Michelle Westerlaken is a Research Associate on the Smart Forests project in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge. She has a PhD in Interaction Design from Malmö University in Sweden. As an interdisciplinary researcher and designer her work builds on posthumanism, feminist technoscience, critical animal studies, and decolonial theory to investigate possibilities for more sustainable contributions on a planet in a state of mass-extinction.
Her dissertation, “Imagining Multispecies Worlds,” presents a Multispecies Bestiary in which 10 protagonist species (including, among others, forests, worms, mice, and monsters) guide the reader through a collection of multispecies stories. These stories illustrate a repertoire of world-making practices with other species in which we recognize and engage with the ability to respond to each other. The project involved visiting research undertaken at the Hong-Kong Polytechnic University, Laguna College of Art and Design in California, and The University of Malta.
As a designer, she works with participatory methods that examine possibilities for humans and other species to propose interaction modalities for multispecies ways of living on this planet. So far, these projects have involved design negotiations together with cats, dogs, ants, penguins and various interactive technologies. Central to her work are the ways in which theory and participatory research practices continuously inform and inspire each other.
Besides doing research, she taught undergraduate and graduate courses on the topics of design theory, playful interaction, interactive storytelling, and experimental game design. What draws her into the woods can be summarized as a desire to learn to observe, care for, and forage within the multispecies worlds that are made as forests increasingly express themselves through sensing technologies.
Her research blog, design portfolio, and publications can be found at https://michellewesterlaken.com/
Westerlaken, M. (2021). “It Matters What Designs Design Designs: Speculations on Multispecies Worlding.” Global Discourse 10(3): 1-20.
Westerlaken, M. (2020). “Imagining Multispecies Worlds.” Doctoral dissertation (monograph), Malmö University (Sweden).
Westerlaken, M. (2020). “What is the Opposite of Speciesism? On Relational Care Ethics and Illustrating Multi-Species-Isms.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, vol. ahead of print.
Westerlaken, M. (2018). “When Game Mechanics Come Crawling out of Ant Colonies.” In Games and Rules: Game Mechanics for the “Magic Circle”, Beat Suter, Mela Kocher, René Bauer (Eds.). Bielefeld, DE: Transcript Verlag.
Westerlaken, M. (2017). “Uncivilizing the Future: Imagining Non-Speciesism.” Antae – Special Issue on Utopian Perspectives 4(1): 53-67.