And always see @pneumaticpost



This month I ran a workshop at my fieldsite for the medical teachers, focusing on creativity and innovation. You can see some of my preparations above. There were some instructions I gave them – make a body part to use in teaching physical examination skills, draw a poster to show a skill, make oranges to resemble stages of cervical dilation – but these were soon discarded by most teachers. Balloons were blown up and filled with water to copy the ascites figure, one bursting over all the instructions. Balloons were filled with plasticine to show pitting edema. A series of balloons made a chart of scrotal pathologies for palpation and comparison. Styrofoam balls were turned into eyeballs, with elastics on either side making the muscles of the eye, and little felt tags on fingers showing which cranial nerves pulled them. The inguinal region was made using bits of cardboard and plastic bags. A box holding some of my materials was upturned to allow room for a balloon and scrunched up felt, to practice comparative percussion. Two socks were turned into scrotum by being stitched together, so that they could be pulled for examination. You can read more about the purpose and further details of the workshop on the Making Clinical Sense website.




My dad used to be a member of a club called the Gormanston Corkaloo Club. Gormanston is a little town in Northwest Tasmania, near Ulverstone, where my dad grew up. Club membership entailed having or making a cork, with GCC inscribed into it. The rules of membership were simple. If you are in a pub and spot another member and holler “corkaloo”, if they don’t have their cork with them, they buy you a drink. The cork was a simple sign of membership to the social group and a great way to get a free drink. I went to the local library archives with my dad when I was back in Tasmania a few months ago, but we couldn’t find much about the (mostly white male) club in newspapers or any other material. In the days before social media, being a member of this group just meant having a cork in your pocket. It made me think of another group I am a member of, a much more diverse one called the Global Young Academy. At the first meeting we are all given pins to wear. I have my pin in my jewellery box, but don’t wear it as much. It reminded me a little too much of prefect badges in highschool. But thinking more about the corkaloo made me want to wear it at the next big meet-up I attend, as a form of social membership of a group I am proud to be part of – who knows, there could just be a GYA ready to cheers over a free conference drink or two.




Winding down for the year, knitting a replica uterus teaching tool that I found in the Skills Lab in Maastricht, thanks to a pattern John Nott found at the Wellcome Library. You can read more about that on in our Making Clinical Sense logbook.




Thanks to an invitation from the centre’s director, Tania, Lewis, I will spend August, September and October as a visiting researcher at the Digital Ethnography Research Centre at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia. Very much looking forward to inspiring exchanges over the coming months!


JULY 2018



Between the 9th July and the 12th July 2018 my research team hosted a skillshare workshop “Learning/Teaching Materials” at the gorgeous hotel school Chateau Bethlehem in Maastricht. This was funded by the European Research Council as part of the “Making Clinical Sense” research project.

During the workshop we gathered as peers to work with digital, edible, tactile and other objects; with different forms of instructions; thinking and discussing, while making and doing, the workshop’s theme of what it means to learn and teach with materials.

The workshop brought together science and technology scholars, anthropologists, historians and other fascinating folk who are thinking about skills and materials in exciting ways, and who are also questioning what it means to engage with these ideas in a workshop setting.

After the workshop the PhDs in the project organised a writing workshop. You can read more about event on the project website, and stay tuned for more logbook posts as we digest the outcomes of this incredibly inspiring event.


JUNE 2018

Experiments in large group writing


Last month young scientists and researchers from more than 50 different countries came together at the Global Young Academy Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference in Pattaya, Thailand, to discuss a pressing global issue: the challenges and possibilities for sustainable and healthy aging.

The Global Young Academy is an incredible organisation that I joined last year. I have no doubt it will change the way I do science. The people that I meet, both at the meeting and through emails and videos throughout the year are some of the most engaged, open-minded, energetic people I meet in the course of my work.

At this year’s AGM I had the great pleasure of organising the writing of the conference statement with fellow GYA member Gergely Toldi. We had a lot of fun facilitating putting this together and experimenting in large group writing. We began be eliciting key writers to form a draft, and then working together with this document online before the conference. At the conference, the document went live and we received comments from many members which were incorporated on the spot. In a final session of the conference we filled in some gaps with on-the-spot writing exercises, where groups were asked to write one paragraph in half an hour about the topic of ageism in science.

It was an extremely productive exercise and only a week or so later we finished a final draft of the statement and an op-ed too, currently under review by the GYA, that reflected the voices of many in the group.

MAY 2018

Night in the bookstore

bookstore night 2

During which I was locked overnight in one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. One nerdy night out with friends. Think Career Opportunities meets Sleepover Friends meets Black Books.

