In July 2017, iHuman Research Fellow Kirsty Liddiard travelled to Ryerson University’s ReLab in Toronto, Canada, to co-facilitate a 5-day Design Fiction workshop. Entitled Thinking With Our Chemical Stories, the workshop invited disabled and Mad-identified artists from in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to explore their chemical lives. Working with colleagues Esther Ignagni, Kim Collins and Eliza Chandler from the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University, Andy Darby from the University of Lancaster, and Toronto-based artist Lindsay Fisher, the team focused on the ways in which Design Fiction as a method could enable stories about the social, cultural and material lives of chemicals to come to the fore.

Design Fiction is a method of critical, speculative design. It uses fictional and narrative scenarios to envision, explain and raise questions about possible futures for design and the society (Tanenbaum 2015) in order to imagine alternative futures and work through key concepts and ideas in accessible ways. Chemical encounters intimately shape our bodies, selves, relationships and communities in helpful and harmful ways; these encounters are narrated in ways that routinely posit disability as part of an undesirable end to chemical lives. Design Fiction was used to draw out the tacit assumptions that drive this particular narration, as well as imagine an array of other possible stories of disability and chemical encounters.

Such a focus on disability, social life and chemicals emerged through an ESRC Festival of Social Sciences-funded public engagement project called ChemicalLives, carried out by Liddiard and China Mills (School of Education, UoS) in 2016. In ChemicalLives, the pair sat for 3 days in a ‘storytelling pod’ inviting staff, students and public visitors to come along and explore their interactions and engagements with a multitude of chemicals. You can read more on the Chemical Lives project page. Across the pond, Ignagni and Chandler have been developing a similar project, which has involved hosting a series of chemical stories workshops, both in the UK and in Canada.

Overall, Thinking With Our Chemical Stories was an exhausting but exhilarating week. The team are currently writing up the outcomes and will continue to work with the design fictions produced through the workshop. So, watch this space!