Being awake to Ma: Designing in between-ness as a way of becoming with

Co-designing is an activity based on emergence where constituents are mutually changing towards purposeful outcomes. Here, I draw on the Japanese philosophy of Ma as ‘between-ness’ to explore how we are transforming and becoming together among this
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   " Being awake to  Ma : Designing in between-ness as a way of becoming with Yoko Akama School of Media and Communication, RMIT University,  Melbourne, Australia Co-designing is an activity based on emergence where constituents are mutually changing towards purposeful outcomes. Here, I draw on the Japanese philosophy of  Ma  as ‘between-ness’ to explore how we are transforming and becoming    together   among this heterogeneity. Yet, if emergence of potentiality is hard to articulate, it is even harder to understand. As we design, we are embedded within and inscripted by conditions that we cannot quite touch or see visibly, yet manifests through its evolution. Awakening to this in-between presence is a necessary start because co-designing is performed and emerges from relational sensitivity. Here, I entangle  Ma  with actor-network theory (ANT) to orient our senses towards that which have yet assembled or actioned. Latour describes these as empty spaces of a network, void and ‘plasma’ that also has agency. If ANT primarily helps us see the flow of actions among being and non-beings,  Ma  as between-ness can re-situate us in  emergence and contingency. Seen this way, co-designing can be ways to  bring others along on this journey of uncertainty in a pursuit to create ‘empty’ in- betweens within and among ourselves as we mutually become together through inter-relatedness. Keywords: Between-ness; Japanese philosophy;  Ma ; Co-designing; ANT; becoming with   1. Introduction When actor-network theory (ANT) traces momentary, fluid associations as networks, most critically, it also reveals that which remains unconnected  . Here, Bruno Latour asks, ‘ what is in between  the meshes of such a circuitry? … Is not a net made up, first and foremost, of empty spaces?’ (2005, 242, srcinal emphasis). In this paper, I take up this question and explore ‘between-ness’ through a Japanese philosophy called  Ma ( 間 ). More specifically, this paper situates designing in between-ness to embrace how it is creating, transforming and becoming    together   among heterogeneity – among  beings and non-beings, systems and power, and among places and atmospheres – by immersing in emergence and  chance . By reflecting on my own co-designing practice, I begin attuning into slippery, un-namable tones and expressions that can only be sensed through our feelings and bodily encounters in relation to other people, materials and entities. These are significant undercurrents when co-designing and shared here as written ‘fragments’.   As a Japanese design researcher, this inquiry began with a curiosity in the role of silence and its misinterpretation in places where have I lived, studied and worked (see Akama 2014). Cultural context plays a significant role in communication, and in some situations, it can often privilege outward expressions as voice over inward contemplation or ambiguous qualities of moods or tones, even though the latter still  powerfully shapes the course of a conversation, understanding and experience. Silence has been discussed as an important framework in conversational analysis (see Poland & Pederson 2008), and in participatory design, Stuedahl (2010, 7) examined its political role as ‘the invisible and silent character of design negotiation’ that enacts  power relations and reinstate social structure. These include hesitancies, deliberate or   # accidental interruptions, indecipherable babble and exchanges that only partly overlap. Moving beyond silence, my paper attempts to situate designing in between-ness .  The Japanese philosophy of  Ma  has captivated many scholars globally in the arts, theology, philosophy and cultural studies for many decades. The highly celebrated 1978 exhibition in Paris and New York,  Ma: Space-Time in Japan (Takahashi & Kimura 2000) showcased works of various artists, including the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. He has been exploring the richness of  Ma  throughout his professional life, and is often credited in bringing  Ma  into the design discourse.  