APRIL 2018

Writing better


After my PhD in Melbourne I took part in a series of writing workshops run by Simon Clews, of the then called Melbourne Writing Centre. The workshops were about a kind of writing I encountered everyday but had no skills in whatsoever – writing for a general public. For almost four years I had honed my academic writing skills to a point of producing a dissertation, yet at the same time narrowed my audience to my supervisors, examiners and parents. The workshops left their mark, and I went on to write letters to the editor, opinion pieces for national newspapers and magazine articles.

Now in Maastricht, we have had the opportunity to invite Simon Clews to inspire a new batch of researchers to write outside of their academic bubbles. In the second week of April Simon Clews gave two workshops for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and one for the Maastricht Young Academy. Topics have covered creative non-fiction, establishing a public profile, and writing and presenting doctoral research for a public audience. They have been fantastic.

Now the Director of the Melbourne Engagement Lab at the University of Melbourne, Australia, Simon runs an extensive repertoire of workshops across the world, articularly in Asia-Pacific and North America (see

This writing workshop is the first in a series of writing workshops partially supported by Making Clinical Sense. Read more about it here. It has been made possible with further funding from the ERC, a Faulty of Arts and Social Sciences Valorisation Simulation Fund grant and the Maastricht Young Academy.


MARCH 2018


0.310 skin 2

Lucky Rietveld Academie students (and Amsterdam public). What an opportunity recently to have had some of the most inspiring thinkers and practitioners of touch recently to think through with them the possibilities of the haptic during their event Hold me Now. Including chatrooms, film screenings and a four day conference festival guest curated by Karen Archey, Mark Paterson, Rizvana Bradley and Jack Halberstam, and presenters including Erin Manning and Karen Barad, the line up was more than impressive.

I was fortunate to be involved in Mark Paterson’s “Haptics, Creativity, and Knowledge Between Bodies” session on March 22nd, which he summarised as follows:How is haptics involved in knowledge creation? What knowledge is produced in reconceptualizing touch through other means? There is a humanist privileging of a certain kind of knowledge gained directly through the hands in craftsmanship, painting, and skillful training. Some see this as partially translating into digital craftsmanship and computer-aided design. The engineering of force feedback (haptics) involves hands, muscles, and skin in active engagement with digital sensation for the purposes of the design of objects and textiles, then, but also for more wholly embodied entertainment and performance experiences. Videogame controllers buzz in our hands, while haptic bodysuits stimulate hands and other body parts for fun or art. Scientific processes of sensory mapping, the engineering of the interface, electrical and electronic entertainments, and the use of the body in performance each in their own way involve a creative approach to knowledge production: creative arrangements of the senses, translations between modalities, a realm of experimentation in the service of knowing more about bodies, senses, and space – what Michel Serres describes as a ‘mingling’ of the senses. Increasingly, social science understands the importance of such sensory knowledge production, and involves its own creative methodologies and approaches when it comes to bodies and their boundaries. The day will consist of talks and demonstrations around touch, haptics, and performance.I got to meet the fabulous and inspiring Kate Elswit, Carey Jewitt, David Parisi and Stahl Stenslie, all who had previously sat on my bookshelf and on class readers, yet were now here dancing, gesturing, eating delicious vegan food, breathing, talking together.My talk was titled “Simulating Touch: Learning Tactility through Analogy in Medical Education”:Doctors, like artists, work intensely to train their sensory perception. This training is being reconfigured through the introduction of digital technologies. For centuries, medical students have learned sensory skills important to diagnosis through the apprenticeship model, following mentors, and examining patients in hospital wards, clinics, and private homes. For reasons of standardization, efficiency, safety, shorter hospital stays, and fewer home visits, more and more doctors learn clinical skills outside the hospital, often in simulated settings including digital environments. Dissection, once a formaldehyde-infused rite of passage for medical students, is increasingly being performed on dazzling virtual screens, where cuts with the scalpel are made with a swipe of a finger. Not all forms of simulation are new and digital, however. Models, made of leather and other fabrics, have long been used to teach techniques such as delivering a baby, and still have a place in medical schools today. In this presentation I will invite the audience to take part in some hands-on teaching exercises used in medical schools to train the sense of touch, using curious objects such as oranges, knitted sweaters, socks, and water-filled gloves, as well as some digital applications. In the process I will trace some of the material assemblages used in training tactility in medicine today, and how clinical touch gets reconsidered in these various analogous forms. The underlying paper draws on the findings of my ongoing fieldwork in a clinical skills laboratory in Maastricht, a study that is part of a broader ERC-funded ethnographic and historical project on the role of digital and other technologies in training doctors’ sensory skills of diagnosis.Image of suturing skin my own. 




