Things Making Things: An Ethnography of the Impossible

Elisa Giaccardi, Chris Speed, Neil Rubens

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


This paper describes the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of ThingTank, a project in which non-humans write shared futures with humans. Though not design anthropological in itself, this project sheds light on the meaning of the ‘impossible’ in relation to the current design anthropological discussion.
ThingTank is an Internet of Things (IoT) research project that uses a combination of field studies, object instrumentation and machine learning to listen to what 'things' have to tell about their use, reuse and deviant repurpose, and it harvests this data to inspire idea generation, fabrication, rapid prototyping and business development generation.

Much of the rhetoric for investment into IoT platforms is to identify cost saving and process efficiencies (e.g., vehicle manufacturers), to track goods within large networks (e.g., logistics companies), or to monitor the health and safety of systems (e.g., aircraft manufacturers) within a streamlined process of production. But as networked objects become more common, the massive amounts of data that they collect will soon outweigh what we know about these objects – and thus about ourselves.

As these databases of objects intermingle with our own data shadows, it won’t be long before the objects around us begin to make suggestions about how what ‘might be’ desirable. ThingTank aims to interrogate artefacts’ shared use (and abuse) and to elicit new insights outside of a streamlined process of production.

In describing this project, we will discuss the role and challenges of designers and anthropologists in opening up and articulating design spaces invisible to the naked human eye.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthnographies of the possible at the Research Network for Design Anthropology
Place of PublicationMoesgaard Museum, Arhus University
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2014
EventEthnographies of the Possible - Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 10 Apr 2014 → …


SeminarEthnographies of the Possible
Period10/04/14 → …


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  • Thing Tank

    Speed, C., Giaccardi, E. & Rubens, N.


    Project: Non-Funded Commission or Consultancy work

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