Workshopping videos (1/6): Napkins

written by Anna Harris


MAASTRICHT, 11th NOVEMBER 2019 - In July 2018 we organised our first workshop focused on the material nature of learning. We wanted to look at how learning is related to the environment in which we learn, how materials and sensorality influences the development of embodied skills, and how technologies and global contexts shape learning. Over four days, 40 participants – all academics or practitioners – ran or participated in panel discussions, movement and object exercises, practical workshops, and a public event which delved into this topic, exploring how it related to their academic work. During the workshop the filmmaker and cultural historian Paul Craddock participated in and filmed the happenings.

We are thrilled to share the first of six videos documenting the six practical workshops that happened during this event. In this workshop Kristen Haring, in her words, led a “material investigation of folding, quite separate from Deleuze’s philosophical investigation of folding”. Participants folded napkins, many, many napkins. Conversations addressed repeatability, routinized labor, embodied learning, and how to bring hands-on exercises to bear on intellectual questions.

Stay tuned for more videos in the coming weeks!

The gathered group was incredibly accomplished and creative. There were talks and workshops by Manon Parry, Marieke Hendriksen, Paul Craddock, Caro Verbeek, Anne van Veen, Kaisu Koski, Jur Koksma and Valentijn Byvanck, many of which are collaborators with the Making Clinical Sense project. Roger and Dusia Kneebone delivered the public lecture. You can find details of my workshop and photos of what participants made below.

Also, see this video link for an incredible film made by artist-researchers Anne van Veen and Kaisu Koski, which resulted from my workshop. With their instructional films and objects Anne and Kaisu explore various cruelty-free materials and performativity in surgical education. The collaboration merges their interest in surgical skills, ASMR and arts-based methods in clinical education.

From Critical Thinking to Critical Making: Craft and Everyday Design in Medical Education

The intense effort in instructional design in medical education has the potential to overlook the more mundane and yet incredibly rich practices of everyday design. Everyday design in medical schools is tinkering work involving adaption or making in creative acts of repurpose. Hardly a new practice in medicine – tinkerers and makers have often radically transformed the field with their inventions, take the stethoscope for example – these are skills however which can be lost as medical education strives for efficiency, standardisation and objectivity. In this practical workshop we will joyfully celebrate small acts of everyday design and the craftsmanship of training healthcare professionals. The workshop draws empirically from an ongoing anthropological and historical study of the role of technologies in training doctors’ sensory skills of diagnosis. This study is one of the first collaborative and comparative social studies of medical training, with fieldwork already conducted by a team of anthropologists, science and technology studies scholars and historians in medical schools in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and West Africa. In these medical schools we have found, and been inspired by, everyday acts of making. In the workshop I will begin by sharing sensory images of, and stories about, teachers’ materials and innovations. I will put these examples into a broader narrative about design and critical making, areas of scholarship and practice I suggest offer fresh new perspectives on how to approach medical teaching. I sill suggest that attending to everyday design is not only a creative and enlightening practice, but a necessary one, in order to train adaptive, creative healthcare professionals of the future. Then we will make, attending closely to materials that could be or are used (for the medical educators in the room) in teaching. It will be a workshop in further training our imaginations, to share and consider new creative possibilities for how to teach doctors sensory diagnostic skills for examining patients. We will use materials that I will bring in (though feel free to bring your own materials), your own bodies, pens, paper or anything else we come up with on the spot and that you feel comfortable and inspired to use.

Reconsidering a Place for Anthropology in Medical Education

In medical education, the term qualitative research is often discussed without discrimination. The social sciences are consolidated, yet the lineages and approaches of each discipline within the social sciences are quite diverse. In this talk I wish to focus on the contribution of one field in particular, anthropology, as a distinctive qualitative research approach. Ethnography, the methodology used by anthropologists, is not unfamiliar to medical education. Yet an anthropological perspective can add so much more to medical education than this method. In this talk I will discuss four areas of contribution in particular: 1) theory, through inductive fieldwork; 2) methodology, through apprenticeship techniques; 3) pedagogy, through training observation; and 4) writing, through attention to stories. Empirically, I will include examples from my research team’s project, funded by the European Research Council, Making Clinical Sense. This is a historical-anthropological project looking at the role of technologies in teaching sensory diagnostic skills in medical schools in Eastern and Western Europe and West Africa.