Last month the anthropologist of science and technology, Lucy Suchman, visited our University. On January 25th she gave a wonderful lecture as part of the symposium, “The Future of a Data-Driven Society” on her work on robots and elderly care, and received an honorary doctorate the next day as part of the Dies Natalis celebrations. During all of this, Lucy also made time to meet with the ethnography group. We shared our projects and hear about Lucy’s, and then afterwards, over lunch, played a game we called “pseudonyms” (you may know of the more official version “Codenames”, which got us all thinking about how we code our fieldwork material, and what it means to communicate this within a team.



STS genealogies and networks


This is a call out on behalf of the 4S STS Across Borders Design Team, of which I am part, in order to encourage participation in the initiative in the coming year, including a special exhibit at the 2018 4S meetings in Sydney (furthering its theme, TRANSnational STS).

There are a number of ways to participate:

· You can propose an STS Across Borders exhibit for the Sydney meeting that showcases STS from a particular regions or genealogies. Exhibits will be presented gallery-style, organized around assemblages of posters and artifacts. Please refer to conference CfP. Proposals for STS Across Borders exhibits can be submitted here.

· You can participate in a Contributing Editors Program that will run from February 1, 2018 through 4S Sydney, meeting virtually every month to share ideas, maintain momentum, and develop strategies for encouraging engagement with exhibits.  You can participate in this program to:

o   Support your work on an exhibit focused as you choose, or assigned by the STS Across Borders Design Group in order to build (or help build) a digital collection about STS from a particular region or genealogy. This will involve collection and curation of interviews, historical documents and so on. Inclusion of found material is encouraged. This will involve training for and work within the project’s digital infrastructure.

o   Undertake an independent study at your home institution (sample bibliography below; see also evolving bibliography on STS Genealogies).

o   Train as a Editorial Infrastructure Fellow who will provide support to various groups building digital collections.

o   Help publicize STS Across Borders on various social media platforms.

Do you have further questions? Feel free to get in touch or you can also contact Aalok Khandekar who is leading this wonderful project (


The map by the way, is one I made up to chart the non-digital network of the STS research group I belong to, MUSTS. The pins, added my members of the group during our annual Summer Harvest meet-up, mark all the places in Europe where our research group has a connection. Members can add further pins or find pins of others to help them in making research visits, writing proposals or just generally expanding their own networks.



Secret knitting


What do you do when you listen to a conference talk? Make notes? Observe the audience? Doodle? In one conference panel I organised in Barcelona last year it turned out that many members of the audience were doing some secret knitting – they were knitting a blanket for my unborn baby. The panel was about craft and technologies, so it seemed very fitting that many were knitting. I just didn’t realise what they were knitting! Perhaps these could be thought of as conference notes about the panel, notes that don’t take the form of words or drawings, but rather knits and pearls. I was given the blanket the other day, perfect timing for the wintry months ahead. Thank you to Sally, Ruth, Jess and Jayne for organising such an incredible gift.



Learning to look at the sky

I turned 40 this month. And my son turned 1. As a present I made him a cyanometer.


IMG_0118 copy

So when my son gets older, he can measure the blueness of the sky with his own device made from paint sample cards, cardboard and glue. This will be part of his sensory education, also the name and topic of a book I have just signed a contract to write for Bloomsbury, as part of the Making Clinical Sense project.



Fleur's box 2

On a beautiful autumn day in London, in a gorgeous room at Imperial College lined with (from what I could tell, mostly male) painted portraits, a group of extraordinary people gathered who had one thing in common: they were all intrigued by their own and by others’ skills as embodied knowers and makers.

The group was assembled this day, October 24th, by surgeon, GP, educator and scholar Roger Kneebone and his research team, as part of their work at the Imperial College Centre for Engagement and Simulation Science (ICCESS). The one day symposium, entitled The Art of Performing Science: Analogies across Disciplines, aimed to support researchers in building collaborative networks, with the goal to “foster interaction with experts outside science and medicine to trigger new scientific thinking through collaboration”.The program started with a conversation between an embroider and a surgeon, facilitated by Roger Kneebone. This alone was worth the trip to London for me. Having embroidered medical and botanical objects into old linens for years as gifts, I was enthralled by how Fleur Oakes, who holds the marvellous (and totally enviable) title of “embroider in residence” at a vascular surgery department in London, translated her ethnographic observations of surgical theatres into a fabric body (see above, complete with tattoo).This anthropological approach to surgery recalled for me the work of Barbara Hepworth, Bill Viola and Ian McEwan that I have previously explored in my article “The artist as surgical ethnographer: participant observers outside the social sciences“. I was intrigued by how Fleur Oakes may have taken fieldnotes in the theatre, in order to make her creations. What kind of sketches did she do while observing? How did she make traces of textures and colours? This topic was not explicitly explored in the workshop but returned again in other conversations, such as with the restorer at the V&A who made notes about her broken objects and the tailor that found other ways of recording movement beyond measurements. How do these craftspeople document their observations and what can we learn from that when doing sensory ethnography?The fabric body was also inspiring for another reason, for it was a material manifestation of Fleur’s fieldwork that was not verbal, not directly representational. It was completely tactile and analogous. As semiotician Gunther Kress, the leading scholar on multimodality, pointed out in some closing remarks and reflections at the end of the day, this fabric body was a wonderful realisation of the multimodal ways in which we need to work, of an alternate sensory lexicon, required for dealing with embodied knowing, and communication in a contemporary world.There were many other fascinating conversations facilitated by Roger Kneebone, between anaesthetist and tailor, chef and microbiologist, as well as several smaller group conversations where participants talked with their favourite instruments and other objects they brought along.

