Matt Ratto at MIT - Learning to Make :: Making to Learn

By Amy Ratelle on Nov 10th, 2014

Semaphore’s own Matt Ratto spoke at the MIT Department of Architecture on Friday November 14th, 2014, as part of the Computation Group Lecture Series, “Learning to Make :: Making to Learn.”

Prof. Ratto’s work explores the intersections between digital technologies and the human life world, with a particular focus on new developments that trouble the divide between online and offline modes of production. He coined the term “critical making” in 2007 to describe work that combines humanities insights and engineering practices, and has published extensively on this concept.

His talk, titled “Crafting the Computational Maker: The Conservation of Embodied Phenomenological Experience,” outlines how hand-crafting became oppositional to machine-based manufacturing, and how the implications of that difference have persisted historically.

According to Ratto, in the 19th century, faced with the onslaught of developing industrial production (and its abuses), craft was poised as an alternative to the ‘the rigorous perfection of the machine’ (Sennett, 2008:84). While McCullough (1996) has criticized the separation, ‘craft’ and ‘computation’ still typically stand in opposition to each other. Whereas the latter calls up precision and consistency, the former speaks of individuality, variation, and even flaws as key attributes that result in both aesthetic and functional benefits. And whereas computationally-influenced forms of production have replaced many previous craft practices, many others continue to persist. 

Responses to the persistence of craft typically highlight either the functional (and economic) benefits of computationally-influenced production and/or the incommensurability of such forms to that of the crafter’s embodied experience. This incommensurability seems an appropriate site for analysis. In recent work at the Critical Making Lab, we have focused not on craft and computation but crafters and computation, exploring how what we term the ‘conservation of embodied phenomenological experience’ can act as a design principle. We draw upon Feminist studies of science and technology that emphasize the body as the site where society and individuals meet (Haraway, Barad, Hennessey) to better understand how computational methods can productively be explored within craft practices and communities.

Further information on the Computation Group lectures can be found at:

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