Ma  is a strong  presence in Japanese culture, for example, manifesting in spaces that are reconfigurable by sliding, semi-opaque screens in traditional houses. Corridors and entrances link inside and outside, blurring such boundaries. From this we see that  Ma  as between-ness is a merging of distinctions – a greyness in-between black and white  – and implies a relational sensitivity. Isozaki explains that  Ma  is the attention given to those invisible things and ‘denies the position of a fixed subject’ (in Davidson 1991, 66). An approximate translation of  Ma  in English is ‘in-between’ or ‘between-ness’, depending on its context as an adjective or a noun. Many scholars of  Ma  use these interchangeably. Others, like Derrida, are adamant that ‘  Ma  as the place for translation is untranslatable’ (ibid, 90). Yet within such limitations, I propose  Ma  as a way to further reinforce why being in-between is central for co-designing to emphasise becoming with , not product. The paper seeks to demonstrate the richness that occurs across, in-between and beyond and suggests that  Ma  can help transcend  paradigms that separate self/other, subject/object, designer/user and human/non-human, as prefigured boundaries. What will it mean if between-ness, and not individual subjects/objects, is the ground for being and becoming with? As a way to further articulate  Ma ’s contribution to design, I entangle  Ma  with ANT to further augment ways to awaken to emergence and change in co-designing. ANT’s contribution, particularly through Latour, has been significant in design discourse in order to grapple with plurality and heterogeneity (Bannon & Ehn, 2013). Contemporary understandings of a design process can no longer be neatly delineated with a start and finish. This is most acutely felt in participatory design, or emerging fields like service design. Systems often remain invisible and impact beyond organisational and geographical boundaries, facilitated by globalisation and digital technology. Here, Latour points out that some incidents, like disasters, can often  provoke an awakening to their assemblages. He takes the Columbia shuttle disaster as a ‘critical incident’ that made visible an object in the sky that required NASA and all its people, systems, knowledge and technology behind it to make it fly out and back to earth. ‘The action of flying a technical object has been redistributed throughout a highly composite network where bureaucratic routines are just as important as equations and material resistance … [and] has been made visible by the deployment of networks’ (2010, 2). However, I am interested in the assembling actions as much as those yet to assemble or noticed as having assembled. This resonates with Latour’s (2010, 8) intrigue with the network metaphor of ANT because ‘a net is made first of all of empty space’ and ‘composed mainly of voids’. The significance of  Ma  is to see that these empty holes are also important, like the in-betweens of spokes of a wheel that gives its strength and utility. 1  Connections are as valuable as the gaps in-between. "   $%&' ()*&+)' ,*-. /0- $12 34*05'604&-5 78 9&.2*0 #::;<= >$%&*48 '?-@)' '%0*) 0 %27A $%) 2'),265)'' -, 4%) B0*4 6&)' &5 4%) '?0B) C%)*) 4%)*) &' 5-4%&5DE F608 &' @5)0()( &54- 0 +)'')6A $%) 2'),265)'' -, 4%) +)'')6 6&)' &5 4%) '?0B) C%)*) 4%)*) &' 5-4%&5DE G *--. &' B*)04)( 78 B244&5D -24 (--*' 05( C&5(-C'A $%) 2'),265)'' -,   H Between-ness does not seek to define borders or delineate separate entities, and like the empty holes of a net, help situate our senses towards a potentiality that often falls out of our mental conditioning. ‘Emptiness’ has agency when seen through the world of  Ma, like silence, atmosphere or reading between the lines. Emptiness is potentiality according to a Japanese design philosopher, Kenya Hara (2011, 28): ‘A creative mind … does not see an empty bowl as valueless, but perceives it as existing in a transitional state, waiting for the content that will eventually fill it; and this creative  perspective instills power in the emptiness’. Seen this way, emptiness is a state or a chance of becoming. There are many ways to awaken our senses to this empty, in-between. Latour sketches this idea as ‘plasma’ – everything that remains unconnected – towards the end of his introductory book on ANT,  Reassembling the Social   (2005). Plasma is ‘that which is not yet formatted, not yet measured, not yet socialized, not yet engaged in metrological chains, and not yet covered, surveyed, mobilized, or subjectified. …It’s in between  and not made of social stuff. It is not hidden, simply unknown ’ (ibid, 254, srcinal emphasis). Indeed, there is a vast amount in the ‘social’ that is still not accounted for, and he is particularly puzzled by our lack of knowledge constructs to know how sudden change occurs. ‘Why do fierce armies disappear in week? Why do whole empires like the Soviet one vanish in a few months? … Why is it that quiet citizens turn into revolutionary crowds or that grim mass rallies break down into a  joyous crowd of free citizens?’ (ibid). He attributes such agency for change to ‘plasma’. I find this concept intriguing, yet difficult in understanding change – so central to designing – as it seems to be an epistemological concept rather than an ontological one. This epistemic convention in science and technology is also seen in the detached way the Colombia shuttle disaster is described (Latour, 2010). Roots of assemblages and action are traced but it is not oriented towards the emergence of futures. If ANT cannot fully articulate what it’s like to be immersed in the moments of change and how this is constantly evolving and becoming  , I argue that entangling ANT with  Ma  can orientate us towards the intimate, helping us feel what it means to  primarily reside in the between-ness  and how co-designing is creating, transforming and becoming among all these influences we cannot ‘format’.  