.
Interview Notes 2:
Interview Question:
Storyboard question:
1. Have you ever experienced similar problems/situations shown in the

The not get feedback from capes (never really know your feedback be
read and used)–notification(read/unread)

Never read never a consideration —refer directly to email professor

It is lots of mental work to comment

Emotions—leads to comments
If so, which ones did you experience? Did those situations cause you
3. Do you think methods shown in the storyboard solve problems? Why or why
Cape question:
1. Have you ever used CAPE before? What did you use it for?
If answered no to 1:
Explain CAPE and its uses
1. What other platforms have you used to give feedback to classes/professors?
Like rate my professor, reddit, course survey on canvas.
2. What did you like/not like about it?
If answered yes to 1:
1. Did you use it to view ratings of classes/professors or to evaluate
classes/professors or both?
View ratings only:
Explain CAPE evaluation feature
1. How helpful do you think the ratings for prof/courses are?
2. What would you like to see in the ratings? Like is there anything you would
like to change or add?
Evaluate only or view and evaluate:
1. How often do you leave comments? Why?

Google form comments more; because it go directly to the professor, you will
know they read it.
2. Under what circumstance are you more likely to leave comments?

More personal, more emotional
3. In what ways do you think your comments might impact courses/prof?
4. Have you ever experienced the following challenges when you were filling out the
evaluation form? Please elaborate
a. Tedious process:
b. Confusion about the question
c. Hard to navigate: where i can fill out the form
d. Other: can not go back — for the page(thank you )
5. What do you think about the overall evaluation experience?


More like google form

Really specific questions (instead of questions scale)
6. Is there anything you would like to change about the evaluation form? Like its
design, the way it’s sent to you, the time by which it’s sent to you

It can automatically go to the professors—that’s is why

Find a way to directly contact professors.

It takes a while for professors to get the feedback–so it won’t change
Have you received any follow-up after you left comments on the evaluation form? Like did
your comment reflect changes on the courses or on prof’s teaching?

Never / weekly feedback/surveys —you can see your feedback will have the change
for class

Do comments when the professor said it is their surveys
In what ways would you feel more involved in the evaluation process?
Interview with Prof Irani Brief:

Professors do not receive CAPE evaluation feedback in PDF report forms. Instead,
they have to search their names and course names to see the evaluations without
the comments. They can also see evaluations for other professors and courses

Departments see the evaluations and comments and rate professors accordingly.
CAPE results are important especially for new professors

Professors do not have their personal CAPE page unlike students

Professors do not view the CAPE results immediately. They do only when they are
teaching the class again and would like to view feedback intentionally
Crit Day Presentation Notes:
Comments from Zoom chat:
Verbal Feedback From Maggie (TA):
It’s a level of interaction that we don’t have and really need. Profs and TAs really do take
students’ feedback into consideration, and a platform like this would aid this process.
Final Designs
Link to Figma sketches
CAPE Evaluation Form

Adding tags
CAPE Evaluation Interface

Login Page (can login as Student or Instructor)

Student Page (can click on Canvas link to fill out CAPE)

