critical design lab
The Critical Design Lab draws on the methods of critical and interrogative design, intersectional feminist design theory, and crip technoscience to address thorny questions about embodiment, technology, space, and power. The lab, which houses Mapping Access, is open to undergraduate and graduate students in any discipline.
We are artists, designers, critical makers, storytellers, filmmakers, activists, and scholars. Collectively, our interests span disability culture and arts, soundscapes, environmental humanities, gender, health, and critical urbanisms. The 2018-2019 lab cohort includes one artist-in-residence, four junior faculty members, and three graduate students.
Meet the lab
Director, Critical Design Lab and Mapping Access project
Aimi Hamraie is a critical maker, design historian and ethnographer, and professor based in Nashville, Tennessee. They are Assistant professor of Medicine, Health, & Society and American Studies at Vanderbilt University. In addition to directing Mapping Access, Hamraie is the author of Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability, as well as articles in Design and Culture, Disability Studies Quarterly, Foucault Studies, Hypatia, Philosophia, and Age Culture Humanities. Their current book project, Enlivened City: public bodies, healthy spaces, livable worlds, explores the politics of livability, health promotion, and evidence-based urban design. Hamraie also runs Office Ecologies, an art-science-humanities collaboration concerned with enlivening spaces of knowledge work.
Kevin Gotkin is an academic, activist, and artist. He is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, & Communication at NYU, where his research examines disability and media in the U.S. in the late 20th century. His teaching and artistic practice currently focuses on equitable and inclusive DJ artistry. And he is a Co-Founder of Disability/Arts/NYC, an arts advocacy organization that supports New York’s emerging disability arts scene.
Leah Samples is a founding member of the Mapping Access project, which she developed with Aimi Hamraie as a Library Dean's Fellow while pursuing her M.A. in Community Research and Action at Vanderbilt University. Currently, Samples is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her areas of interest include the history of disability, medicine, and technology in the mid-twentieth century. In addition to the Critical Design Lab, Samples is at work on two research projects. One explores the roles and experiences of families and students as participants in the production of mental deficiency in postwar America at the Elwyn Training School in Media, Pennsylvania. The other looks at the history of rehabilitation engineering in the U.S. with a particular focus on Warren Bledsoe and his influence on orientation and mobility practices, such as the long cane technique, in the mid-twentieth century.
Cassandra Hartblay, PhD, is an anthropologist and performance ethnographer working at the intersection with queer feminist disability studies, critical design studies, performance/art, and activism. She is a 2017-2018 postdoctoral associate at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. She was a postdoc and core member of the UC Collaboratory for Ethnographic Design (CoLED) 2015-2017. Her book project, Totally Normal, an ethnographic monograph based on long term field work with people with disabilities in Russia (especially the generation that I call the first post-Soviet generation, born in the late 70s/ early 80s), explores how the material design of the built environment is central to global understandings of a "normal" country. Her work on the the moral implications of design norms and standards in the construction accessibility ramps in one Russian city appeared in American Ethnologist winter 2017. Her ethnographic play, I WAS NEVER ALONE, explores design, disability, and social life for people with mobility and speech disabilities in Russia in their own words.
Maggie is currently a first-year MA student at Vanderbilt University’s Medicine, Health, and Society. Her research interests revolve broadly around intersectional and interdisciplinary feminist scholarship, biopolitics, science & technology, and disaster politics.
Jarah Moesch (MFA, PhD) is an artist-scholar whose work explores issues of justice through the design, production, and acquisition of embodied knowledges, and then develops new models for justice to imagine new worlds. Jarah’s queer justice design practice is concerned with the ways particular values are embedded within the design of systems and ‘industrial complexes,’ from health care and bioethics, to ecologies on Earth and in outer space. Jarah’s work on the ‘apocalyptic’ event, slow disasters, and the medical industrial complex are grounded in the social and physical effects of embedded histories of racism, gender, and disability, inequitable distributions of wealth, food and water, and colonization of land and people. Jarah’s art practice ranges from traditional forms of art to contemporary new media practices and tactical social interventions. Jarah’s artwork has been shown across the United States as well as internationally in festivals and exhibitions. Jarah holds an MFA in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College, and a PhD in American Studies from University of Maryland.
Rebecca is a first-year MA student at Vanderbilt University’s center for Medicine, Health and Society. Her research interests center on narrative and music therapies, the medical humanities, elderly populations with Alzheimer’s and dementia and notions of culture and identity in Iranian memory. Within the lab, she plans to explore concepts of elderly identity and understandings of “home” within interstitial spaces.
Alessandra Pearson is currently a graduate student in the University of Denver's Emergent Digital Practices program, where her research focuses on art/tech/disability. She is particularly interested in cultural and technological access and how they effect agency and identity. Prior to school, she spent time working at many different arts organizations, most recently at Fractured Atlas. She is also a visual artist with a love of pen drawing, but is learning to take her work off of the 2-D surface with creative coding and motion graphics.
Lauren is a third year undergraduate at Vanderbilt University studying Medicine, Health, & Society and Biological Sciences. Her research focuses on the intersections of homelessness and reproductive justice. In the lab, her project addresses menstrual inequalities.