Ma  is kindred with ANT in other ways, in developing a sensibility that makes the everyday life unfamiliar and manifest what may be invisible (Michael 2012). John Law (2009, 148) explains that ANT’s importance lies in seeing the world as non-foundational; ‘nothing is sacred and nothing is necessarily fixed.’ And like Tim Ingold, Donna Harraway and Karen Barad who have contributed to ANT’s discourse  by nesting it among STS, phenomenology and feminist theory, I incorporate their  perspectives here because  Ma  is pursued through tacit, immersive encounters of  becoming. As such, I ask the reader to not make the notion of  Ma exotic, and thereby distance and alienate it, but to seek its resonance with related ideas of their own as we embark on a sense-making endeavour together In this journey, I share how I developed a gradual attuning to  Ma ’s relational sensitivity by drawing upon co-designing moments. The fragments demonstrate how I  begin attuning in and immersing within, to catalyse a sensing of between-ness. As such, the discussion here may come across as abstract, but it is firmly grounded in my own  phenomenological experience. Like a lofty Zen-quote,  Ma  by its nature can be ambiguous and obscure, so it makes little sense unless it emerges from practice and returns to practice, anchored in action. The co-designing moments are called 4%) *--. 6&)' &5 4%) '?0B) C%)*) 4%)*) &' 5-4%&5DEI J%&6) 4%) .04)*&06 B-540&5' 24&6&48K 4%) &..04)*&06 B-540&5' )'')5B)E G' )62()( 4- &5 4%) ?0?)*K $0-&'. %0' &5,62)5B)( !"  ?%&6-'-?%8E     ; fragments because they are anecdotal and recalled that way, given that they were never formally documented. They were developed from notes and reflective thoughts combined with recollections, as a way of creating accounts for entry points into experience. In the  Discipline of Noticing   (2002, 57), John Mason describes the value of brief-but-vivid narrative ‘by omitting details which divert attention away from the main issue’. Likewise, there is a fictocritical quality to the fragments in order to accentuate moments and my perception that can never be captured in a video or a transcript. The fragments demonstrate how  Ma  could be practised in writing, resonating with Latour’s (2008) lament for conventional scientific writing on ‘matters of fact’ and the need to achieve realism on ‘matters of concern’. As such, I have stayed away from descriptions of methodology and providing evidence, which are ‘matters of fact’, and instead, used a style of writing that is in first person and reflexive. These fragments are aimed to bring attention to the liminal, ambiguous in- betweens of designing – things that are often left out in the reporting, but can be just as profound in our understanding. If ANT helps us to see the inter-relatedness of our actions among being and non-beings,  Ma  as between-ness can re-situate us in  this inter-relatedness; living, designing and transforming amongst it all. 2. Ma as between-ness Many scholars agree that  Ma  is an ambiguous concept to define since its colloquial use in Japanese is so varied. Yet, it is precisely this plurality of meaning, expressions and everyday embodiment that gives it openness and potency. The most literal way  Ma  can be described is ‘in-between space’, but its meaning range in considerable scale. One end is more objective, literal and tangible, like  Ma  as a space contained by structure (eg. a room / volume), an interstice (eg. gap / slit / opening), or a rest in music (eg. interval / break). Similarly, a pause when delivering a punch line has a dramatic quality. Richard Pilgrim (1986), a scholar of art and religion in Japan, refers to this  Ma  as ‘pregnant nothingness’, which include deliberative silence in a  performance or white space used in visual composition. The other end of the spectrum is tacit, subjective and ambiguous, applying to who and how we are with others – affinity, intimacy, animosity or strangeness – in other words, how social relations are experienced or created fluidly and dynamically (Kimura 2005). The Japanese word for ‘human being’ ( 人間 ) is composed of person ( 人 ) and  Ma  ( 間 ). This implies a ‘between-person’, situating humans as a relational being (Watsuji 1996). In Japanese, someone who has ‘lost  Ma’   or has ‘poor  Ma’   means they are poor in considering others, in reading between the lines or do or say socially awkward things.  Ma  emerges from a Japanese philosophy that takes ‘non-being or nothingness as its ground’ (Nishida in Dilworth et al 1998, 21).  