Frictioned Functionality. Un/Designing Un/Sustainable Matter

Robert Stock's picture
Call for Papers
October 17, 2022 to October 22, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Environmental History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Urban Design and Planning

Against a background of ecologies in crisis, MoA's interdisciplinary Autumn School »Frictioned Functionality: Un/Designing Un/Sustainable Matter« invites Post-Docs, PhDs and MA students from the humanities, natural sciences and design to work through the conflicted entanglement of materiality, design and un/sustainability, using frictioned functionality as the guiding principle. In the context of this Autumn School, we want to understand frictioned functionality as a working concept to reopen other narrative and performative spaces of imagination in and beyond unruly times.

Application are accepted until August 8th, 2022, find all application details below.


Khashayar Razghandi (MPIKG / HU Berlin), Claudia Mareis (HU Berlin), Robert Stock (HU Berlin), James Auger (ENS Paris-Saclay), Joe Lockwood (Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee), Rasa Weber (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste / MOA).


From waste management to circular economy, eco-design or net-zero policies, materiality has become a crucial issue for technical, scientific, social and political considerations of un/sustainability. Far from being a simple task to solve, thinking through un/sustainable matter means to appreciate the conflicting implications that come along with the (co)creation of »uninhabitable landscapes« (Tsing 2016: 241). Scientists, designers, politicians, activists and social groups are increasingly grappling with the unruliness of matter as active agent (Gholami et al. 2022; Krauthausen et al. 2022) in their various attempts to ensure survival on »a damaged planet« (Tsing et al. 2017). For the way in which un/sustainability unfolds in and through matter is never universal, straightforward, or smooth, but rather co-produced by diverse and contradictory actors, interests, constraints, temporalities, and spaces. As a result, the practice-based discipline of design starts reflecting on ways of designing for and with more-than-human material networks (Escobar 2018, Wakkary 2021, Redström & Giaccardi 2021). Establishing a debate on the policies of matter, further implies considering growing social inequality, pollution, exhaustion of raw materials (Stengers 2015: 18) as well as techno-cultural practices and their paradigms (Borgmann 2009) and methods of ecological enquiry (Van Dooren 2016). Local initiatives to develop new materials and production strategies that produce much-needed novel situated knowledge are often intertwined in an uneven global circulation of meaning and data, people and resources. Moreover, in the confrontation of harmful pasts and hopeful futures, un/sustainability narratives and practices unfold in an untimely register in which crisis and resilience, catastrophe and rescue seem to collapse.

Against this background, we propose frictioned functionality as the theme of this interdisciplinary Autumn School. We aim to address the conflicted entanglement of materiality, design and un/sustainability within an interdisciplinary setting, using the complicated relations of friction and functionality as the guiding principle.

Hosted by the Cluster of Excellence »Matters of Activity. Image Space Material« at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin the Autumn School is aimed at advanced MA students and PhD students from the humanities, natural sciences and design disciplines with a strong interest in the thematic complex of materiality, design and un-sustainability. We invite participants not only to bring their different academic or professional expertise into dialogue, but also to engage in experimental strategies of collaborative designing and making.

Conceptual Framework

Referring to anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, un/sustainability must be seen as a cultural form and an emergent planetary condition, whose social and material formation is co-constituted by friction (Tsing 2005, 2016). Friction generates tensions within entangled global assemblages (Collier/Ong 2005), including their ubiquitous devices designed for smooth and seamless functionality. What we problematize as frictioned functionality accelerates and slows down socio-technological transformation processes within the comprehensive realm of digital capitalism, globalized (post-)colonial production and supply chains. In the context of this Autumn School, we want to understand frictioned functionality both as a working concept to advance towards a problematization of the present, as well as a deconstructive method to reopen other narrative and performative spaces of imagination in and beyond catastrophic times (Stengers 2015).

We aim to critically shift attention from universalizing claims and a »technocratic, anthropocentric perspective« of sustainability (Alaimo 2012: 536) towards transversal material agencies where matter and living beings are »immersed in flows of sustenance and harm« (Alaimo 2018: 51). With the emerging debate around practically establishing sustainable approaches towards matters of making, a pristine notion of »nature« or »life« has almost unnoticed found its way back into the common debate. However, the clear boundary line between so-called animate and inanimate matter becomes porous (Bennett 2010). Following the designer Collet, we suggest observing these un/sustainable practices of matter through the lens of three areas to reflect on the intra-actions of naturecultures and biological material systems, more-than-human collaborations, and non-/organic ‘hackable’ systems (cf. Collet 2017: 26). This shift will allow for approaching emergent un/sustainable matter as »sticky engagements« (Tsing 2016: 243). Hence, we propose frictioned functionality as a mode to both localize and unsettle the many »managerial models of sustainability« (Alaimo 2018: 53) and to reflect instead the multi-faceted ways in which the design of un/sustainable matter affects mundane and damaged habitats while providing uncertain conditions for survival.