You can read more about Professor Kneebone’s approach to collaborations of these kinds in a recent article in Nature.The event was filmed by the filmmaker Paul Craddock of SmartDocs, so look out for that, and in the meantime, enjoy some of his other films on craft, embodied knowledge and collaboration on his website too.


New website, and hiring!

Screenshot 2017-08-18 09.48.51

My current project, Making Clinical Sense, not only has a brand new website, but we are also currently hiring, looking for a creative historian to join the team.

The website was designed by a local Maastricht graphic design firm called Saus, who did a wonderful job of translating the old and new technological focus of our project into a website.

Further details of the post-doc can be found here.


Cybergenetics shortlisted for book prize


Sally, Susan and I are very happy to hear that Cybergenetics has been shortlisted for the BSA Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness Book Prize 2017.

Update, 14th September: we won the prize!


JULY 2017

Kristen Haring visits Maastricht


In early July, we were very lucky to have a visit from the historian Kristen Haring. Kristen Haring studies science and technology in relationship to community and culture. She teaches at Stanford University (California) and is writing a book about how the telephone changed conceptions of place.

In Maastricht, Kristen gave a lecture in the TSS department (5th July) on her investigations into hands-on history teaching. Here is the abstract of her talk:

Over the past decade, I have undertaken several physical investigations, as part of my teaching and research in STS. My work was inspired by the historical methods of redoing experiments, but I consider practices beyond experimentation, such as communication by Morse code and the production of ceramics. I will share examples of these hands-on projects, and discuss the outcomes as well as some practical matters. My aim is to open a conversation about embodied knowledge and what we might learn by imitating the movements of historical actors. I look forward to your participation.

Kristen also met with artists, historians and STS researchers during her stay, and spent three days with the Making Clinical Sense conducting the omelette experiments (read more about them on the project website) and thinking through methodological questions with us. The time with Kristen was extremely productive and inspiring for everyone involved.

You can read more about Kristen’s work on morse code knitting here, ham radio here, and on the Julia Child project here.


JUNE 2017

Sessions of sweet silent thought

ink workshop

From June 12 – June 16, 50 specialists from the fields of art history, archaeology, conservation, musicology and anthropology met in Leiden at the Lorentz Centre, to discuss the topic of  reconstruction, re-enactment and replication (RRR) practices in research. I was one of the members of the organisational committee, along with Sven Dupré, Julia Kursell, Patricia Lulof and Maartje Stols-Witlox. Here is a description of the event, as we proposed it:

“Approaches to RRR have been developed within the disciplines themselves, and until now, cross-disciplinary connections and discussions on methodology are a rare exception. This workshop was an important step forward, with the aim for the interdisciplinary discussions about RRR to create insights into their methodological basis. Because insight into performative methodologies requires a practical component workshop participants not only talked about reconstruction, re-enactment and replication, but also made and experienced them together. On several occasions during the week, participants performed reconstructions, made replicas and re-enacted situations. Each hands-on workshop served as an exercise in documenting and communicating, feeding discussions about disciplinary characteristics and practices, and allowing participants to reflect on the role of sources for the reconstruction process.”

My tasks were to help organise the anthropological sections of the workshop, which included:

A keynote lecture by Petra Tjitske Kalshoven who talked about her fieldwork amongst Indianists in Europe.

A workshop by Ruth Benschop who re-enacted an ethnographic experiment conducted by a team of anthropologists in Amsterdam.

A psychogeography walk by Jo Vergunst starting at a wall poem by Shakespeare, in Leiden. There is lots to say about all of these activities, but I took the most fieldnotes from my time in Jo’s workshop ….