Instructor Page (can delete Midterm Evaluation from page)
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Qingsi Xu
Professor Lilly Irani
17 Mar 2022
Final Project Individual Design Statement
I am happy to finally be able to work with my team members on the final project of
COMM124A. In the process of completing this project, we encountered many challenges, but
also gained a lot from identifying problems, identifying themes, developing design plans and
further detailing the project content. Most importantly, in the process of this project, I
realized the importance of communication and teamwork. A lot of theoretical knowledge we
have learned in this course has been transformed into tangible experience through our group’s
practice, which plays an important role in the final demonstration of this project and the
subsequent study and life.
The final project of our group is a curriculum evaluation platform, CAPE, which is
closely related to our campus life at UCSD. As a standardized evaluation platform for the
curriculum, it is the product of our students’ interaction with it every quarter. In our final
project, we focused on redesigning CAPE’s assessment characteristics to better meet its goal
of becoming a catalyst for educational renewal. However, during the design process, we
found that the use of this platform did not achieve the effect and effect it had been designed
in advance, because the students rarely leave comments for evaluations.
In the process of classroom communication and group discussion, we also found this
problem common to almost all teachers and students around us through interviews and other
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forms. They are more likely to ask questions directly in class when they have questions about
course results, or to send an email to the teacher to help solve the problem, rather than
leaving comments to facilitate discussion on CAPE, a platform for course evaluation and
communication. In this case, the CAPE’s intended function is underrepresented or even
ignored, contrary to its design. In order to solve this problem, give full play to the importance
of students’ opinions for promoting the work and learning of teachers and students, and help
professors adjust their teaching styles and materials accordingly, so as to help students learn
more effectively, our group conducted some research on it and redesigned the script.
Through online questionnaires, face-to-face interviews, Crit day and other forms, our
team collected the opinions of teachers and students on why they seldom or even ignore the
evaluation function of CAPE platform and summarized the following reasons. Through the
online questionnaire survey, we can find that the procedures of CAPE evaluation form are too
complicated, which often makes students who need to fill in the form feel bored and
troublesome. They even choose other ways to achieve their goals rather than fill in the form,
which greatly reduces the practicality of the platform. Also, the CAPE is difficult to navigate
and access, which is one of the reasons why people choose other ways to evaluate their
courses. People are not willing to give up the easier way for the more cumbersome way.
Therefore, it is a feasible development direction to divide a single long questionnaire into
many short questionnaires with different parts and redesign the interface to facilitate user
Through face-to-face interviews, we learned that when the format of the survey
determines the personality of students, they are motivated to comment, rather than being
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explicitly rewarded, something the Current CAPE still doesn’t do well enough. At the same
time, students’ willingness to comment was correlated with acceptance of their ideas and a
review of past evaluations. But as things stand, in addition to these problems, they are also
extremely troublesome for teachers to use. Teachers do not have the authority to directly view
students’ comments, but need to search their CAPE results to obtain comment information,
which greatly reduces the communication efficiency and the communication enthusiasm of
teachers and students using CAPE comments. In order to solve the CAPE of the deficiencies
and problems in this respect, our group through discussion, suggest it can increase from
read/unread and send notification when the choice/selection function settings, add to view the
function of the historical records as well as the instructor provides independent personal page
so that it is more convenient to check and process information, achieving high quality
communication, so that CAPE, which should be used in the teaching process of curriculum
evaluation platform, can give full play to its due function.
During Crit Day, we also communicated that CAPE is not necessary for students, so they
often ignore the relevant comment information on it. Moreover, compared with Canvas, the
application rate of this platform is not high. Therefore, from this perspective, it may be a
good solution to increase surveys on CAPE in the semester and add links to Canvas that can
directly reach CAPE.
From the perspective of the complete research and investigation process, this is also the
aspect that attracts my most attention and interests in the whole project. According to what
Dean Spade mentioned in his work, conflicts are often unavoidable in team work due to the
differences between each person’s inner personality and other external factors. However, we
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must be clear, by catering to others or fight is not desirable, only by using correct method,
clever resolve unnecessary conflict, collision of different ideas in and through the conflict, so
as to stimulate new design ideas to solve the problem, can let the team work better and more
steadily forward (Spade 2). Therefore, in team work, mutual respect and communication, not
trying to escape from possible problems, and jointly seeking appropriate solutions and design
ideas are important reasons for the final success of our team project.
Second, according to Rittel and Webber, we find problems and explore solvable scripts in
order to improve rather than seek the so-called right answer (Rittel and Webber 162). At this
stage, our solution may not be perfect but it’s in the right direction. The fact that we came up
with a better solution at the next stage doesn’t mean we were wrong, it’s just that we
improved on it and made the latter better than the former. This was our point of view
throughout the final project.
In a word, the process of team work is the process of our continuous progress. In the
following study, I believe we will do better.
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Work Cited
Spade, Dean. Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity during This Crisis (and the next). Verso, 2020.
Webber, M. M., and Rittel H W J. Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. 1973.
Journal of Transport Geography 30 (2013) 202–207
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
Journal of Transport Geography
journal homepage:
CicLAvia and human infrastructure in Los Angeles: ethnographic experiments
in equitable bike planning
Adonia E. Lugo ⇑
University of California, Irvine, Department of Anthropology, SBSG 3201, Irvine, CA 92697-5100, USA
a r t i c l e
Transport cycling
Los Angeles
i n f o
a b s t r a c t
Across the United States, bike movements are advocating for infrastructural changes to streets. Sustainable transport advocates and researchers expect that reshaping built environments will increase bicycle
usage because people will feel safer riding with more cycling facilities in place. These strategies identify
road design as the key factor in how people use streets. From an ethnographic perspective, cycling
research should also consider how road users create meanings in transit. This paper looks beyond physical changes to space and explores how ‘‘human infrastructure’’ encourages or discourages bicycling.
Tacking between observation and participation, cultural anthropology can help design experimental
spaces, such as Los Angeles’ CicLAvia, that offer diverse city inhabitants an opportunity to reflect on their
transport habits in situ. Experimental spaces for bicycling show that human infrastructure shapes transportation behavior, and has the potential to change it. This paper contributes to a growing ethnographic
literature in mobilities research.
Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
On Sunday, October 10, 2010, I woke up feeling anxious after a
fitful sleep and headed to the East Los Angeles neighborhood of
Boyle Heights. In Hollenbeck Park, where the roar of an overhead
interstate highway never fades, I joined a large group of people
wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the word ‘‘CicLAvia.’’ I stood
next to Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, Jaime Ortíz
Mariño, the founder of the ciclovía open street event in Bogotá,
Colombia, and my fellow organizers as we took turns speaking to
the media about what this day meant for L.A.
We would be closing 7.5 miles of central Los Angeles streets to
cars to encourage city residents to walk and bike along a route that
spanned from historically Chicano Boyle Heights, through Little Tokyo, into the central business district, beyond downtown into Central American MacArthur Park, and through Koreatown to the East
Hollywood ‘‘bicycle district’’ that had grown around a bike repair
collective, the Bicycle Kitchen. The organizing committee hoped
that selecting a route through Los Angeles’ most densely populated
and diverse neighborhoods would be a clear statement that transport cycling there was possible. During the day, despite the worst
fears of reluctant bureaucrats, we saw nothing but smiles on the
faces of people who may have never cycled before on the streets
of Los Angeles. An estimated 30,000 people came out that day
⇑ Present address: 1414 E Howell St., APT 11, Seattle, WA 98122, USA. Tel.: +1 949
547 3686.
E-mail address:
0966-6923/$ – see front matter Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
and enjoyed their city streets. More events have followed, and with
each iteration, CicLAvia has grown. The event now attracts over
100,000 participants and has expanded to connect more
In US bike planning, the mantra is ‘‘if you build it, they will
