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Of Other Products: Marginalized Perspectives, Speculative Heterotopia and Health Debate

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Abstract

All lives are shaped by their health. However, the lives of people with disabilities are routinely shaped by their conditions and their relationships to the medical and social interventions that their health necessitates. More particularly, while many people with disabilities rely on prescribed and generic chemicals for everyday functioning and survival, society’s narratives position disability as the site of a precarious, dangerous, imperilled or obliterated future. At the same time as people with disabilities suffer erasures in and through techno-ableist culture, health is developing as a locus in future-focused speculative and critical design practices such as design fiction. In response, Thinking with Chemical Stories: A Design Fiction Pilot brought together disabled artists, designers and academics (n=9) to explore possible futures at the intersection of chemicals, health and disability through the co-creation of design fictions. In the five-day workshop hosted at Ryerson University, Toronto in July and August 2017, we made use of Foucault’s six principles of heterotopia to explore design concepts, shape diegetic prototypes and frame potential design fictions. Our discussions led to the PainSonic diegetic prototype and the world building that sprang from it explored the relational nature of chronic pain.

We found that the principles acted as an effective cognitive heuristic that aided participants in the construction of a possible future world – a design fiction that may be understood as a speculative ‘heterotopia of deviation’. The principles of heterotopia were also an effective aid in centring marginalized perspectives, while the process of generating design fictions was both a challenging and an enjoyable way for participants to explore and discuss their own health experiences. While noting that in use researchers should be open to the exploration producing unexpected insights, we conclude that participatory design fiction has potential as a method for the wide-ranging exploration of health-related topic areas.