The group was given clipboards, transparencies, pens and maps (we could chose from a selection, ranging from tourist maps to copies of Ruth’s map from her time living in the city previously), and we walked the city together, each person choosing a place were we would stop and use the place as an inspiration point for our own maps. We stopped at a church, a shop, a bookstore that had disappeared. We then gathered on the banks of the canal by the station to look at our maps, which were all personal and beautiful and fascinating. Here is a section of mine, a map of my Tasmanian childhood in Leiden:


We then spent the afternoon at Katwijk van Zee, starting in the extraordinary museum there. There were more art supplies, and we were invited to spend time in the museum, looking at the work there, as a source of inspiration for our own ethnographic fieldwork in the town. Jo specifically asked us to experiment with different kinds of field-notetaking, encouraging us to go beyond what we are normally comfortable with. From all the images of women knitting (and walking) in the museum, I was first interested in tracing what people in the town today did with their hands while idle or walking – I thought they may use the phone a lot but I actually found little evidence of this – most people seemed to be holidaying and perhaps the sand meant they had their devices tucked away. In the end I went back to the museum, and inspired by the haberdashery store there, returned into the town and interviewed the “rapid tailors” I saw in a tailoring shop. They were both from Kabul and I had a wonderful time speaking to them about fabrics, how they learned tailoring, why they did it, their migrant journeys and the visas we were all on.

Other highlights of the RRR workshop included Kartien Vanagt’s “In Waking Hours” film screening and the other wonderful workshops I attended such as the experiment in parabolic trajectory, by Peter Heering and a workshop in making Tinctoria recipes run by Jo Kirkby and Jenny Boulboulle, in which we worked with Brazilwood, blueberries and white wine, to make our own inks (see fieldnotes written in the different colours above). We used the #startdrawing notebook from the RijksMuseum in the Tinctoria workshop, which is intended as an aid to train the sense of looking more closely.

The RRR workshop will continue in the form of a network of interested scholars. If you are interested in being part of this, let me know.

Images my own.


Sensing Collectives



MAY 2017

Knowing from doing


From the 23rd May to the 28th May this year I was privileged to join the Knowing from the Inside Spring Gathering in Aberdeen, Scotland. This was a unique meeting of artists, musicians, architects, choreographers, composers, historians, anthropologists and philosophers who were in some way associated, collaborating or working with, Tim Ingold’s research group and ideas.

The gathering started around a nest, a beautiful bird’s nest one of the participants had brought in their suitcase. Over the week we then walked and met around Aberdeen, counting kolams with Ester Alemany and Alfonso Mulero in the beautiful Aberdeen botanical gardens (see photo above); drawing with pencils and our bodies with Jaime Refoyo; eating gorgeous food prepared by Marc Higgin’s partner Katy; visiting exhibitions in the old anatomy theatres, where we could see work by Liz Hallam and Jen Clarke (see image below); listening to talks in the anatomy lecture theatre by a range of speakers including Erin Manning from the SenseLab about the anarchive; touring the KFI exhibition on campus; and attending a book launch showcasing the five books edited by members of the group.


Some of us traced our observations in notebooks with pencil and pen, others were recording every detail with sound recorders with hedgehog wind protectors and cameras on tripods. It was a remarkable week, with in incredibly inspiring group of people. It was fantastic to see what the group has done, in collaboration with people, materials and places. I’ve pasted a few photos I took of the event above, still delving into and being inspired by all the other notes and sketches I made …

Images by Thomas Fuller.


Medical Humanities talk, Paris



APRIL 2017

Global Young Academy


Recently, I was selected as a new member of the Global Young Academy (GYA). The Global Young Academy ‘aims to become the voice of young scientists around the world’. I am looking forward to this opportunity to work with scholars from around the world, to address issues of importance to young scientists. In particular, I hope to explore the role of social science in scientific discussions and contexts.

The Global Young Academy’s activities focus on science and policy, education and outreach, open science, and the research environment. This includes publishing statements on international science policy and the research environment for early-career researchers, maintaining active links with international science organizations and science education and outreach activities at schools and universities. Members are elected for five year terms. They communicate virtually throughout the year and meet their colleagues from all over the world at least once a year in person at the Annual General Meeting (this year in the Scottish Highlands).

Image of the highlands from WikiCommons, used with Creative Commons lisence.

MARCH 2017



I was happy to find out that while I was on maternity leave my bibliographic entry in Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology on Embodiment was published online. I have pasted the abstract below. For those interested in this “cherry picked Wikipedia” you can read an interesting and critical commentary on Savage Minds here.