come,’’ meaning that infrastructure projects are expected to produce more cyclists (Dill and Carr, 2003; Nelson and Allen, 1997).
Can open street events like CicLAvia also promote cycling? The
international conversation around ciclovías has had effects in other
cities, with regular ciclovías happening in Mexico City, New York
City, and other metropolises in the Americas. This paper uses qualitative, participatory research on the L.A. bike movement to argue
that social networks and cultural practices should be seen as ‘‘human infrastructure’’ supporting the rise of bicycling as a mode of
transport. This concept brings advocates’ and planners’ concerns
about street design into conversation with the social scientific project to challenge divides between human and nonhuman actors.
L.A. still has a very small bicycle modal share, with estimates from
the American Community Survey hovering around 1% since 2008
(Alliance for Walking and Biking, 2012), but there has been an increase in cycling in the central city. At the intersection of Seventh
Street and Alvarado Street, which is along the core CicLAvia route,
ridership increased 165% between 2009 and 2011 (Los Angeles
County Bicycle Coalition, 2012). CicLAvia has increased the visibility of cycling in Los Angeles, but its success built on existing networks of cyclists.
Increasingly, city governments are transitioning away from
policies that frame cycling solely as a recreational activity and
A.E. Lugo / Journal of Transport Geography 30 (2013) 202–207
are instead supporting transportation cycling infrastructure as a
way to promote public health and ecological sustainability (Dill,
2009; Pucher et al., 2010). In working to increase the numbers of
people choosing to bike, US bike advocates and researchers tend
to emphasize urban form, often lobbying for northern European
infrastructure models (Pucher and Buehler, 2008). In addition to
‘‘if you build it, they will come,’’ bike researchers are starting to
talk about using ‘‘social network effects’’ to promote bicycling
(Goetzke and Rave, 2011). There is a growing recognition that
individual behavior influences other individuals’ behaviors.
This paper takes an ethnographic focus on the social practices
that enliven cityscapes, complementing the physical infrastructure
approach while working toward a qualitative understanding of the
shift toward transport cycling in Los Angeles. I first outline my
methods, then construct a theoretical framework for conceptualizing infrastructure, human and otherwise, based on the case study
of biking in LA. If human behaviors can be infrastructure to enable
certain actions, we should also consider the unintended effects
physical infrastructure projects can have in social space.
2. Methods: experimental ethnography
The field of cycling research encompasses the social world of
bicyclists and the spatial designs of bike infrastructure, and academic inquiry can bring social movements to bear on spatial disciplines such as geography, planning, and urban anthropology. The
research reported here attempted to bring the unstructured time
of cultural anthropology’s primary method, ethnography, into the
more time-sensitive world of bicycle advocacy. This meant living
and working alongside the cultural group under study, with the
aim of developing theoretical frameworks through engaging with
the everyday life of a bike movement in a city where power plays
out in the street. From September 2008 to February 2011, I was a
community member at an urban ecovillage in central Los Angeles
and participated in projects that aimed to support bicycling in diverse neighborhoods there. One project, City of Lights/Ciudad de
Luces, was designed to engage low-income, Latino cyclists with
the local bike advocacy movement. The other was CicLAvia.
As part of the ‘‘mobilities turn,’’ there is a growing interest in
urban mobility among sociologists and geographers (Cresswell,
2010; Sheller and Urry, 2006; Urry, 2008;). However, despite interest by geographers in ethnographic methods, anthropologists have
remained somewhat outside of this discourse. Anthropologist
Farha Ghannam has argued that long-term ethnographic research
can supplement the macro-scale focus of many mobility studies
by emphasizing the social distinctions visible in everyday engagement, ‘‘the unexpected, fleeting, multiple, and hard-to-pin-down
experiences that characterize city life’’ (2011:792). These things,
while hard to quantify, certainly influence transport choices.
Ethnography is well-suited to contribute to this area of research
because it ‘‘starts with the fact of mobility,’’ as Cresswell has argued that mobilities studies should (2010:551). The city happens
through individual bodies (Sennett, 1994), so both inanimate infrastructures and living practices should be taken into account when
analyzing urban mobility. Anthropology starts from the materiality
of everyday life rather than taking a model social structure for
granted. The growing awareness that cultural life is formed in motion has taken anthropologists into new places, and even prompted
a re-evaluation of what constitutes a field site; anthropologist
George Marcus argued that, ‘‘empirically following the thread of
cultural process itself impels the move toward multi-sited ethnography’’ (1995:97). Since Appadurai’s call to follow things (1986)
and Latour’s call to follow actors (1987), anthropologists have
traced phenomena such as the development of policy (Harper,
1998), the reproduction of NGOs (Riles, 2000), and the trajectory
of positron emission tomography (PET) scans from labs to courtrooms (Dumit, 2004).
The question of what distinguishes ‘‘multi-sited’’ from ‘‘mobile’’
ethnography merits further study. Though Cresswell characterized
multi-sited ethnography as a step toward mobile ethnography
(Cresswell, 2012), anthropology’s enduring interest in sited milieux is not something that will fall away; it is rooted in a belief that
shared cultural considerations play a significant role in what objects, individuals, and groups can travel and that these considerations can be apprehended by participating in the group’s
practices. This is why accounting for the situated perspective of
the researcher, even as a figure in motion, is a core concern of
anthropology. The discipline’s defining aim has long been ‘‘to grasp
the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision
of his world’’ (Malinowski, 1961[1922]:25), but postcolonial
(Chakrabarty, 2008), poststructural (Foucault, 1977), and feminist
(Strathern, 1991) critiques have argued that power figures into
the practice of ethnography as both fieldwork and written knowledge product. The mobile researcher does not transcend site; she
becomes one, connecting ideas, people, and places that would
not otherwise interact. As more anthropologists engage with
mobilities frameworks, this discussion can be expanded.
Studying cycling in Los Angeles allowed me to experiment with
this relationship between ethnographer and field. My methods included following bicyclists around the city and following ideas
about bicycling from community meetings to city policy. As I
developed this project, I was influenced by conversations about
ethnographic experiments happening at the University of California, Irvine’s Center for Ethnography. The center is run by Marcus,
who has referred to ethnography as ‘‘serious play’’ (2008:4). This
evokes a mode of knowledge production through experimental
practice rather than a fixed engagement between researcher and
informant. As recently posited by anthropologist Kim Fortun, ethnography ‘‘can be designed to bring forth a future anterior that is
not calculable from what we now know, a future that surprises.
Ethnography thus becomes creative, producing something that
did not exist before’’ (2012:450). The experimental ethnographic
space creates the conditions of possibility for new articulations
and forms of life to emerge. The researcher is not outside of this
process, but a catalyst for it.
During my fieldwork, I tacked between research and community-based advocacy, developing a theoretical framework to conceptualize cycling at the same time that I helped promote the
practice in Los Angeles. I attempted to create an urban laboratory
space for witnessing shifts in cultural attitudes toward mobility
in Los Angeles, most notably in the case of CicLAvia. Both planning
advocacy projects and watching them unfold provided ample
opportunity to observe closely how people used streets in Los
3. Bike activism in the streets of Los Angeles
Though cycling occurs in a ‘‘remarkable plurality of lifeworlds,
histories, structures and cultures’’ (Horton et al., 2007:1), much
work on the social life of cycling has focused on users who selfidentify as cyclists and who organize themselves into subcultural
groups such as bike messengers (Wehr, 2009; Kidder, 2011) or
activists (Carlsson, 2002; Batterbury, 2003; Horton, 2006; Mapes,
2009). Los Angeles has these networks of subcultural and politically-oriented cyclists, but on its streets and sidewalks one also
encounters many ‘‘invisible riders,’’ immigrants from Latin America who use bicycles but do not connect with these subcultural
groups (Koeppel, 2005).
Even if a person using a bicycle does not develop an identity
around the practice, cycling carries social meanings. Zack Furness
A.E. Lugo / Journal of Transport Geography 30 (2013) 202–207
has argued that, ‘‘the bicycle, like the automobile, is an object that
becomes meaningful through its relationship to an entire field of
cultural practices, discourses, and social forces’’ (2010:9). Whitaker
commented that the bicycling of aging Italian men can be seen as
‘‘meaningful rather than just health promoting’’ because ‘‘their
motivations often stray to the social, aesthetic, and psychological
realms’’ (2005:2). Reporting on a study of the meanings of cycling
in London, Steinbach et al. (2011) noted differences in how their
interviewees defined cycling according to ethnicity, calling for further work on this topic. Writing about colonial India and Vietnam,
Arnold and DeWald (2011) argued that bicycles manufactured in
Europe took on local meanings and values tied to colonial power
relations. Nancy Hunt (1994) explored the bicycle’s association
with modernity and the urban in the colony of Belgian Congo.
Though the meaning of cycling is socially constructed, in certain
