the laboratory for critical technics (lct) is a transdisciplinary laboratory for critical experimentation on the conditions for living and dwelling together in the 21st century. in an era when planetary capitalism, global financial crisis, uncertain climate futures, and the reign of terror and insecurity increasingly define the human condition, it is less and less clear how to build common worlds worth sharing and preserving. although philosophers and critical theorists have tried to recover a notion of the “commons” in the wake of the fragmentation and dispersal of work and social existence in late capitalism, the lct does not presume to know where or by what means common worlds are tenuously or tenaciously forged. instead, the lct investigates how dwelling-with-others is a problem, in gilles deleuze’s sense of the term, whose solution cannot be known in advance. forging common worlds is something that needs to be determined critically and experimentally.
in french, expérience means both experience and experiment. for members of the lct, learning from a situation is a mode of experiencing that is inextricably tied to experimenting with what does and does not take hold among the heterogeneities of any system. expérience (as experience/experimentation) is therefore a method for generating techniques, crafts, and local knowledges, or technai (technê, pl.), that foster modes of intimacy and hospitality that can only be determined by paying attention to what a situation demands.
such paying attention demands that we are critical of those modes of engagement that privilege certain knowledges, tools, or materials at the expense of others. what constitutes world-building technê is an infinitely demanding problem without a solution. all technai are local and finite resolutions generated out of the affordances of a practice or a situation rather than out of modes of judgment meant to hierarchize solutions. as such, the lct is interested in the consequences of technê, what it produces, how it forges solidarity, what it lures us into thinking, and not whether it is faithful to pre-ordained tools, methods, and values. in short, does a technê yield the kind of world worth preserving? our activities are therefore divided into always evolving technê for common world building in domains that are of particular interest to lct members. at present, we are investigating and building out technê that draw on methodologies from social design, critical theory and philosophy, fashion, media arts and sciences, diybiology, and others.
technê is a term that ranges over the techniques, crafts, skills, technologies, and knowledges that can be put to use in a given domain
technê finds its meaning in the situation or domain within which it is embedded and not from criteria that transcends its local domain
technê is not therefore subservient to epistêmê
technê cannot be deemed useful or useless “in itself” — this can only be determined according the kind of world it is capable of building
technê is world-building material that is determined experimentally — put to the test within a domain
technê is developed across practices and disciplinary knowledges — there is no disciplinary monopoly on a technê and what it is capable of producing
technê builds worlds that cannot be known in advance
derived from the ancient greek, technê (τέχνη) is most often translated as art, craft, or skill and is thought to pertain to all those things that fall under the category of “practice.” beginning with the greeks, but palpable throughout the history of western thought, technê has not only been distinguished from but has also been deemed subservient to epistêmê, or “knowledge” (ἐπιστήμη). though the precise meaning and relation of these terms has undergone significant revision since their greek inception, local modes of production (technai) remain subservient to “true knowledge”—a hierarchy that continues to produce domination and suffering. if we retain the greek term technê at the lct, then it is in an effort to rehabilitate this notion for ethical and political ends. we believe that technê can be repurposed to furnish a conceptually and practically rich territory that covers a full range of human and non-human modes of production that does not specify in advance which modes are important to which domains.
the lct’s understanding of technê is in sharp contrast to the increasing demand in the 21st century to ensure that all modes of production enact values that transcend them. notions such as the “free-market,” “global democracy,” “networked connectivity,” “optimization,” “knowledge economy,” and the list goes on, are more than just ubiquitous buzz terms; their ubiquity stems from the fact that they are taken to be true propositions about the world that is the case and that we ought to build and sustain. abstracted from their conditions of historical production, these propositions structure our epoch’s “true knowledge” and determine the meaning of today’s technai. from the latest trends in software engineering, data management, and digital entertainment to the endless revision of techniques to manage corporate productivity and even household labor, technai are utilized to guarantee that only certain ways of being are expressed and maintained.
one effect of the subsumption of technê in the west is that practices for living, knowing, and dwelling together that are not productive of the kinds of worlds presumed to be true, are deemed obsolete, anachronistic, or just untrue. in western modernity, this has meant that colonized and indigenous practices are violently purified of their “superstition”; and in more recent history, modes of production that are slow, analog, critical, unprofitable, and inefficient are thought to need updating and streamlining. in recent years, critical literature in the humanities and social sciences has been especially well adept at exposing how this “streamlining” violently engenders digital colonization, neurophysiological fatigue, bio-political racism, uneven urbanization, labor exploitation, gender inequity, and the devastation of planetary life. at the lct, we take this and other work as evidence that myriad technai for living and dwelling together are disqualified, and often violently so, because of the presumed validity of certain forms of knowing the world at the expense of others.
the lct takes this violence as an ethical and political call to cultivate modes of learning and paying attention to technai and the forms of world building they are capable of producing. concretely, this means that there is no presumption about what a technê—old or new—is capable of, or what it ought to produce, until it is embedded within a domain. the consequences of atechnê are therefore always local and cannot be abstracted from one domain and applied to another without changing the composition of the of the technê-domain relation. the practices of lct members are therefore inherently experimental andcritical: on the one hand, we are always putting practices to the test within a domain in order to see what they yield; and on the other hand, we are endlessly critical of our assumptions about technai in order to learn as we experiment with them.revising spinoza’s well-known pronouncement, we might say that, “we don’t know what a technê can do.”
because of the diversity of interests and expertise among lct members and affiliates, we are able to experiment with both old and/or forgotten technai: analog computing, luddism, animism and ritual, and gardening; and new and yet to exist technai: rhythm analysis, sheaf theoretic fusion in mathematics, diybio and biohacking. taken together, what these myriad practices all share is an abiding concern for the kinds of worlds a technê makes possible and whether those worlds are worth cultivating.