Within the six-day Autumn School Frictioned Functionality: Un/Designing Un/Sustainable Matter we will practically and theoretically debate the conflicted agency of un/sustainable matter through the lense of multiple disciplinary perspectives from design, the humanities and natural sciences.

Following a shared panel of opening lectures (James Auger, Joe Lockwood, Prof. Dr. Claudia Mareis, Dr. Khashayar Razghandi, Prof. Dr. Robert Stock, Rasa Weber, a.o.), students will work individually within three workshop tracks in the field.

The three workshops will be summarized in a shared presentation format, to discuss the reflections and results in plenum, followed by Aperó and drinks.

  • Workshop track 1: Rethinking Biological Material Systems

Active Matter: An extensive reflection and a hands-on figuration through the lens of a series of bio-inspired Material-Structure-Function-Ecology-Activity paradigms.

  • Workshop track 2: Designing more-than-human collaborations

Dark Fluidity: An immersive exploration of liquid ontologies in practice, along the multispecies material freshwater ecologies of a local stream.

  • Workshop track 3: Hacking natural-cultural systems

Catching Energy: An intensive examination of the natural and cultural local landscape to identify opportunities for catching energy flows through micro and macro interventions.

Application Details

We accept contributions that theoretically and practically deal with un-sustainability in terms of material-function-ecology relationships, a bio-inspired perspective, as well as topics such as sustainable design, net-zero-design, more-than-human design, transition design, speculative design or similar.

Please submit a one-page paper (500 words.pdf) outlining how the issues addressed in this Autumn School are central to your research, work or design practice. Please send your paper and a short biographical note (max 250 words) to autumnschool.MOA [​at​] by 08.08.2022.

Successful completion of the Autumn School can be awarded with 5 credits according to the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). Credits will be awarded on the basis of preparatory readings and active participation during the course.

For further inquiries please contact Rasa Weber (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste / MOA), Khashayar Razghandi (MPIKG / HU Berlin), or Robert Stock (HU Berlin).

Fee and Travel Costs

No fee is charged for participation in the Autumn School. Researchers that apply are asked to check whether their home institution might cover costs for accommodation and overnight stays. The Cluster of Excellence Matters of Activity can financially support a limited number of participants whose institutions do not provide a budget for travel expenses. Please include relevant information on this topic in your application, if applicable.


Alaimo, S., 2012. Sustainable This, Sustainable That: New Materialisms, Posthumanism, and Unknown Futures. PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 127 (3), 558–564.
Alaimo, S., 2016. Exposed. Environmental politics and pleasures in posthuman times. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.
Alaimo, S., 2018. Material Feminism in the Anthropocene. In: C. Åsberg and R. Braidotti, eds. A feminist companion to the posthumanities. Cham: Springer, 45–54.
Bennett, J. 2010Vibrant Matter. Durham: Duke University Press.
Borgman, A., 2009. Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Collet, C., 2017. ‘Grow-Made’ Textiles. EKSIG 2017: Alive. Active. Adaptive. Conference Paper. Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands.
Eder, M., Amini, S. and Fratzl, P., 2018. Biological composites—complex structures for functional diversity. Science, 362(6414), pp.543-547.
Escobar, A., 2018. Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds (New Ecologies for the Twenty-first Century). Duke University Press.
Gholami F., Guiducci L., Yani S. & Razghandi K., 2022Rethinking Active Matter. Current Developments in Active Materials, Berlin u.a. (De Gruyter), Buch & Open Access, Englisch.
Giaccardi, E., Redström, J. 2020. Technology and more than human design. Design Issues 36, p.33-44.
Krauthausen, K., Friedman, M., Fratzl, P., Schäffner, W. (Hgg.), 2022. Active Materials. Berlin u.a. (De Gruyter), Buch & Open Access, Englisch.
Ong, A., and Collier, S.J., eds., 2007. Global assemblages. technology, politics, and ethics as anthropological problems. 4th ed. Malden, MA u.a.: Blackwell Publishing.
Stengers, I., 2015. In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism. Lüneburg: Open Humanities Press; meson press.
Tsing, A.L., 2005. Friction. An ethnography of global connection. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.
Tsing, A.L., 2016. Friction. An ethnography of global connection. In: A. Harnish, N. Haenn, and R. Wilk, eds. The Environment in Anthropology (Second Edition). A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living. New York, NY: New York University Press.
Tsing, A.L., et al., eds., 2017. Arts of living on a damaged planet. Ghosts of the Anthropocene. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.
Van Dooren, T. 2016. Multispecies Studies. Environmental Humanities.
Wakkary, R., 2021. Things We Could Design For More Than Human-Centered Worlds. MIT Press.

Contact Info: 

EXC Matters of Activity
Sophienstraße 22a
10178 Berlin