Critical Making, Luker, and Learning Through Play?

Hi I’m Jessica, and I’m a first year MI in LIS, who’s toying with the idea of also getting into KMIM. So far, I’ve only had the pleasure of reading and commenting everyone else’s posts, so this is my first official post!

I enjoyed Matt Ratto’s article on critical making, I’ve never actually taken a class with him, so everything I know of critical making is second hand (sometimes garbled) information. This weeks readings definitely gave me a much better idea of what it actually is.

I have to admit I was quite skeptical for the first few pages, reading some of the descriptions for concepts behind critical making. Particularly, “Rather than being purposive or fully functional devices, prototype development is used to extend knowledge and skills in relevant technical areas as well as to provide the means for conceptual exploration” (Ratto, 2011, p. 253). So…building something that doesn’t need to have a purpose or even work, yet it’s supposed to teach you something? Right. Interesting.

I don’t think I was able to wrap my head around the idea/purpose of critical making until the section on the Flwr Pwr workshop. It was pretty compelling to read about how technology was used to facilitate discussion on human interaction, when technology is so often seen as a threat to human interaction. I immediately tied this back to Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences. One of the goals Kristin Luker (2010) outlines for her book is to demonstrate that research methods used for social and applied sciences don’t have to be in opposition, she aims to reconcile qualitative and quantitative research methods (p. 5). I think that this is something critical making does effectively. As someone who has worked with kids for years, the Flwr Pwr workshop made me consider how critical making might be like an extension or a grown up version of learning through play.

Anyway, I’m pretty excited for Matt Ratto’s guest lecture today and I’m interested in hearing everyone else’s thoughts on critical making.

Jessica S.


Luker, K. (2010). Salsa dancing into the social sciences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ratto, M. (2011). Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life. The Information Society: An International Journal, 27(4), 252-260.

6 thoughts on “Critical Making, Luker, and Learning Through Play?

  1. Hi Jessica,

    Im excited to see that Matt Ratto’s critical making concept has mad you reconsider the use of making as a form of learning and the purposefulness of objects we usually take for granted these days.

    That said, I worry all the electric bells and whistles over shadow how old this concept is.
    You bring up notions of purpose and prototype in his article and how they are a means not an end to conceptual exploration.

    All through out his presentation last week I kept writing little notes to myself about my impressions of what it is that he did. Here are a few of them:

    -MFA (Master of Fine Art) in an Engineering Faculty
    -Art with an informatics slant
    – techno-poetics

    and a few notable 20th Century artists came to mind:

    -Jean Tinguely:
    -Stelarc: (WARNING: images of the artist performing nude with arm prosthetic)
    -Marcel Duchamp (warning: contemporary art jargon -arguably as off putting to some as nudity- but besides that brilliant)

    Now some out there may argue that these artists did not create prototypes per say, however you could also put forth the argument: when isn’t art a prototype? A prototype in the “as to provide the means for conceptual exploration” understanding of the prototype defined in Ratto’s article you quoted.
    And while these works are not as participatory as Ratto’s work, they all physically embody the notion of prototype as a creation not as a means to a purposeful end that we most commonly put objects and materials to work, but rather as a means to conceptual exploration of that and through materiality.

    Would love to hear what you think.

    • Hi Richard,
      In response to your initial post, I agree that at it’s heart, the concept of critical making is not so new. But I do think that it’s an interesting new application.

      I am familiar DuChamp’s installations and though I considered putting something in my post about the artistic element of critical making, I never made the immediate connection between the two. You were right in pointing out that the works you linked aren’t as hands on as the critical making projects. To me, these artforms demand a different type of engagement, which could arguably be perceived as more challenging.

      This is what sets critical making apart for me, personally. I feel as though it’s more accessible and perhaps less intimidating than the art you linked. But this based on my experience, considering the first time I was introduced to DuChamp’s Fountain vs. Ratto’s Flwrs.

    • Hi Josh,
      Thanks for reading. I agree that citation does become repetitive, but I’m not exactly clear on what you’re proposing. Do you mean to suggest a research paper type format, where we have a separate ‘works cited’ page and then just use embedded citation in our posts? If so, I think that’s a great idea. Though I am concerned about Professor Galey, didn’t he say that he preferred that we put our citations at the bottom of each post?

  2. I really like the idea of a page or space or “insert format here ______” where all works cited are listed and sourced as needed. That said, how would this be most effectively approached? How would others reading this blog know we have a gereal works cited page or list, and how easy will it be for them to folllow and understand our system? I agree, I am not one for redundancy, but I am not sure how to develop such a page in a meaningful way. Even though sourcing your work is about showing where your ideas come from, I personally feel it’s more for the reader’s benefit that we cite. Not so much to present where our ideas come from, rather where the reader can continue to broaden their research and knowledge. Therefore whatever format we undertake (if we do) I think it has to be for the benefit of the reader and not just to us, the writers.


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