The fiction future of faculty: an afternoon of sociological design fiction

The ability of storytelling to help us envision and discuss a gamut of plausible futures, from dystopian visions to everyday utopias, is increasingly being harnessed using the nascent practice of ‘design fiction’. Design fiction, a term coined by author Bruce Sterling, “tells worlds not stories”. Although inspired by sci-fi, design fiction is less about the “hocus pocus” of far-flung techno-futures, and instead is more practical, hands-on, and mundane. Design fictions extrapolate from current data, trends, research and technologies, not in an attempt to predict the future, but to interrogate the plurality of plausible futures by forging a discursive space form which insights may emerge. This session will explore how design fiction can help us illuminate preferable, or indeed undesirable, futures of academia.

The university is a site of managerial and neoliberal transformation, with increased applications of competitive logics and performative technologies to re-define academia and academic practice. There are however examples of resistance and hope, with everyday utopian experiments such as the Social Science Centre, Lincoln. In this exploratory session, we use design fiction as an approach for exploring the potential for change latent within  current circumstances, through contrasting utopian and dsytopian visions for the future of higher education.

If you are interested in the future of the University and academic practice, or if you have a position or provocation to share, then please come and join us. During the session we will present two contrasting visions of the academy in 2020, one dystopic and one utopian. These positions will provide the foundations for a broader conversation about the future and design fiction. We will unpack questions such as can design fiction inform a better future for Universities? Are dystopian or utopian visions of the future more likely to help us get to a better future? What is ‘better’ anyway?

This event is organised by James Duggan, Joseph Lindley and Mark Carrigan

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

The Shed, Manchester Metropolitan University.

To register for the event follow this link

Sans Duty Project – Final Report

Sometimes the problems society faces are enough to make you want to hide under the bed, and on closer inspection it seems that at every turn seemingly sensible solutions are blocked by those pesky vested interests and the powers that be. This is why initiatives like the Brixton Pound, what Davina Cooper (2014) calls ‘everyday utopian communities’, provide hope that through imagination and collective action communities can live life in radically different ways.
Joe and I were interested in the ‘tax gap’, a £122bn black hole in the country’s finances by the non-payment of tax (Tax Research UK 2012). The tax system is complicated, opaque, defended by highly-paid accountants. The unpaid billions seem to benefit the richest, and penalise everyday tax payers. We wonder if it possible to move things in a fairer direction. What could we do? A question that soon changed to what would the B£ do? Could the Brixton Pound develop a tax system that could work better for the community?

We thought there was something in the way that tax is hidden and unspoken, and that by making tax visible and ‘audible’ in communities that would make companies more likely to pay tax, increase transparency, and help close the tax gap.

To enable us to explore these ideas and develop practical approaches we decided to use design fiction methods with the B£ community. Design fictions are part science-fiction, science-fact, and part designed visions of the near future. The process involves imagining where current trends and technologies might take us in the future, developing products and services, and then wrapping these ideas up in believable stories, so that more meaningful conversations can be had.

So we worked we hosted a series of workshops to discuss tax with people from Brixton, made a ‘story world’ where there was a new ‘Just Tax’ scheme in Brixton. We produced a series of prototypes, promotional materials, and with the help of some friendly Brixtonites we filmed a ‘speculative documentary’ about the scheme set in the year 2017.

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The most interesting conversations we had were not about how to make tax visible in communities, but rather how to encourage people in communities to consider different types of relationship, different types of mutual obligations between citizens, and within that reciprocal commitment, alternative configurations of tax collection and expenditure. In the discussions the crucial dimension seemed to be whether design fiction can engender the desire for a better way of being or living and then how to stimulate the collective engagement to make the world otherwise (Levitas 2013). 
We’d like to thank all those that took part in the research, the people that attended the workshops and Tom Shakhli for helping organise the events.
James Duggan and Joe Lindley

To read the final report:

Download (PDF, 9.22MB)

Using health information comics with patients and families

This half day workshop is based around findings from a recent Wellcome Trust funded research project that explored the potential impact of educational comics on patients and relatives of people with a range of health conditions.

Through interviews with patients and relatives, the research explored how, and to what extent, educational comics can provide support in dealing with feelings and attitudes associated with health conditions, for example, fears and anxieties, social interactions and relationships. You can find out more about the project here:

In this workshop, we will discuss the findings of the research and the implications for practice, as well as exploring ways to work with health information comics in information services/libraries and healthcare settings.

Venue: Manchester, 17th September 2015, 1.00-4.00pm (refreshments/informal discussion from noon)

You can book a place at: (there’s no charge).

If you have any questions, please contact s.mcnicol [@]