Baby-doll in the Backyard

Sustainable Toolkit Contextual research

Going through my work from my various walks of life I came across this piece I did in 2014/15 and I remembered how much I enjoyed this project. Looking back with my new knowledge I would probably do the whole project differently and may have written this essay in a completely different way. But, this is one of those pieces of work that inspired many later projects and was one of the earliest positive academic experiences I had and so I felt compelled to share it is its raw form of when it was written. It also started by love for the adorably teddy bear faced Baby Doll Southdown miniature sheep.

I may choose to add images which the original pieces did not have becaus e it was presented alonside a sample toolkit.

Introduction

This project was focused upon designing a sustainable toolkit which in its essence aimed to assist in encouraging sustainability through user engagement. Prior to the process of actual development it require investigation, identification and critiquing. It was important to first gain a better understanding of what a toolkit is and to investigate, experiment and record existing sustainability toolkits. I also had to identify contributions to a toolkit and analytically critique some existing approaches to sustainability toolkits.

In the current model, where many endeavour to maximize opportunities for consumption, it is common for both things and practices to be adapted in order to minimize resource inputs and wasted resources while still producing at a constant desired, or expected, rate. Constantly using resources to create new things to replace the obsolete, but not always broken or useless, things. As the society grows so too does its demand for a consumptive approach. This model of working, and living, is hugely flawed, not only, because it is not sustainable but also because it displays a template for attitudes of living, purchasing and using, encouraging the consumptive lifestyle. This system in it very ideologies and methods is in essence, putting a strain on itself. However it is imperative to note that no system exists alone, all systems are connect in some way and can influence one another in a range of ways. No system is wholly innately good or bad it is how if affect the would around it and its ability to self critique and respond positively adapt to the ethical, social, economic and environmental influences and impacts. It important to be aware of this as no matter how many times you critique a system if its external stimulus and its own influence fail to be recognised and considered the resulting data will show a very narrow insight, and possible interventions may not work due to the omitted factors. Throughout my toolkit I have endeavoured to think about the varying influential factors.

My particular toolkit aims to bring together humans and sheep in a cohabiting and mutually beneficial relationship. The toolkit allows for the care of a pair of sheep, the facilitation to utilise its wool and an opportunity to redirect not only the value of natural wool through personal creative and emotional engagement but also to encourage patient by involving users in the creative and pastoral aspects of the process.

Sheep & Animal Engagement

One of the most confusing aspects of researching animal and human engagement is that humans are in fact animals and it seems slightly arrogant to have depicted humans above animals, in a way, by suggesting that we are in a separate category. This perception is most likely a direct influence of the way in which we attempt to understand animals, mainly form a human centred point of view.

Through the research I have done in relation to this topic I have begun to think of no human animals in a very different way. While before when I looked at animal behaviour, I unknowingly, approached the subject from and anthropomorphised point of view I have found that looking at animal behaviour from the point of the animal and the way in which it identifies itself in the world gives a more in depth insight into their mannerisms and lifestyles, particularly in relation to sheep. Sheep, who are prey, are near the lower end of the food chain and so see the world in this way, where as many of the mammals that are commonly kept as pets in western culture are, or descend from, predatory no human animals, so the way in which they engage with us and in turn we engage with them is not exactly the same. A recent film that has been released in cinemas touches upon the nature of prey and predators, although it has anthropomorphised the no human animals into an urban humanoids environment it draws out the concepts of size, dominance, food chains and the general survival instincts of prey.

In 2013 Vanessa LoBue, a psychologist, discovered that toddlers spend a higher percentage of time interacting with live non human animals than they do with inanimate toys when they have the opportunity to do so. There could be a number of factors that influence this behaviour in children, one theory is that human animal cohabitation and engagement is innate. This theory is supported by the fact that humans use specialized brain cells for recognising animal life, it is not, however, discussed what makes us gravitate towards, or away, from particular no human animals. Maybe it is related to the seemingly simplistic intrigue of the different, Harraway discusses Latour’s “Great Divide” I wonder whether the aspects which divide us actually factor in to making our engagements fascinating for both animal and human. Do we in fact construct the nature of our species through our engagement with other species?

In a case study by Herzog the Hensley family is discussed, consisting of a farmer, his wife and their dogs. What is so interesting about this study is the divide between the family’s pet dog, who lives in the house and is considered part of the family, and the hunting dogs, or coon hounds which are viewed as working no human animals that live outside and are replaced if they underperform. As Herzog surmises though they are the same species the fashion in which they are engaged with and interact with humans is in fact altered by their position within the humans’ lives, in a sense they have defined one another through their engagement.

“Things are worse for dogs in Korea, where a puppy can be a pet or an item on the menu.”(Herzog, 2010)

This brings to light some key development relating to no human animals in general, if a person where to adopt a pair of pet sheep into their lives it may not necessarily change their perception of all sheep or farm no human animals in general, they would most likely, similarly to the Hensleys, regard their own sheep in a separate category to other farm raise sheep or farm no human animals in general. If this is the case will they truly come to appreciate natural wool in the way I hope or will they simply view sheep as a working breed and their sheep as family?

“When an animal is known, as is the chicken, in only a limited, commodity form, it is inconceivable to think of the animal in any other way.” (DeMello, 2012)

I feel that this interesting quote by DeMello touches upon the key point that certain no human animals have been labelled with particular roles within society and altering these perception can be challenging as it involves the altering of learned behaviours. This make me wonder if a community based toolkit would be more effective than an individual one. Part of this may stem from the way in which humans engage with one another although some believe that irrespective of our careers and roles in life everyone should be entitle to a basic level of health, safety and comfort. Although there are still people who do not have these things, there are also mixed views on how this should be provided and in some instances a certain disassociation within the engagement of aspects relating to this subject.

“This does not mean asking what it is like to run like a cheetah. The concern in this problem is not likeness. It is not an issue of similarity; rather, what is running for a cheetah?” (Broglio, 2011)”

Attempting to understand things from an animal’s point of view is imperative to the engagement with them and in this way creating a deeper relationship. With many no human animals, but particularly in relation to sheep. This can be challenging not just because of opposing views of the world around us but also in relation to our physical makeup. For example the way in which humans engage with clovers in mostly culturally based, depending upon personal beliefs, some see them as lucky when they sport particular characteristics, others may see them as weeds and some may be completely neutral towards them have limited to no engagement with them. In comparison sheep see them as food, for some sheep they are a preferred snack and sheep have the necessary digestive system to be able to eat them. This is a very simple example but I feel highlight the differences in perspectives, although it is unknown weather sheep do in fact also see them as lucky and eat them for this reason or if humans secretly have a supressed desire to consume them which translates as a need to have or hold ones they deem superior to the rest. Nevertheless to truly understand them an attempt must be made to understand their perception of the world void of the cultural, social and political aspects that influence the human perception of the world, and how in fact our own perception of the world can, and does, influence and later theirs, and visa versa.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” (Kelly, 2014)

This quote, I feel, provokes a key point in relation to understanding no human animals, not only is it important to metaphorically look through the no human animals eyes it is also important not to make judgments based upon the way in which humans engage with the world, this would in fact defeat the point of gaining a more in depth insight into the animal psyche. The point is to not only understand them but to accept them as they are and try not to judge their ability the way in which we judge our own. As DeMello there are a range of things that we take for granted to the point that we don’t consider it but simply accept it as fact, a fact that can dictate how we engage with the world and the no human animals within it.

My toolkit

I attempted to identify the definition of a toolkit and to analytically critique some related existing approaches to toolkits, in defining what I wanted my toolkit to achieve I also had to research what how can, and have, toolkits be used in similar areas and what the aims of their use were.

“Designers and researchers make the toolkits and give them to others to use to make artefacts. The process is often facilitated or guided.” (Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders & Pieter Jan Stappers, 2014)

The above quote best defines the area within which I designed my toolkit to fit. My project focuses on the engagement between people and sheep in an alternative fashion to the widely accepted norms of current urban societies. The concept I am proposing is not unusual or unheard of it is just not widely practiced. I found within my engagement with the primary research part of this project that not many people are fond of the idea of a pet sheep when asked in the simplest terms of “Would you like a miniature pet sheep?” but I feel that had I described the mutual benefaction of such a pet in a more descriptive emotional way that was relevant to the social cultural designs of my stakeholders the responses might have been altered.

One of the aims of the toolkit was based on the ideation of altering relationship with particular materials and their properties, as discussed by Dan Lockton; using the particular properties to encourage behavioural change. It aims to promote natural wool by not only allowing users to feel personally involved within its design and creation but also to elastic an emotional response by allowing them to become close companions with the sheep themselves through engagement of not only general care but also bonding activities. I produced a publication to encourage owners to do activities with their sheep such as sheep yoga, tea parties and various other activities. Within the creation of activities I tried to anthropomorphise the engagement so as to resonate with users more easily, while, still describing the activity from the sheep point of view so as to show a divide between how sheep are perceived and how they themselves see the world. Within the toolkit there are both items and a publication of instruction and further reading advice. The items facilitate the opportunity to immediately engage while the publication combines information with personal activity pages to encourage the growth of a close relationship with the user’s new sheep.

In an aim to promote the natural I felt that the more physically involved participants where the greater an understanding they and experience they would gain, this is why I opted for a higher percentage of manual technology rather than fuel powered technology. I included or referred to it in areas I felt advance or improve the uses engagement and experience with their toolkit.

“Borgmann defines natural information as ‘information about reality’. It consists of signs that tell us something about the world we live in, like smoke tells us there is a fire somewhere, and tracks on a road tell us that people or animals went there before us. Information about reality is conveyed by ‘natural signs’, like smoke, or tracks.” (Verbeek, 2002)

As discussed in the quote above there are a range of things that influence the human understanding of the world and some, in fact, centre us within reality where as other remove us from it. I felt that in an attempt to remove particular disassociation it was key to incorporate the different types of information which Borgmann defines as: natural information, cultural information, and technological information.

Sustainable wool is not a new concept neither is it void of its own sustainable issue. I recognise the adverse impact of feeding livestock on a large scale but could this be lessened by encouraging small scale farms, possibly in cities, how would this influence consumer consumption? The synthetic alternative to natural wools are usually fossil fuel based, textiles as an industry use fibres derived from fossil fuels in a range of ways despite the range of negative environmental impacts; such as pollution, deforestation and non-biodegradability, this is not however true for all synthetic fibres but the consumptive lifestyle that has been adopted in some cultures encourages the use of such materials as they are often faster to produce. Synthetic fibres include, but are not limited to, acrylic, nylon, polyester, Bamboo, Lyocell or Tensil and viscose or rayon. Acrylic, nylon and polyester are created from coal and oil. Due to both their extraction and their production they contribute to the use of non-renewable fossil fuels. They can also pollute the water systems as when washed micro fibres escape into water systems. It is however true that despite their negative environmental impacts some of these types of materials can be recycled, although further chemicals are often required for the process.

Visual Representation of Project Outcome

My final toolkit consisted of a range of items, some I even managed to make visual representation of. I made visual representations of storage box, three spindles, an apron, a wide toothed roving comb, a pair of carding combs, a Lazy Kate, a publication and some large flash cards. The items I did not make visual representations of where the mood harness and the mini Bluetooth printer.

Conclusion

I feel that I could have improved my toolkit by facilitating a way in which the sheep could have engage within the actual creation possess in a more in depth way than simply supplying the wool.. This addition would have combined the social and creative parts of this toolkit in a more succinct way. I also feel that the toolkit could have involved a community as well as a user, although it could in its current make up this could have made it more impactful.

Another area I would like to explore is crafting using common household pets. There are some publications, which I found too late to add to my project on how to knit from dog’s hair based wool.

The toolkit itself was specifically designed to be fun, memorable and easily useable although it might require particular marketing to make it a popular idea as currently it doesn’t appear that many people are willing to adopt a pair of sheep, miniature or otherwise. Nevertheless form doing this toolkit apart from making me want my own pair of Babydoll Southdown’s I have discovered different ways to view ideas from the points of view of non-human stakeholders. I have also had the opportunity to gain a better literary understanding of user engagement and alternative ways this can be facilitated. In addition to this I have also had the opportunity to experiment with wood decoration as part of my visual representations and practice modelling.