spaces it signifies marginalization regardless of what the cyclists
themselves think they are doing. A recent report on cycling identities emphasized that riding in streets dominated by motorized
transport constitutes a stigmatizing act in and of itself (Aldred,
2013). In the United States, cycling has long been the practice of
eccentric enthusiasts, a status sport, or a mode of transport for
those too poor or too young to drive cars. The demise of L.A.’s
extensive streetcar system in the mid-twentieth century created
a sharp divide between those who could afford to drive and those
who could not (Hutchinson, 2000). This paper takes an inclusive
view of who should count as part of the bike movement because
transportation remains highly political in Los Angeles, both in
terms of what gets funding at the policy level and who gets priority
in everyday traffic interactions.
At a May 2010 event called ‘‘Walking into the Future City,’’ an
official at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation
Authority (Metro) characterized L.A.’s implicit transport hierarchy
this way:
car > bus > bike > walking
The low status of cycling in Los Angeles stirs some cyclists to
political action, but even those who do not have the ability or desire to attend hearings at city hall face the same marginalization on
city streets. For this reason, ‘‘bike movement’’ here refers not just
to particular identities and politically-oriented advocacy efforts,
but also to the presence of cyclists in public space.
The bike social world I joined when I started fieldwork in Los
Angeles dates to 1997, when a few people interested in bike commuting started a local Critical Mass ride (Lugo, 2012a). Prior to this,
bike advocacy in the region had been characterized by what local
activist Joe Linton called ‘‘lone wolves’’ working singly on pet projects (interview with author, 2011). With support from the California Bicycle Coalition, Joe and Ron Milam started the first bicycle
advocacy organization in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), in 1998. Still in his early twenties at that
time, Ron was the founding executive director. When I arrived in
Los Angeles in September 2008, they both lived at the LA Eco-Village (LAEV), an intentional community in a central L.A. neighborhood called Koreatown which has been a longtime hub of the
local bike movement. Koreatown is situated on central L.A.’s urban
grid that extends between Hollywood to the west and downtown
to the east, which means there are many quiet side streets paralleling more congested arterials. I quickly learned that many cyclists
who lived at LAEV had personalized routes that took them across
the city while avoiding busy thoroughfares.
One ecovillager, Randy Metz, knew more about bike routes than
anyone else. He had been a bike messenger and a participant in
LA’s bike social world since its start in the 1990s. Randy showed
me how to ride to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market from LAEV.
His route traveled west on First Street from the family-filled studio
apartments of Koreatown, through the large homes of Larchmont,
cutting north at Arden and Wilcox. Randy did not follow city-designated routes such as streets with bike lanes; instead, he had
amassed over many years of riding a detailed knowledge of tricks
and shortcuts that avoided major streets, zig-zagging through the
neighborhoods in between. Stewart argued that the bicycle can
‘‘produce speed’’ because its small size allows bicyclists to move
through gaps in traffic (2004:154). Bicyclists can also find gaps in
the built environment, cracks that one might not notice from a
car or a bus. Riding a bicycle allows the individual to build a bodily
spacetime that is less constrained by street design. Randy expressed a lot of satisfaction with his cycling knowledge of the city,
which was for him a statement of non-conformity.
Bicyclists’ perceptions of where it is appropriate to ride are
influenced not just by infrastructure, but also by participation in
particular social networks. Unlike Randy and other self-identified
cyclists I knew, the immigrant cyclists I encountered during my
fieldwork usually rode on sidewalks on arterial streets. Analyzing
data from the 2001 US National Household Travel Survey, Smart
found that immigrants are more likely to use bicycles than the native born population and suggested that this related to the tendency for new immigrants to move into neighborhoods inhabited
by co-ethnics (Smart, 2010). The people we live around influence
our ideas about using urban space, and experienced cyclists become sources of knowledge for friends and family interested in trying out a bike commute. Based on this understanding, Ron started a
group called BikeSage in 2008 that brought together people who
rode bikes regularly to strategize about ways to get their friends
on bikes. Set aside for other endeavors, the project came to an
end in spring 2009. Ron described it this way when I asked him
about it in early 2011:
[T]he thought was there are people who ride their bikes today
in Los Angeles who love it, they’re completely comfortable with
it, they know great places to ride. And their experience with it is
completely different than people who are afraid of bicycling and
terrified to bike. Like those of us who ride, we know where to
go, we know how to ride, and we love it. And we deal with
the existing conditions as we are. So the idea was, how can
you create a network…[to] take the knowledge and experience
that folks who ride in the community have, and share that with
others in their social networks and inspire them to ride and sort
of buddy up with them.
At the same time that I was observing cyclists at LAEV, I started
learning about the bike movement through collaborating on projects as an advocate. I had visited Bogotá in August 2008, when
the ciclovía stretched over 120 km of streets every Sunday.
Through LAEV and LACBC, I helped form a group of people interested in making something like that happen in L.A. By late 2008,
we were calling ourselves the CicLAvia steering committee. The
group included individuals with specialized knowledge, such as
longtime environmental advocates who knew the region’s policy
terrain, a traffic engineer, who made maps that showed details like
population density along our proposed routes, and a graphic designer, who created a consistent theme for our promotional materials. Later, a prominent event planner joined the effort. In this
work, I did not maintain a divide between scholarly and advocacy
Our goal was to see CicLAvia become a weekly, city-run program with permanent street signage, as it was in Bogotá. We saw
it as an opportunity to show elected officials that we had a bike
movement and diverse cycling cultures in LA, and considered possible routes on scouting rides and in long conversations at committee meetings. On scouting rides, we took notes about potential
barriers to a Sunday street closure, such as churches with parking
lots that opened onto the desired street, and potential allies, such
A.E. Lugo / Journal of Transport Geography 30 (2013) 202–207
as cultural organizations. We scanned each block and thought
about ways an eco-friendly dry cleaner, or a Korean radio station,
or an empty park space at the base of a large corporate plaza might
be transformed by crowds of bicyclists.
Through our eyes, heavily congested, car-dominated stretches
of Los Angeles became a series of potential sites for people on bike
or on foot to see and sit. Committee members lobbied for routes
that included their personal favorite symbols of Los Angeles. Each
of us wondered, what would be the most transformative route that
would allow people to see the same L.A. from a new perspective?
4. Conceptualizing the limits of infrastructure
While we planned CicLAvia, the Los Angeles Department of
Transportation (DoT) was in the process of updating their ‘‘bicycle
master plan,’’ a document that cities must develop in order to be
eligible for bike infrastructure funds such as the State of California’s Bicycle Transportation Account (Los Angeles Department of
City Planning, 2011). Updating the plan meant holding public
meetings where bicyclists were encouraged to share ideas for
routes and other infrastructural changes around the city. LACBC
staff were closely involved in this process, notifying members of
upcoming meetings and pressuring the city to adopt better bike
policies. In October 2009, I biked with friends to a library in South
Los Angeles to attend one of the bike plan update meetings. The
usual crowd of bike advocates milled around, talking to DoT planners. We were encouraged to draw on maps, review plan language,
and submit comment cards. Despite this implicit recognition that
existing cyclists had important knowledge to share, the stated
goals of the update related to ‘‘interdepartmental communication’’
and designing ‘‘all bicycle facilities consistently in accordance with
the latest federal, state and local standards.’’ There was no stated
intention to draw on the knowledge of existing cyclists, even
though the only members of the public participating in this process
were committed cyclists. At meetings like this, bike planning
draws on human infrastructure without explicitly invoking it as a
source of valuable insight.
Even though they relied on their local networks for route advice, bike advocates I knew also seemed to overlook the importance of embodied knowledge when promoting cycling. Expert
knowledge had to come from outside them, based, if possible, on
some ‘‘best practice’’ model circulating among bicycle and pedestrian planning professionals online. For example, in 2009 and
2011 LACBC conducted bicyclist and pedestrian counts in central
Los Angeles to quantify non-motorized transport users, a task the
city had failed to undertake in recent years. Advocates wanted
the city to take cycling seriously, so they framed their expertise
as cyclists in as technical a format as possible.
Los Angeles’ bike advocates had come to promote bike infrastructure as a way to ensure certain relationships between street
users and urban space. However, urban space is not a neutral zone,
but rather a series of meaningful landscapes where particular
groups have lived through particular struggles. Individual trajectories do not happen in a vacuum; they negotiate existing built forms
