Studying Material Interactions to Facilitate Material Empathy

Bilge Aktas, Camilla Groth

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperScientificpeer-review


Today, the environmental crisis requires immediate action from multiple disciplines and through various perspectives. Understanding how we should co-exist with nonhumans, such as animals, natural environments, and materials, can make a significant impact to change our thinking and practices from a human-centered way to a more inclusive and sustainable one. To reach such an understanding, we need to realize that the existence of humans depends on nonhumans, and that our material interaction thus needs to carry respect and responsibility for our environment on both macro and micro levels.

We believe that it is useful to utilize craft-practice as a platform to examine human-material interactions since it builds personal engagement and experiential knowledge in relation to materials. As experiential knowledge is built through interacting with materials and material environments, reflecting on these experiences can evoke a deeper understanding about human-material coupling also in our everyday lives. To examine this topic, we designed a higher education course called Human-Material Interaction, that was offered in an interdisciplinary art course platform for university students from various fields, such as electrical engineering, business, computer sciences, and the arts.
In this paper, we present our course design and empirical data that we collected from eight students. During the five-week-long course, the students familiarized themselves with the concept of material agency and non-anthropocentric view. They discussed these concepts in relation to their own material explorations and investigations. The students, some of whom had very limited experience in arts and crafts, experienced working with wool and ceramics, to experience the material resistance as well as its possibilities in relation to their skills and motives.

We will in our presentation discuss how reflecting on material interaction processes contributed to developing an understanding for co-existence, sustainability, and respect for material properties. We believe that a change in thinking about our relationship with the environment and our behavior with it starts on a personal level. Studying environmental sustainability through first-hand experience can become a powerful tool to better understand how we should interact with materials in a responsible and respectful way, realizing that humans do not own or dictate but collaborate with materials. In our study, we clearly observed a change in students’ thinking, and the benefit of having such a multidisciplinary group of students enlarged the scope of discussion beyond the individual and the specific disciplines.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeNot Eligible
EventMaking Futures: People, Place, Meaning: Crafting Social Worlds & Social Making - Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth, United Kingdom
Duration: 19 Sep 201920 Sep 2019
Conference number: 6


ConferenceMaking Futures
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

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