Embodiment is a concept in constant motion, threading through swaths of literature from anthropology, cultural studies, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and, more recently, neuroscience. Although the concept becomes different things in different places, broadly speaking in anthropology, embodiment is a way of describing porous, visceral, felt, enlivened bodily experiences, in and with inhabited worlds. While anthropology has long had bodily concerns at its heart, issues of embodiment really became a central concept and object of study only in the mid-1980s, in the midst of a more general philosophical trend in the humanities and social sciences. A move was made here from studies of the body to taking the perspective of a bodily being-in-the-world as the starting point. Anthropological engagements with embodiment have several characteristics, which distinguish them from other fields of study. First, theoretical understandings of embodiment are stitched not only from bringing together and critically examining a key set of philosophies (predominantly phenomenology and practice theory), but also doing so in correspondence with insights from ethnographic fieldwork. This theoretical approach has developed largely in opposition to Western dualisms and stagnate bodily categories, emphasizing process and contingency. For many first tackling embodiment head-on, their concern was to address questions of power and oppression through looking at ideologies of sex, gender, and racial difference. Medical anthropologists further developed the concept in their studies of illness. Topics now have now expanded greatly, including new approaches to traditional themes and emerging concerns about the virtual, the (epi)genetic, toxic environments and beyond-human bodies. Anthropology is also characterized by embodied fieldwork, where the researcher’s body is recognized as being deeply entangled in the process of study. The selection of texts in this article, chosen from a vast and growing body of literature, reflects both embodied anthropology and anthropologies of embodiment. It includes works by authors who have contributed to these areas in substantial ways through methodological reflections, ethnographic cases, and/or theoretical developments. The texts highlight not only how arbitrary it is to separate theories from fieldwork and methods from findings, but also nature/culture, mind/body, reason/emotion, inner/outer, self/other, and many other binaries that anthropologists continually seek to problematize, stitch together, and pull apart in their study of the elusive yet captivating questions of embodiment.



On maternity leave …


Crafting in Spain


On the 3rd September, Ruth Benschop and I hosted our panel entitled “Unravelling craft, technology and practical knowledge” at the 4S/EASST Conference Barcelona (August 31 – September 3, 2016).

The hands-on session aimed to addresses the re-conceptualisation, re-invention and re-enactment of craft practices in contemporary life. We were looking for creative contributions bringing together craftspeople/practitioners/artists and academics/theorists to explore intersections of craft and thought, making and knowing, tradition and innovation. We were lucky to receive some wonderful abstracts, many promising interactive sessions. We were also very lucky that Heather Paxson agreed to be our discussant, author of the beautifully written book The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America.

We had fantastic papers from nine presenters in total, many of who conducted experiments and workshops during their (short!) timeslots, while many in the audience knitted or embroidered using their own materials or those left on their chairs. The first presenter for example, Ester Alemany soon had everyone on the floor making kolam designs. Kasper Otrowski demonstrated his empirical prints, while Germain Meulemans gave an imaginative retelling of his fictional historical urban soils smell expert. The craftwork entailed in the presentations mirrored the themes of craft and technology we were hoping to explore, urging even further questions regarding why this craftwork persists, and how to share it with others.


The Observatory: A sensory training workshop


Doctors are expert observers. Medical education involves an ongoing tuning of the skills of attention and observation required for good medical practice. Such skills are incredibly difficult to teach however. It is a challenge to create learning environments in which novices learn to notice the big and small differences that are important for diagnosis. Other expert observers deal with the same challenges. A wine critic must learn to distinguish between vintages, a perfume maker between scents.

Drawing inspiration from these other fields of sensory expertise, and the recent surge in art appreciation and creative writing classes in medical schools, I recently organised a multi-sensory training workshop which attends to noticing and observing differences for medical educators attending the annual European conference AMEE, Barcelona (28th August – 31st August 2016).

The workshop was part of the now annual AMEE Fringe event, which proved very popular, with hundreds of participants. I set up 12 tables in total for the workshop, each focusing on a difference “sense” (although of course distinguishing them apart is a false exercise, but helped delineate out some exercises for the 15 minutes I had for the workshop!). There were tables with: wine odour smell kits; different Rooibos teas to taste; a learning to listen exercise; paintings to find differences between; and clays and plasticines to make pinch pots.

The aim of the workshop was to help participants attend to differences that they might otherwise not notice; to find ways to articulate these experiences; to consider how such exercises might be introduced in medical schools; and to reflect on the skills of observation that are required for medical practice. After a short introduction by me introducing the exercises and aims of the workshop, participants gathered around a chosen table or the one they were sitting at. There was a roving mike capturing thoughts and reflections. The participants seemed to be enjoying themselves and many said afterwards that they liked creatively engaging with what it means to observe and articulate sensory differences. Some participants told me it was an inspiring sensory training exercise which would use with their own medical students, which is all I could have hoped for.

JULY 2016

SciFoo = Sci(entists) + Foo(d)

P1060275I have just got back to Maastricht from the un-conference SciFoo, held at the Googleplex in Palo Alto. My head is spinning, not only from jet-lag but all the incredible encounters I had over two days there, sparked by the unconventional format of having a whole conference based on corridor conversations.