and the ongoing movements of others. Redrawing lines on the
street does not erase legacies of segregation and disinvestment,
and bike infrastructure has now been associated with gentrification (Lugo, 2012b). At that community meeting in October 2009,
few people made comments on the portion of the map representing the historically Black and more recently Latino neighborhood
we were standing in, presumably because most of us lived in other
parts of the city. Outside the window, I saw several people of color
biking down the sidewalks of busy Western Avenue. City efforts to
include the public in bike planning decisions often rely on voluntary participation from cyclists, but the cyclists who have the free
time to pursue political participation probably are not those who
bike out of economic necessity.
Bike advocates are not necessarily equipped to engage with
marginalized communities and bring their concerns to city planning processes. Davey Oil, an activist who has taught bike repair
for many years, has commented that he sees the bike movement
as an opportunity for cyclists to develop an awareness of race,
class, and gender discrimination because feeling harassed by
motorists while cycling may be an otherwise privileged person’s
first experience of discrimination (personal communication with
author, 2012). However, becoming a bike advocate does not automatically prepare one to confront other forms of bias, and advocates may overlook cycling practiced by marginalized groups
such as immigrants and the poor because they do not imagine
themselves to belong to a shared community with these others.
These empowered cyclists may become advocates and lobby for
cities to install bike infrastructure. Because traveling in cars creates
a divide between what Jain has called ‘‘the private space of the car
and the social space of the street’’ (2006:66), Americans and others
who habitually drive may not see roads as a shared social space.
Wayfinding signage and symbols on streets ostensibly make it possible for any individual who encounters that space to understand
how to share it. It is supposed to take the social encounter out of
the equation; instead of interacting with other road users, individuals interact with signals and lane markings. Bike advocates may
not notice that changing street designs affect property values and
long-term residents’ senses of place, or they may not see this as
a negative outcome. When advocates talk about bike-friendly cities, they rarely mention social equity issues such as affordable
housing, as evidenced by the League of American Bicyclists’ recent
‘‘bicycling means business’’ summit themed around using bike
infrastructure as an economic development strategy.
As often as bike enthusiasts note our practice’s marginalization
on shared streets, we usually do not mention bringing together different types of cyclists as part of the work of advocacy or planning.
We assume that normalizing cycling will eliminate the gap between poverty and elite cycling, but without conceptualizing
where these groups meet. Bike users who do not self-identify as
cyclists and who do not have the ability or desire to attend city
meetings about cycling can be difficult to include in research and
advocacy, but their use of street space should also be seen as part
of the bike movement. We talk about infrastructure as though it
can generate a population of ‘‘normal’’ cyclists that will fill the
gap. As Spinney has remarked, in these infrastructure-oriented approaches ‘‘movement seems to have been largely ignored as a social practice generative of meaning in itself’’ (2007:26). Open
street events like CicLAvia re-emphasize the role that individual
movements play in placemaking.
Rather than focusing on changes to the built environment as the
key to promoting cycling, I found that witnessing the interaction of
bodies with other bodies, prostheses, and environments showed
their permeability, what anthropologist Thomas Csordas called
‘‘the ambiguity in the boundaries of corporeality itself’’ (Csordas,
1994:3). Spinney argued that, ‘‘our perceptions of our environment
are informed by the goals, skills and technologies available to us’’
(2007:29). To a cyclist, a street affords cycling, while to a driver,
that same street might seem appropriate only for driving.
The lines between social life and infrastructure can shift, as in
characterizations of infrastructure that see it as relational. To Star,
‘‘infrastructure is a fundamentally relational concept, becoming
real infrastructure in relation to organized practices’’ (1999:380).
In Star’s definition infrastructure is a social phenomenon. Dourish
and Bell located infrastructure in the practice of everyday life,
where ‘‘the embedding of a range of infrastructures into everyday
space shapes our experience of that space and provides a framework through which our encounters with space take on meaning.
A.E. Lugo / Journal of Transport Geography 30 (2013) 202–207
The experiential reading of infrastructure, then, sees infrastructure
and everyday life as coextensive’’ (2007:417). These readings provide an opening to consider infrastructure as something more than
Urban theorist AbdouMaliq Simone, writing about Kinshasa,
Congo, noted the social power of infrastructure as:
a medium of conveyance and articulation. It establishes a concrete framework for how residents are able to reach each other,
how they are able to think about how they are positioned and
located in relationship to each other. Through roads, wires, conduits, grids, and pipes, infrastructure establishes particular
forms of individuation and autonomy (2009:124).
In this definition, infrastructure arranges individuals, limiting
who can access what.
Even in a city with inconsistent public infrastructure systems,
‘‘infrastructural fragments. . .enable the creation of new social
spaces’’ (De Boeck and Plissart, 2004:230). From an ethnographic
perspective, what matters about infrastructure is its impact on social life. Referring to urban infrastructures as ‘‘life support systems’’ for cyborgs, Matthew Gandy described them as ‘‘modes of
cognition as well as processes underpinning the restructuring of
urban space’’ (Gandy, 2005:39). The key here is that infrastructure
can create spaces from which new forms of social life can ‘‘spin off
in wholly unexpected directions, generating intended and unintended outcomes’’ (Larkin, 2008:3).
Infrastructure is certainly a material interface between the
wider city with social life. But there are forms of infrastructure that
can only be located in social life, as Simone found.
In a city like Kinshasa, people themselves are the important
infrastructure. In other words, their selves, situations, and
bodies bear the responsibility for articulating different locations, resources, and stories into viable opportunities for everyday survival’’ (2009:124).
People can be infrastructure; they create networks in which
they hold places of meaning and value. Instead of reducing movement in the street to an individual engagement with physical
transport infrastructure, the concept of human infrastructure
emphasizes the role of social interaction in how people move.
A commonly cited study about ‘‘safety in numbers’’ suggested
that the more cyclists and pedestrians there are using streets, the
safer they are (Jacobsen, 2003). This led Jacobsen to question
‘‘whose behavior changes, the motorist’s or that of the people
walking and bicycling?’’ (2003:208). He concluded that, ‘‘motorist
behavior evidently largely controls the likelihood of collisions with
people walking and bicycling’’ (2003:209). The more people there
are outside of cars, the harder it is to maintain the illusion of automobility that tells drivers they are not a part of the spaces through
which they travel. People are part of the infrastructure enabling or
disabling certain mobilities.
What matters about this distinction between physical and social barriers to mobility is that changing social attitudes is a different project than changing built environments. In many cases,
alternative social attitudes already exist, using the urban landscape
in its current form, as Ron noted. Even in a car-dominated city like
Los Angeles, people were already riding bikes to commute, run errands, and have fun. They co-created human infrastructure, building possibilities where physical infrastructure was lacking, and
CicLAvia meant to share the mobile realities of these bike worlds
with a wider group. After many months of planning and strategy,
CicLAvia proposed the route described earlier to the city, and found
support in Mayor Villaraigosa’s office in 2010. The network activated by committee members enabled the experiment on 10–10–
10, and that network grew in part from the cycling L.A. living in
the practices of people like Randy.
Human infrastructure works positively and negatively for cycling. That is, human infrastructure in the form of group rides, social networks of activists, and the presence of bike commuters
during rush hour encourages cycling. Human infrastructure in
the form of honking, yelling, and other aggressive motorist behaviors discourage cycling. When bicyclists give each other directions
based not on municipal cycling maps but on their own knowledge
of city streets, they are using human infrastructure. When most
people do not know how they would get from point A to point B
without driving, and they do not know who to ask about it, they
suffer from a lack of human infrastructure. Other forms of human
infrastructure includes idea and events that bring people together
around a particular practice, such as Bogotá’s ciclovía. In other
words, a simple exchange of specialized knowledge or the enactment of an expectation can constitute human infrastructure.
The idea that everyone, even the most stalwart New York subway rider, must rent a car upon arriving at LA International Airport
is a powerful piece of infrastructure discouraging sustainable
transport use in LA. The effects of CicLAvia can be seen in a New
York Times article on the event, which commented that, ‘‘for years,
bicyclists in Los Angeles were just another renegade subculture in
a city that is teeming with all manner of subcultures. These days,
they have become downright mainstream’’ (Nagourney, 2012). It
is telling that when the city adopted the updated bike master plan
in 2011, the final document included photos of CicLAvia (Los Angeles Department of City Planning, 2011). Will cosmopolitan visitors