This will influence my future research by encouraging me to encompass a wider range of stake holders and in this way gain a more holistic understanding, I will also view stakeholder in a different way and feel more familiar with the processes involved within the creation of multiple objects which function both individually and together.

References

Artefact

  • What is happening with the schmallenberg virus. (2016). [Poster] Suffolk: UK Southdown Sheep Society.

Article/Newspaper/Magazine/Blogs

Books

  • Anderson, S. (2011). Seductive interaction design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
  • Beech, F. (1902). Dyeing of Woollen fabrics. London: Scott, Greenwood.
  • Broglio, R. (2011). Surface Encounters. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Broom, D. and Fraser, A. (2007). Domestic animal behaviour and welfare. Wallingford, UK: CABI.
  • Casey, M. (2008). Start spinning. Loveland, Colo.: Interweave Press.
  • Clarke, S. (2015). Miniature Sheep: A complete Owners Guide. ROC Publishing.
  • DeMello, M. (2012). Animals and society.
  • Kelly, M. (2014). The rhythm of life. New York: Fireside Books.
  • Editors of Scientific America, (2015). Our furry friends: The science of pets. New York: Scientific America.
  • Foster, J. (2015). After sustainability.
  • Franquemont, A. (2009). Respect the spindle. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press.
  • Gibson-Roberts, P. and Strawn, S. (2006). Spinning in the old way. Fort Collins, Colo.: Nomad Press.
  • Haraway, D. (2008). When species meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Herzog, H. (2010). Some we love, some we hate, some we eat. New York, NY: Harper.
  • Jennings, R. (1864). Sheep, swine, and poultry. Philadelphia: J.E. Potter and Company.
  • Macdonald, A. (1988). No Idle Hands: A Socialist History of American Knitting. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • Nicholson, H. (1998). The loving stitch. Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland University Press.
  • Russell, I. (2009). Sustainable textiles: life cycle and environmental impact. Cambridge, UK: Woodhead Publishing.
  • Sheep Shearing Centre, (2015). Sheep Shearing: How to shear a sheep with no step skipped. Sheep Shearing Centre.
  • Steege, G. (2011). The knitter’s life list. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
  • Stiegler, B. (2015). States of shock: Stupidity and Knowledge in the 21st Century. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Weaver, S. (n.d.). The backyard sheep. Storey Publishing.

Film/Video

Image

Other

  • Horniman Museum Farm 2016
  • Vauxhall farm 2016

Organisations and Societies

Reports

  • Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, (2014). Guidance Keeping a pet pig or ‘micropig’. Keeping sheep, goats, pigs and deer. England: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
  • Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Animal and Plant Health Agency, and Rural Payments Agency, (2014). Keeping farmed animals Sheep and goats identification, registration and movements. Keeping sheep, goats, pigs and deer. England: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Animal and Plant Health Agency, and Rural Payments Agency.
  • Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders & Pieter Jan Stappers (2014) Probes, toolkits and prototypes: three approaches to making in codesigning, CoDesign: International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts, 10:1, 5–14, DOI: 10.1080/15710882.2014.888183
  • GargoyleLover, (2016). Fire Fly electric spinning wheel from SpinOlution, FREE shipping in lower 48 states, 1 FREE art batt with FREE shipping. [online] Etsy. Available at: https://www.etsy.com/listing/175901489/fire-fly-electric-spinning-wheel-from [Accessed 28 Mar. 2016].
  • Lockton, D., Harrison, D. and Stanton, N. (2010). Design with Intent. Berkshire, UK: equifine.
  • Moll, J., Crosthwaite, J. and Dorrough, J. (2003). Better Management of Wool Businesses & Native Biodiversity. International Farm Managment Congress 2003. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria.
  • Verbeek, P. (2002). Devices of Engagement: On Borgmann’s Philosophy of Information and Technology. Philosophy Documentation Center Twente University.

Website

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Shanique Thompson

Shanique Thompson

Eclectically skilled indie games dev & researcher interested in crafting in games, budding curator, & lingerie researcher {Neurodiverse — Dyslexic Team}