Michelle Westerlaken: Imagining Multispeciesism

Welcome to a K3 seminar with Michelle Westerlaken, PhD student in Interaction Design, K3. This will be her 50 percent PhD seminar. The title of the seminar is:

Imagining Multispeciesism

The seminar will be held on May 2 at 10.15-12.00 in the K3 Open Studio, fifth floor of Niagara. Jonas Löwgren, Professor of Interaction and Information Design, University of Linköping, will function as discussant.

If you would like to read the text that the seminar will be based on beforehand, send an email to Michelle (michelle.westerlaken@mau.se).

Here is an abstract for the talk:

The more we are willing to research the complexity of animals, the more we learn about their sentience, their cognitive capabilities, their preferences, and their unique traits. These new insights are potential springboards for a deeper and better-informed concern about the way we conceptualize, treat, and exploit animals. However, rather than pursuing interests that can put an end to animal (or human) exploitation or can minimize their suffering, within Western culture we have mostly used this knowledge to develop technology and practices that extract profit and increase productivity (Hribal 2007). Rather than working towards better animal (or human) treatment, I argue that technology ranging from horse shoes, barbed wire, restraining devices, and automatic feeders all the way to genetic manipulation, specialized breeding, animal tracking, and artificial insemination has only allowed for more efficient exploitation and control of animals. It also enabled us to operate factory farming on much larger scales. In other words, we can argue that generating scientific insights concerning animal welfare and animal suffering does not necessarily lead to an improvement in their life conditions.

Following a more situated theoretical perspective in my PhD research, I suggest that contextually and personally engaging with the life of another animal is a much more powerful way to develop compassion and care. It helps to develop a kind of affective gut feeling regarding other animals’ needs, perspectives, preferences, and potential suffering. This instinctual kindness towards other animals arises out of certain perspectives, projections that are created in our minds, local knowledges, and specific situations.  Furthermore, I argue that, specifically in the attempt to articulate a ‘worldview’ (Redström, 2017) that we can design with, it is unhelpful to maintain a focus on critique and negations regarding the notion of speciesism and critical theory. Instead, I propose to do ethics and philosophy as a form of ‘multi-speciesist’ thinking, through creating stories of our engagements with animals that are just big enough to inspire alternative ways of thinking but do not attempt to explain or define our relationships with other beings once and for all. They consist of stories of surprises, joy, play, and unexpected responses we get from interacting with other animals (Haraway, 2016, Bogost, 2016), they involve intense moments of caring for other species (Puig de La Bellacasa, 2017; Tsing, 2015), they are re-interpretations of past engagements that we can attempt to understand in a new light (Berardi, 2017), they include the articulation of new concepts that allow for new modes of thinking about the world (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994/1991), they consist of deliberate practices of self-fashioning and re-structuring our lives through values that are currently located outside of our norms (Foucault, 1988; Gibson-Graham, 2008), and they encompass constructions of hopeful or utopian narratives (Le Guin, 2016; Zylinska, 2014).

In this 50% seminar, we will focus on discussing the main proposed structure of the PhD thesis, the general argument it tries to make, and the method that is used for attempting to construct the proposed ‘multispeciesist worldview’.


Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. (2017). Futureability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility. London, UK: Verso.

Ian Bogost. (2016). Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. (1994/1991). What is Philosophy. London, UK: Verso.

Foucault, M. (1988). Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Edited by Martin L. H., Gutman, H. and Hutton P. H. London, UK: Tavistock Publications.

Gibson-Graham, J.K. (2008). Diverse economies: Performative practices for “other worlds”, Progress in Human Geography, pp. 1-20.

Donna J. Haraway. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Jason Hribal. (2007). Animals, agency, and class: Writing the history of animals from below. In Human Ecology Forum, 14(1), pp. 101-112.

Ursula K. Le Guin. (2016). A non-Euclidean view of California as a cold place to be. (Part III: Essays). In Utopia, by More, Thomas, London, UK: Verso Books, pp. 161-194.

Maria Puig de la Bellacasa. (2017). Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in more than Human Worlds. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Johan Redström. (2017). Making Design Theory. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Anna L. Tsing. (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press.

Zylinska, Joanna. (2014). Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene. London, UK: Open Humanities Press.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *