People-Centred Development: what is a meter?
The PEOPLE Project participated in the Conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists in the UK and the Commonwealth, which took place in Oxford on the 19th of September. Together with Dr Hannah Knox from University College London, PEOPLE team members Prof Simone Abram and Dr Maria Salaru created a lab titled People-Centred Development: what is a meter?: an interactive, collaborative session in which participants used a wide variety of meters in a structured conversation about ecologies of metering.
The lab explored how anthropology can contribute to the conditions of everyday life. It aimed to rethink the design of infrastructural objects, highlighting the conditions that they impose on the everyday, and repositioning the ‘user’ through people-centred design.
The lab participants explored the following questions:
- What is a meter? What does it measure, and what does it ignore?
- How do meters configure you as a user and your actions as part of a social collective? How is their authority maintained?
- Is a meter merely a way to facilitate exchange of service for money, or is it a means to generate a calculative subject (von Schnitzler, 2008)?
- How do meters mediate the relationship between state and citizen (Anand, 2015; Fennell, 2011) or company and consumer (Coleman, 2014)?
- How much of the meter’s utility is evident in its design, its placement, its representation and its products?
- And what are the implications of digital, smart or open-source meters that promise to give new kinds of agency to both people and things?
Participants were invited to interact with various meters (thermometers, chronometers, optic power meters, sonic sound recorders, angle meters, etc.) as prompts towards taking a people-centred approach to re-conceptualisation and re-design of ‘metering’. This participative lab was fun and thought-provoking, providing the PEOPLE project with a novel perspective on different individual/community understandings of the potential of metering.