‘‘in the know’’ now rent bicycles in LA? For the CicLAvia on April
21, 2013, every rental bike at local retailer Downtown LA Bicycles
had been reserved days in advance.
5. Conclusion
A qualitative analysis of urban transport cycling should
acknowledge that the practice does not necessarily carry a stable
meaning shared by all street users. Furthermore, the body and
the environment do not remain discrete; on a city street, the distinction between material and immaterial infrastructures blurs as
bodies become barriers. To illustrate this, I encourage the reader
to visit and search for ‘‘ciclavia,’’ which will call up
many videos made by participants in the events. One can witness
how each user negotiates the movements of others. Bodies themselves suggest ways that other bodies should move. The range of
people seen on the streets during CicLAvia also challenges the idea
that bicyclists are a homogenous group. The event seems to be fostering the creation of new social networks for cycling and showcasing existing sustainable transport in a city known for its love affair
with the automobile.
However, shifting toward cycling as transport in the US is a
piecemeal process, and if bike movements do not connect with
other community-based networks, the infrastructure projects they
promote may be perceived as serving a privileged few. As a result,
cycling can come across as an act associated with gentrification, as
has been reported in Brooklyn (DeSena and Shortell, 2012). There is
a crucial step missing when we assume that everyone sees cycling
and its infrastructure the same way.
Working closely with advocates gave me considerable insight
into what they believed was necessary to make change, but being
a collaborator also meant that I was influencing the field under
study while documenting it. While this diverges from a more traditional model that hinges on a conceptual divide between researcher and subject, the critical move I make here is
acknowledging my own participation as human infrastructure. As
a researcher I was not separate from the everyday intersubjectivity
A.E. Lugo / Journal of Transport Geography 30 (2013) 202–207
of shared urban space where people creatively integrate cycling
into their lives. Open street events like CicLAvia invite residents
to come out into the street and reimagine life there through their
own bodily practice. They also provide researchers with urban laboratories in which to experiment.
This paper is based on dissertation research funded by the University of California, Irvine’s Community Outreach Partnership
Center (2008–2009) and Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship (2010–
2011). Many thanks to my collaborators in Los Angeles for their
ideas and friendship. The ideas in this paper took shape through
conversations with participants at the 2012 Cycling and Society
Symposium and participants at the 2012 World Cycling Research
Forum. The paper also benefited from comments made by editor
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What Is Cosmopolitical Design?
Design, Nature and the Built
Edited by
Albena Yaneva
University of Manchester, UK
Alejandro Zaera-Polo
University of Princeton, USA
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Unfolding the Political Capacities of Design
Fernando Domínguez Rubio and Uriel Fogué
The aim of this chapter is to explore some of the ways in which design can matter
politically. More specifically, we want to explore the capacity of design to reorganize
what counts as political in our everyday lives. The usual way to explore this question
has been to focus on what we would like to call the “enfolding capacities” of design.
That is, the capacity of design to inscribe, congeal, or hardwire different political
programs and power relations into materials, spaces, and bodies. As a result of
this focus, most discussions about the politics of design have typically oscillated
between two extreme and seemingly irreconcilable groups: the apologists, who
see design and its enfolding capacities as a powerful tool to engineer social,
cultural, or economic change; and the critics, who see these enfolding capacities
as an insidious “ruse of Power” through which different forms of coercion and
domination are silently exerted.
In this chapter, we would like to explore an alternative way of thinking about
how design can matter politically. To do so, we will focus on a different, and largely
ignored, set of capacities, what we would like to call the “unfolding capacities”
of design. By “unfolding,” we refer here to the capacity of design to propose and
generate new entities and relations. In shifting our attention to unfolding, we aim
to open a new way of exploring the political valence of design, one that revolves
around its ability, not to prescribe and hardwire politics into bodies, spaces, or
material, but to broaden the range of bodies, spaces, and material that constitute
the cosmos of the political. This shift, we argue, opens not only a new way of
thinking about design but also, and much more importantly, a different way of
practicing design as a form of cosmopolitics.
Design has always been an obscure object of political desire. Part of its attractiveness
resides in its ability to transform the explicit into the implicit, the visible into the
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9.1 School chairs
as enfolding
mechanisms of
disciplinary power.
Lithography of
H. Lecomte, 1818.
invisible, the articulate into the inarticulate, or the external into the embodied.
This enfolding capacity has been coveted by various political projects, which have
employed design not simply as a rhetorical “tool” or a “means” for politics, but as a
different way of doing politics, one in which power is not exerted against things,
sites, or bodies, but can circulate through them. Design, thus conceived, emerges
as a sui generis form of “material politics,” that is, as a form of doing politics through
things, which offers the possibility, or at least the promise, of rendering power tacit,
invisible and therefore unchallengeable by controlling that vast “sub-political”
world of physical and technological elements that silently shape our actions and
thoughts, but which typically remain outside the sphere of formal politics and
institutions (Domínguez Rubio and Fogué 2013, Marres and Lezaun 2011).
One of the best discussions on how the enfolding capacities of design can be
used as a form of material politics is found in Michel Foucault’s (1975) famous
discussion of school chairs in seventeenth-century France. These chairs, Foucault
argues, did not simply constitute the inert material background of the disciplinary
institution; they were one of the critical micro-technologies through which it came
into being. This was achieved, Foucault contends, by affording the possibility of
enfolding a new logic of power into the body. Specifically, the chairs silently brought
the body into the realm of power by setting the physical parameters of what the
“right” position for it was, and by requiring a specific alignment between subjects
and objects in a pre-defined behavioral space (Figure 9.1).
These chairs, Foucault argues, are just one instance of the various enfolding
mechanisms that emerged at the end of seventeenth century to configure a new
logic of power, one in which the body emerged for the first time not as something
given, but as something that could be produced (“se fabrique,” 1975: 137) and
transformed into a locus of power. Foucault maintains that the importance of these
enfolding mechanisms resided not so much in what they did, nor even in what they
aimed to do, but in how they did it. Unlike the gibbet, the chairs did not appear as
obvious or self-evident instruments of power or disciplinary mechanisms. Instead,
they operated at the level of the “sub-political” by silently creating the particular
ergonomics through which a new form of power, disciplinary power, and a new body
politik gradually came into being. Thanks to these enfolding mechanisms, power
no longer needed its public representation to be effective; it could operate at the
subterranean level of the sub-political, configuring
a new microphysics of power, one in which power
was able to reproduce itself beyond the checks and
balances of formal politics. In so doing, Foucault
concludes, these enfolding mechanisms slowly
created a new political structure in which nobody
could see the architecture of power, but in which
everybody could be subjected to it.
Another great example of the political use of the
enfolding capacities of design can be found in Bruno
Latour’s theory of “delegation.” Unlike Foucault,
however, Latour offers a largely celebratory discourse
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of these capacities. Take, for instance, his famous discussion of speed bumps.
According to Latour, speed-bumps emerge as a result of the impossibility of
relying on drivers’ individual will, or on the esoteric force of Durkheim’s “collective
consciousness,” to control their speed when, for example, they approach a
school. Speed bumps, argues Latour (1999: 186), solve this problem by enabling
the “translation” of a collective moral demand, such as “slow down so as not to
endanger students,” into a self-interested demand, like “I should slow down and
protect my car’s suspension.” Thus, like Foucault’s school chairs, speed bumps
operate as sub-political mechanisms that make it possible to silently enfold a
specific version of “civility” and the “public good” into asphalt. Unlike Foucault,
however, this enfolding process is seen in a largely positive light. It is thanks to
the speed bumps, Latour claims, that civility can be enforced on the reckless
individual. “The driver,” he writes, “modifies his behavior through the mediation
of the speed bump: he falls back from morality to force” (Latour 1999: 186). Latour
therefore sees the enfolding capacities of design as constituting a critical and
positive mechanism in the creation and reproduction of (civil) order, thanks to
their ability to create “black boxes” in which various tasks and responsibilities can
be delegated.
Although it is possible to find examples virtually anywhere of how the enfolding
capacities of design have been used to articulate different political programs, it is