Ma has   deep roots in Taoism, Shinto and Zen Buddhism, however the notion of ‘nothingness’ is too complex to discuss in depth here (see Pilgrim 1986) 2 , though a related concept of ‘emptiness’ is used in this  paper to foreground absent-centred awareness. Imagine for a moment, how a few,  black, inky brushstrokes on a white background can evoke a forest in a misty landscape. The absent marks are as important as the present ones.  Ma  can be expressed by the very absence of colour, sound or movement, accentuating awareness #   !"  *)'-504)' C&4% B-54).?-*0*8 ,).&5&'4 4%)-*8 05( L*)5B% ?%&6-'-?%8 3MDE N0*0C08K O0*0(K P)6)21)K Q)*6)02RS-548<K 724 4%)*) &' 6&446) *--. 4- )607-*04) 4%&' %)*)E T4 &' &.?-*4054 4- 5-4) 4%04 !"  (&( 5-4 ()+)6-? 0' 05 &54)66)B4206 B*&4&U2) -, F0*4)'&05 ?0*0(&D.'K 05( &5 ,0B4K ?*)(04)' &4K %0+&5D *--4' &5 F%&5)') 05( V0?05)') 05B&)54 ?%&6-'-?%8 -, 5-5R(206&'. 05( 5-4%&5D5)''K ()+)6-?)( 4%*-2D% 4%)&* 0*4'K 605D20D) 05( '?&*&4206&48E T ,--45-4) 4%&' 4- )5'2*) !"  &' 5-4 '27'2.)( 25()* J)'4)*5 4%)-*8 4%04 (-.&504)' ()'&D5E   W of totality and this requires a shift in consciousness from being  subject  -centred to absence -centred. In conversation with Derrida, Isozaki describes  Ma  as a ‘way of seeing’ and it is ‘deeply related to the sense of balance in daily life and it’s a key idea for decoding those aspect.’ He continues to say that  Ma  ‘denies the position of a fixed subject and drives it into a state of flickering … One can say that its function is infinitely close to Derrida’s espacement = becoming space’ (in Davidson 1991, 66). In other words, Isozaki sees  Ma  as between-ness  and becoming   as inseparable as two sides of the same coin. Among  Ma’s  varied meanings, I find Isozaki’s discussion most useful as a way of seeing, sensing and becoming, which has a relational sensitivity. These threads are central throughout the paper. Ideas of between-ness and becoming are rich concepts for co-designing because it is a relational methodology. The co-designing I practice and refer to here is strongly influenced by participatory design (PD) where distinctions between ‘designers’, ‘researchers’ and ‘users’ are deliberately questioned. Instead, contemporary discourse in PD views how ‘socio-material collectives of humans and non-humans’ are assembled through ‘matters of concern’ (Bannon & Ehn 2013, 57) evoking a Latourian orientation. Akama and Prendiville (2013, 32) describe that the addition of the two letters, ‘co’ in co-designing, is a significant shift in design, ‘signaling an openness to embrace the influence, interventions, disruptions, tensions and uncertainties brought to bear by other things and people’. I further add that embracing and enacting ‘co’ is also an epistemological and ontological shift. This no longer sees the self or subject as the epicentre of knowledge and locates it in the between-ness that emerges among heterogeneity – among designers and users, among the material and the social – all becoming together. The co-ontology means that the singular ‘I’ does not precede the relation of ‘we’ (Nancy 2000) and we become among relational ecologies of being and non-beings (Watsuji 1996). The plurality of between-ness also includes the presence and absence of atmosphere. These are often left out because they evade categorisation; what Beck (2002) named the things that ‘doesn’t fit’ in research. Atmosphere is an ambiguous in-between status with regard to the subject/object, singular/general and definite/indefinite state (Anderson 2009). Haptic and visceral senses like encountering a frosty reception or feeling a tension in the room are ways in which we intuit atmosphere. We can sense a shift in energy from nervousness to enthusiasm. The affect has intensity. Designing is alive in these felt moments but between-ness, like atmosphere evades capture in a transcript or a video recording, whilst altering design’s trajectory and experience. If these are prone to become lost in translation, we must turn to ways in which we, at least, can build an awareness of it. The fragments in this paper are ways of this sensing. 3.  Ma  ‘lost in translation’ Designing with people brings to bear many dimensions as part of contingency. Light and Akama (2012) share their observations on facilitating community-centred workshops where contingency is rife and personal relations are strongly influential. Designing in this space reveals the high degree of arbitrariness and emotions that shape the trajectory and outcome. ‘A chance word may bring in or redirect an uncertain participant, changing the group, the interaction and the outcome in unpremedidated ways … These small moments impact on the design that emerges and help decide it’ (69). They argue that such inter-subjective nuances are lost in the descriptions of designing over tangible and defined methodology, and that facilitation is centrally immersed within, and emerge from, very complex relational dynamics.
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