During the meeting I talked with astronomers looking at the largest galaxies in the universe and black holes, a Las Vegas gentleman thief, an Irish psychiatrist bringing critical theory to the profession, an evolutionary biologist turned science performer and communicator, a cosmologist looking at even larger universe structures than the astronomer, neuroscientists, pathologists and many other fascinating people.

These conversations were fuelled by delicious food such as quinoa porridge with apples and cinnamon and chai lattes for breakfast, strawberry salads, baked hummus and labne for lunch and oven roasted vegetables and berry crumbles for dinner. My favourite though was the late night supper where they wheeled in a freezer of ice-cream cones, a whole rack of popcorn and the biggest block of chocolate I have ever seen, that people queued up to attack with a hammer and chisel.

OK, enough about the food. A few highlights (impossible though to capture all the inspiring meetings, lunchtime chats and evening musings):

Lining Yao’s incredible lightening talk on programmable materials and tangible design that had the audience gasping at her pneumatic bread creations.

A session on programmable tattoos: not implants, not wearables, but technological mediation that gets just “under your skin”.

A session on frugal science, run by Manu Prakash of the $1 microscope (the foldscope) and Jose Gomez-Marquez of Maker Nurse fame and other projects. Both were inspired by toys in different ways, and were making interventions in public health unlike anything I have previously seen.

An origami workshop run by Ilan Garibi. It was fascinating to see a group of techno-enthusiasts folding mountains and ravines and working out how to make little boxes out of paper. One lesson from the workshop that carried to the whole conference: fold fascinating people/ideas together and beautiful things happen.

Craft and science session run by Kristen Haring, which I was involved in with Louise Edwards too, as Kristen had marked us out as some of the knitters at the conference. Kristen is a historian who has done incredible work on morse code knitting (see video about it here) and is interested in hands on learning. Lots of sharing of great projects and organiser Cat Allman’s crocheted coral.

Biology and technology session with Carrie Partch, David Eagleman, Bryan Jones and Tamar Makin (Tamar brought us all together) which I was involved in. Lots of discussion of the possibilities and constraints of sensory extension and augmentation.

Surprisingly Awesome podcasters Adam Davidson and Rachel Ward talking about how to tell good stories in science: 1) having protagonists 2) explain what is at stake, what is the tension in the story 3) recognise that there are plenty of people that have been thinking about the art of good communication for a long time.

A session on wooden clocks run by the delightful Adam Hart-Davis, whose enthusiasm for understanding and making clocks from wood was infectious.

Image my own, of my own attempts in the origami workshop.

JUNE 2016

Budapest fieldwork


I was recently fortunate enough to spend a week in Budapest to start setting up fieldwork for the Digital Doctors project at the Semmelweis. The Semmelweis had always loomed large in my imagination as a special place for medical education after reading Barbara Hodgson’s The Sensualist: An Illustrated Novel many years ago. I now have an even greater appreciation for the medical school after being so kindly looked after by Andrea and her colleagues there. It was fascinating to see the use of blackboards, hand-painted anatomical charts and hand-drawing in microscopy classes alongside the digital technologies that are slowly being implemented.

Image my own, from lecture hall at Semmelweis, Budapest.

MAY 2016

Ingold in Maastricht

Tim Ingold

Tim Ingold is one of the most well cited, eclectic, controversial and honoured anthropologists of our time. On Wednesday 11 May, 20.00-22.00, Ingold delivered a public lecture at the Van Eyck Academy, Maastricht, and I was honoured to be asked to give his introduction.

Sketching an outline of Tim Ingold is a difficult task. We could begin by drawing the portrait of an eminent social anthropologist, a professor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, decorated with numerous awards and medals. However, Ingold’s legacy can also be traced through other knotted and interwoven lines: his dedication to teaching, finding imaginative ways of ‘knowing from the inside’ in his practical workshop tutorials, weaving baskets and flying kites with students. But also through his interrogation of theory, method and what it means to do anthropology; through his often cited, often debated, essays and books, crafted deftly from his own learning as an anthropologist and an extraordinary range of literatures from psychology, philosophy, archaeology, geography, art, architecture and other fields. Tim Ingold’s work is a wayfaring (to use his own term) across, between, within themes such as humans and animals, sensing, education, skill, perception, making, materials and becoming.

The lecture explored themes from Ingold’s work related to his most recent publication ‘The Life of Lines’, and his ERC project ‘Knowing from the Inside‘. Marres House for Contemporary Culture and the Van Eyck Academy hosted the event, which is part of Marres’ Spring Sessions lecture series.

Image from the Marres video of the event, video available here.