perhaps in urban and architectural design that we can find the best examples. The
development of the modern city, for instance, can be seen as a history of attempts
to use design as way to enfold various political and moral projects into urban form.
Such was the project of nineteenth-century reformers like Haussmann and Cerdà,
who saw the design of a new urban form based on wide streets and sidewalks,
leisure spaces, and parks, and a carefully concealed system of underground
infrastructures, as a way of enfolding a new model of citizenship based on the liberal
principles of security, morality and the free-circulation of persons and things (Joyce
2003). The same belief in the transformative power of these enfolding capacities
has captivated urban planners and architects ever since. This it is evidenced in the
Garden Cities movement in Britain and its attempt to develop a new type of urban
form that could optimize relations between the individual and the community
with Nature; in Le Corbusier’s radical attempt to enfold the principles of rationality
and productivity into every single scale of the city, as in his famous 1922 “Ville
Contemporaine de 3 Millions d’Habitants;” or in the Soviet constructivist group
OSA and its attempt to use architectural design to shape individual and collective
behavior through the development of what they called “social condensers.” And it
is the same belief in the enfolding capacities of design that we find in the current
obsession with “smart cities” – which, from one perspective seem to offer a version
of Latour’s blackboxed haven of delegation and distribution of agency, while
from another they seem to embody Foucault’s worst nightmare of a high-tech
panoptican hell in which citizens are reduced to largely passive and infantile roles
in a deproblematized cityscape (Sennett 2012).
These examples illustrate some of the ways in which the enfolding capacities
of design have been conceptualized by theorists, and how practitioners have put
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them to use. The arguments, as we have seen, can be divided into two camps. On the
one hand we have the apologists à la Latour for whom these enfolding capacities
offer an opportunity to enhance and extend our agential capacities by enabling
us to delegate tasks and competencies in various networks. Design, in this view,
emerges as a useful governance mechanism owing to its capacity to solve problems
and reconcile opposing individual and collective interests by material means. On
the other hand we have critics à la Foucault, for whom enfolding implies the risk
of creating a massive sub-political world engineered by different forms of expert
knowledge operating largely beyond the democratic control and accountability of
citizens. Here design emerges as a potentially dangerous tool, due to its ability to
produce and organize tacit and unchallengeable landscapes of power.
Our aim in this article is not to discuss the pros or cons of these positions, or
to try to find a plausible justum medium between them. Instead, we would like
to raise the question of whether both camps have not equally overestimated the
enfolding capacities of design. Despite all their differences, it seems that both
apologists and critics tend to take for granted the performativity of design by
assuming, perhaps too readily, what design makes us do. In other words, both
tend to create a “performative illusion” by focusing on the intentions and programs
that organize design and by assuming their effects as some sort of automatic and
inevitable result of the original design. This, needless to say, does not mean that the
enfolding capacities of design are a mere illusion. We just need to look around us
to find examples attesting to how design is capable of creating soft and tacit forms
of power that influence many of our daily behaviors and decisions: from nudging
us into buying certain products rather than others in the carefully designed aisles
of the supermarket, to conditioning us to peeing into the urinal rather than on the
floor, by placing target-flies on the former (Thaler and Sunstein 2008), and even to
pushing us into becoming game addicts by silently playing with our unconscious
behavioral inclinations (Schüll 2012).
These examples are powerful reminders of how important it is not to
underestimate the enfolding capacities of design. And yet, we argue, it is equally
important not to overestimate them. As Harvey Molotch (2003) reminds us, design
objects are continually changing as people creatively re-appropriate them and as
designers try to make sense of and adapt to these re-appropriations. Moreover, the
line linking the programs enfolded in design objects and the kinds of results that
these objects end up producing is rarely as straightforward as critics and apologists
seem to imply. After all, Foucault himself probably sat in one of those chairs and was
subjected to a myriad of carefully designed disciplinary mechanisms, and judging
from his magnificent oeuvre, they did not achieve much in terms of successfully
disciplining him. Drivers always seem to find ways to avoid and bypass speed
bumps (and, with them, public morality). Likewise, not everybody ends up buying
the same products in the supermarket, just us many men keep peeing outside the
urinal in spite of the carefully placed flies; and only a few of us end up becoming
addicts in the carefully designed spaces of the casino. Yet there is perhaps no better
place to illustrate this performative illusion than urban and architectural planning.
One need only think of the fate of those grandiloquent projects that sought to
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9.2 Left,
clothes line in
Le Corbusier’s
Capitol Complex.
Photo taken
c. 2010 by Vinayak
Bharne © 2010
Artists Rights
Society (ARS),
New York ⁄ ADAGP,
Paris ⁄ F.L.C. Below,
of the Bulgarian
communist party.
Image courtesy of
Thomas Jorion
use architecture to enfold different visions of a new society, like Le Corbusier’s
project to “modernize” Chandigarh – eventually turned into a domestic space and
a flea-market – or the now derelict and abandoned buildings that constructivist
architects built across the Soviet Union to bring forth a new type of person and a
new society (Figure 9.2).
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The tragic fate of these grandiloquent projects can be seen as an ironical
commentary on the enfolding capacities of architectural design. Our intention,
however, is not to use this irony to discredit the political capacities of design. Quite
the opposite: we wish to take this irony seriously as the starting point of a different
way of thinking and practicing design. The ironical fate of these projects, we
argue, forces us to acknowledge the limits of the political capacities of design and
to recognize the irreducible gap that separates the programs enfolded through
design and the ways in which they are ultimately received, activated, transformed,
or simply ignored. More specifically, we argue that accepting those limits, rather
than trying to overcome them with new and “better” designs, opens up a different
way of thinking about how design can matter politically, one not focused not on
the capacity of design to prescribe codes of action and thought, but on its capacity
to propose and open up the possibility of novel forms of action and thought. In
order to explore such a possibility, let us now turn our attention to what we call the
“unfolding” capacities of design.
Before we can define what we mean by unfolding, it is perhaps useful to establish
what we do not mean by it. First and foremost, we do not take unfolding to be the
opposite of enfolding. In other words, by unfolding we do not simply mean the
process of making visible or “unblackboxing” what was previously enfolded. Nor is
unfolding a critique of enfolding. As defined here, unfolding is not to be understood
as a “revelatory” or a “critical” process, but as a propositional one. Thus, one way of
establishing the difference between enfolding and unfolding would be to say that
while the former refers to the capacity of design to “inscribe” specific versions of
the political in different bodies, entities, and sites, unfolding refers to the capacity
of design to “propose” new kinds of bodies, entities, and sites as political. It is in
this sense, we argue, that unfolding can be defined as a “cosmopolitical” activity in
Isabelle Stengers’s sense of the term (2005). In Stengers’s use, cosmopolitics does
not refer to that Kantian-Habermasian project of achieving a single and unified
common world, but rather to the ongoing project of exploring and expanding the
repertoire of possible common worlds. In other words, cosmopolitics is not about
unifying the world, but about multiplying it. Design, we argue, can play a critical
role in this process by unfolding and exploring hitherto unrealized possibilities to
build the cosmos of the political. As we will now show, it can achieve this in at least
three different ways: by “enlarging” what counts as political, by “speculating” about
other possible forms of doing politics, and by “questioning” the political.
Enlarging the Cosmos of the Political
Let’s start by exploring how the unfolding capacities of design can be employed
to enlarge what counts as political. A good example can be found in the current
development of domestic monitoring technologies, like smart energy meters.
Broadly defined, the aim of these technologies is to render “energy” visible and
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9.3 Device
domestic energy
consumption and
controllable. This is done through various visualization mechanisms, for example
color-codes indicating the levels of consumption of individual domestic appliances,
or software programs that make indicate real-time energy consumption and its
associated economic costs (Figure 9.3).
One possible way of discussing the political valence of these devices would be
to focus on their enfolding capacities, that is, on how (and if ) these devices are
capable of interacting with the unconscious levels of individual behavior to create
a new sense of awareness about energy consumption practices that can eventually
result in more sustainable consumption habits. Here, however, we would like to
focus on a different set of capacities: specifically, the capacity of these devices to
unfold domestic spaces and actions as possible sites of politics. They can do so
in various ways. For example, these devices open up the possibility of blurring
the distinction between public and private spaces or between political actions
and everyday practices by showing how seemingly mundane and ineffectual
quotidian actions can be integrated into other scales of action beyond the home.
One of the ways in which they achieve this is by rendering an abstract force like
energy into something visible, evident, and quantifiable, and thus susceptible of
being acted upon (Gabrys 2014), Thanks to these devices, for example, it is possible
to know how much energy is consumed in domestic activities,such as boiling
water, cooking, or taking a shower, thus opening up the possibility of connecting
these “private” activities with,larger political projects such as sustainable societies
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or low-carbon economies. In so doing, these devices offer the possibility of
seeing the house not as a self-contained and private space, but as a space that is
embedded within a larger network of energy consumption and pollution. In other
words, they open up the possibility of unfolding the hitherto private space of the
home as a site where it is possible to make political decisions. We italicize possible
because we do not wish to suggest that these technologies are capable per se of
transforming domestic actions and spaces into political ones. In fact many, if not
most, of these meters are not used to participate in any political project, but simply
to improve monthly energy bills. However, and this is our point, they do make the
former possible. In other words, they do unfold the possibility of turning the home
into a genuine site for the articulation of different forms of political action and
participation. This is precisely the possibility that has been explored by various
environmental advocacy groups which have used these domestic energy meters
to generate new forms of political association and action regarding sustainable
energy consumption (Marres 2012) or to disrupt and challenge official discourses
and statistics about pollution in urban environments (Calvillo 2014). What these
examples show, therefore, is how seemingly mundane design devices like these
domestic energy meters unfold the possibility of re-describing everyday actions
and domestic spaces as political, and how in so doing they enlarge the cosmos of
the political by extending the repertoire of possible sites of political action and
forms of participation.
Speculating on the Cosmos of the Political
The second way in which design can unfold the cosmos of the political is through
speculation. By speculation, we mean here the capacity of design to unfold an
otherwise as a site of political action and imagination. One of the best examples
of how speculation can unfold the cosmos of the political can be found in what
has recently come to be known as “tactical urbanism” (Lydon and Bartman 2012).
Broadly defined, tactical urbanism refers to those interventions that propose
radical transfigurations of urban spaces through their temporal appropriation.
Some examples of these tactics include “Open Streets” – an initiative to temporarily
block off traffic in order to open streets for other uses – or “Park(ing) Day” – which
proposes the temporary appropriation of parking spaces and their transformation
into park-like spaces (Figure 9.4).
The political valence of these interventions resides in their capacity not to
enfold a new permanent program in these streets, but to speculate with a given
public space, like a street, and open it up to the possibility of an unsuspected
otherwise. Another excellent example of the political capacities of these
speculative tactics can be found in “El Campo de la Cebada” in Madrid. “El Campo”
emerged in 2010 when an architectural collective, Zuloark, joined forces with
other activists and neighbors to appropriate one of the many derelict spaces left
behind when the Spanish construction bubble burst. Their aim was to transform
this abandoned space into a political and cultural space for the neighborhood.
However, rather than trying to inscribe a specific definition or program into the
square, they chose to create an under-defined space that could be unfolded in
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9.4 Left, “Open
Streets,” street
unfolded as yoga
studio by Bradley
P Johnson. Right,
“Parking Day,”
street unfolded as
park, Art Monaco
Portland via,
different ways. To make this possible, the square was furnished with a set of
open-source, hand-made, and mobile urban furniture that enabled multiple
possibilities and configurations. So far “El Campo” has been unfolded as an
educational venue hosting free public seminars and workshops; as an open-air
summer university; as a political site hosting neighborhood associations and
assemblies; as a sports facility hosting basketball and football games; as an urban
garden; as a cultural facility hosting music concerts, theatre, film festivals, and
even a weekly “salsadrome;” and, of course, as a public square where neighbors
can socialize or just laze about (Figure 9.5).
As in the case of tactical urbanism, the political valence of “El Campo” resides not
in having transformed a hitherto derelict urban space into a new thing – a square,
a theatre, or a basketball court – but in having created a perennially undefined
and unstable space that can endlessly be explored and re-imaged. In other words,
the political valence of “El Campo” lies in the fact that its identity is never fixed
or stabilized; it remains forever “in beta” as a space of possibilities (Corsín Jiménez
2013). What “El Campo” is, or what it can become, is not something that can be
defined beforehand. This is an open-ended question that is continually explored
through each new unfolding. In this sense, “El Campo” emerges as a powerful
urban machine, a city-making machine in which it is possible to explore, imagine,
and experiment with other ways of being in the city, other forms of building urban
communities, other forms of creating material and emotional attachments, and
also other forms of political participation.
Another powerful example of the political capacities of these speculative tactics
can be found in the “occupy” movements that have spread across the world since
2011. In spite of their different histories and trajectories, all of these movements
have attempted to appropriate public squares that were enfolded, or were about to
be enfolded (for example Taskim in Istanbul), in hegemonic political and economic
projects. The occupations transformed these squares not only into “political sites,”
but also, and much more importantly, into sites of “political speculation,” that is,
sites on which it became possible to think, explore and test other possible forms of
politics. Take, for example, the case of the “Acampada Sol” in Madrid in May 2012,
which went on to win the European Public Design Competition in 2012.
During its short life the “Acampada Sol” grew from just a few tents to a massive
object of architectural design made of disposable and makeshift materials like
plastics, cardboards, beach chairs, and picnic tables. One of the most interesting
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9.5 “El Campo
de la Cebada”
and its multiple
Image courtesy of
things about the Acampada as an object of architectural design is that its growth
did not follow a pre-ordained design or vision. The Acampada was an open-ended
design object that grew organically as new ideas and possibilities emerged and
were discussed and tested in the different committees and working groups. In
just three weeks, the square was furnished with a library, a nursery, community
gardens, a radio, an internet hub, and a myriad of “committees” and working
groups on themes like infrastructures, education, art, psychology, economy, and
so on, in which proposals were drafted and then presented and discussed in an
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9.6 Map of “Acampada Sol” during the third and final week of its life. Image courtesy of Miguel de Guzmán.
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open-air general assembly acting as a political agora. Crucially, the aim of these
makeshift architectures was not to materialize previous ideas or plans, but to
create structures that would “activate thinking” (Stengers 2005: 1001). In other
words, the aim was to transform the square into a lively life-size political laboratory,
into a site where it was possible to speculate about the potentialities (and limits)
of different political vocabularies and modes of political participation and
organization. Over those three weeks the assemblies, committees, and working
groups transformed the utterly banal Sol Square into a “collective machine for
thinking” in which it became possible to experiment with and test miniaturized
forms of direct democracy, forms of collective discussion and decision-making,
and to examine broader questions about democratic politics such as: Is it possible
to re-imagine forms of democratic participation and decision-making outside of
current institutional structures? What kinds of physical, technological, and human
means and infrastructure would be required to articulate such forms of democratic
politics? What are the possibilities and limits of such endeavors?
For three brief weeks, the “Acampada Sol,” along with other similar Acampadas
that mushroomed across the country, transformed ordinary public squares into the
epicenter of Spanish politics. They managed to short-circuit the public sphere with
questions that had previously been outside the political debate and discussion.
Three years later, however, there is no trace left of these Acampadas in the squares,
which have returned to their old reality as banal sites of passage. Yet this should not
deceive us into thinking that the Acampadas were ineffective devices. They remain
one of most powerful transformative forces in contemporary Spanish politics. Their
importance resided not in the makeshift physical infrastructures that were built
in the squares, but in the kinds of possibilities that those infrastructures opened
up. The Acampadas unfolded and activated the possibility of a different political
cosmology, one bas…

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