The thesis examines the agency of non-expert knowledge in experimental making processes

MA Thesis

Advisor_Samir Bhowmik | Supervisor_Markku Reunanen

Nonexpert Knowing - Critical material experiments

Aalto University Department of Media
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This thesis examines the agency of non-expert knowledge in experimental making processes. It draws upon sociological discourse to question the growing expert-laypeople divide. Non-expert knowledge is any knowledge lying outside commonly understood notions of expertise, i.e. outside hegemonic knowledge structures. This social divide, understood to have a psychological impact, is seen through current research about phenomena surrounding professional anxiety, such as the Impostor syndrome. Within this context, the research explores the agency in non-expert knowledge by engaging in methods that allow for non-expert agency to materialise in the making process. The research employs an assemblage of methods based on existing literature. It draws from jugaad (a cultural outlook to hacking from India), critical making, tactical reuse, embodied tinkering and reflective practices. Through this combination, the method aims to be critical, reflexive and responsive to situated ecology. The agency of objects and material affordances offered by the situation are signs of ecological vitality that the research addresses. Thus, it asks two questions: 1) How does non-expert knowledge exercise agency in the critical making process?, and 2) How does non-expert agency address situated ecological vitality through the critical making process?

The research follows a methodology of practice-led research. The methods mentioned above were applied to experimental making processes, which were carried out over the span of one year by the researcher to test the agency of non-expert knowledge. These experiments were recorded using process-oriented autoethnography through self-filming, sketches, texts and images. The results discuss the making processes by introducing the thematic thinking behind them, as a consequence of the non-expert approach. These themes, ‘Rubbery Making’ and ‘What’s going on Cladonia Rangiferina?’ are discussed through case reflections of making processes. Further, the results include a curated YouTube playlist of relevant lectures, included as a part of the making process as well as process films. The discussions address questions about ecological vitality by recording examples of material agency and affordances. It establishes how non-expert agency materialises in the making process through ecological interaction. The research is limited to the processes carried out by the researcher but poses a possibility for expanding the approach to other participants. It explores and applies theory about sociology, critical media theory, and new media materialism.

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