APRIL 2016

Un-conference camping


This month I received the most surprising and exciting conference invitation I have ever received. To begin with, it wasn’t to a conference, but an un-conference. Even better, a science camp, but without the camping. It was an invitation to Sci-Foo, the Nature-Google-O’Reilly Media-Digital Science meet-up that happens once a year at Googleplex in California. You can read more about last year’s meeting here. Report to follow in July!

Image used under Creative Commons lisence, from Tetue’s Flickr page.

MARCH 2016

New job


From March 1st I now have a new position as Assistant Professor at the Department of Technology and Society Studies, at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University. You can visit my university webpage here. I am looking forward to returning to my old workplace and colleagues to work on my new project, Digital Doctors.

Image from Maastricht University.


Training the senses

senses chart

On the 24th February 2016, I will be taking part in an exciting session about training the senses, with dance dramaturge Peggy Olislaegers, hosted by Marres House of Contemporary Culture. You can find out more information here.

Location: Kunstkwartier 6211, Bogaardenstraat 25-D, Maastricht
Time: 8 – 10 PM Entrance: 5 euros

All of our cognitive abilities have a recognizable source: language, mathematics, music, schooling in a pedagogical rhythm of small incremental steps. But how do we train our senses? One can argue that we see colors by following conventions about what is blue, red or green. We develop our taste by practicing and talking about flavors in tasting sessions of wine or olive oil. Senses are like crafts in that you can learn to master them only by practicing. And yet we cannot quite put our finger on where and how we learn with our bodies. Or can we? This session starts with a physical warm-up to stimulate the senses. Peggy Olislaegers talks about methods for exploring artistic questions physically and ways in which dancers archive their physical experiences. MY presentation deals with different resources we use to teach and learn sensory awareness in contemporary life, from cookbooks and wine tasting smelling kits to mindfulness workshops and the lessons that doctors learn to train their sensory skills of clinical examination.


New research project: Digital Doctors


I thrilled to share the recent news that my next project, Digital Doctors, has been funded by the European Research Council through their Starting Grant scheme!

Here is the abstract, more details to follow soon:

Digital technologies are reconfiguring medical practices in ways we still don’t understand. This research project seeks to examine the impact of the digital in medicine by studying the role of pedagogical technologies in how doctors learn the skills of their profession. It focuses on the centuries-old skill of physical examination; a sensing of the body, through the body. Increasingly medical students are learning these skills away from the bedside, through videos, simulated models and in laboratories. My research team will interrogate how learning with these technologies impacts on how doctors learn to sense bodies. Through the rich case of doctors-in-training the study addresses a key challenge in social scientific scholarship regarding how technologies, particularly those digital and virtual, are implicated in bodily, sensory knowing of the world. Our research takes a historically-attuned comparative anthropology approach, advancing the social study of medicine and medical education research in three new directions. First, a team of three ethnographers will attend to both spectacular and mundane technologies in medical education, recognising that everyday learning situations are filled with technologies old and new. Second, it offers the first comparative social study of medical education with fieldwork in three materially and culturally different settings in Western and Eastern Europe, and West Africa. Finally, the study brings historical and ethnographic research of technologies closer together, with a historian conducting oral histories and archival research at each site. Findings will have impact in the social sciences and education research by advancing understanding of how the digital and other technologies are implicated in skills learning. The study will develop novel digital-sensory methodologies and boldly, a new theory of techno-perception. These academic contributions will have practical relevance by improving the training of doctors in digital times.

Image my own, from Skills Lab, Maastricht


CfP: Unravelling craft, technology and practical knowledge


Dear colleagues,

We would like to share the call for abstracts for a track entitled “Unravelling craft, technology and practical knowledge” at the 4S/EASST Conference Barcelona, August 31 – September 3, 2016.

This hands-on session addresses the re-conceptualisation, re-invention and re-enactment of craft practices in contemporary life. Through creative contributions bringing together craftspeople/practitioners/artists and academics/theorists it will explore intersections of craft and thought, making and knowing, tradition and innovation.

Warm regards,
Anna Harris and Ruth Benschop

Deadline for submissions: 21st February 2016

If you would like to discuss the relevance of your paper to the open track, then please contact either or both of us: and

The calls for all the tracks for the 2016 conference can be found at:

Our panel can be found at:

More information about the conference at:


Guest lectureships


I have been invited to teach this month at The Arctic University of Norway (internet research methods) and KULeuven in Belgium (genetics and society).

(image from Gunnar Hildonen‘s Flikr page, CC lisence)

APRIL 2015

Writing by the lake


Sally Wyatt, Susan Kelly and I have been selected for a Residency at the Brocher Foundation, in Geneva, Switzerland. The three of us are spending April 2015 at the Foundation, working on our book about online genetic testing. See more about the project we are working on in Geneva here.

Also in other news, I have recently had a blogpost published on the Sociology of Diagnosis website. You can read the post here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s