Writing by making: experiments in how to write a book on learning sensory knowledge

By the time I visit Montreal I will hopefully have completed a manuscript for my new book project called A Sensory Education. This book takes a close look at how sensory awareness is learned and taught in expert and everyday settings around the world. My ethnographic examples vary from the medical schools where I spend a lot of time in, studying how doctors train their sensory skills of diagnosis, to cookbooks and IKEA instructions. The central message of the book is that sensing is not innate or acquired, but evolves through learning that is shaped through social and material relations. In particular the book looks at the work that goes into sensory education, including vocabularies, lesson-set ups, the design of instructions and the role of industry.

Much of this will not be new to many in the audience. What I would like to explore in this talk is the process of writing the book – a process that involved not only studying instruction but also making and designing educational materials too. As I want the reader to not only read about but also work through sensory instructions, the book has elements of a “how-to” format, which meant I needed to experiment a lot with the instructions myself. For example, as I wrote about the teaching tools in Maastricht, the Netherlands, I knitted a uterus. I made a 19th century instrument to measure the blueness of the sky when writing about learning sensory vocabulary, then tried to make a YouTube instructional video of the process. I included instructions on how to make these materials in the book and want to explore in the talk the possibilities and limitations of this kind of material thinking, another challenging aspect of what it means to write sensorially.

MAASTRICHT, February 19th 2019 – Tinkering is a practice which underlies most medical endeavors, from celebrated inventions such as the stethoscope – which began as a rolled up paper tube and through some experiments on a lathe, soon developed more into the instrument we know today – to everyday work of clinicians in clinics and hospitals. Annemarie Mol, Ingunn Moser, and Jeannette Pols edited a beautiful book on this topic called Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms. Clinicians and technologists have teamed together in non-profit organisations like MakerHealth, to celebrate the tinkering work of hospital staff. In the movie The English Surgeon, you can find the neurosurgeon Henry Marsh at work in his workshop, as well as in the operating theatre. In fact, you just have to read any obituary about a medical innovator to learn about the tinkering work that made them famous. Yet amidst all of this talk there is very little about the tinkering of teachers in medicine, and the creativity that goes into their daily educational practices. As I have written before in an article published from this project, the improvisation of teachers is often unspoken of. So when an invitation came from my fieldsite in Maastricht, to hold a workshop for teachers, I thought there was no better topic and expertise to share, than the very creative expertise in the room.

In preparation for the workshop designed to explore the creative possibilities for how to teach physical examination skills, I asked participants to think about the homemade tools they had adapted, copied, invented, used in teaching, or heard of others using, and come with these ideas to share (or bring along). Optionally they could bring some materials to work with, and read an article.

Valentine, the student assistant on this project, and I ran the workshop for the 20 or so teachers who enrolled, arriving at the Skills Lab laden with the materials we had brought. First, I contextualised the theme within the findings of the Making Clinical Sense project and some of the theories and methodologies underpinning the day’s activities – work on critical making, everyday design, creative learning, ethnography and tinkering for example. We emphasized that the workshop was about attending closely to materials, and the creative possibilities of working closely with them. Teachers were sitting around tables piled with balls of wool, plasticine, Fimo, paper, glue, scissors, balloons, pipe-cleaners, balls and elastic bands. Our role was not to teach the teachers anything, but rather to learn from and with them, and basically just allow the time and space for tinkering in their busy work schedules.

Then the teachers shared ideas with each other: how one teacher starts his class on heart murmurs by slamming the door shut, now the mitral valve, and getting the students to imagine they are standing in a ventricle of the heart – he also rubbed his shoes together to simulate the squeaking of pleural rub; how another would pretend to be an atrial arrhythmia with her body – funny another responded, I am a uterus with fimbrae, she said, both standing up and shaking their limbs. Someone had brought in a homemade model of the various angles of the uterus, and another teacher described how she used a balloon to teach ascites, by filling it with water. They discussed how the students paid attention in a different way when they experimented with these methods.

With all this talk of ideas, it was definitely time to work with the materials on the tables and it wasn’t long before the glue gun was being warmed and plasticine being molded in hands. There were some instructions – make a body part to use in teaching physical examination skills, draw a poster to show a skill, make oranges to resemble stages of cervical dilation – but these were soon discarded by most teachers. Balloons were blown up and filled with water to copy the ascites figure, one bursting over all the instructions. Balloons were filled with plasticine to show pitting edema. A series of balloons made a chart of scrotal pathologies for palpation and comparison. Styrofoam balls were turned into eyeballs, with elastics on either side making the muscles of the eye, and little felt tags on fingers showing which cranial nerves pulled them. The inguinal region was made using bits of cardboard and plastic bags. A box holding some of my materials was upturned to allow room for a balloon and scrunched up felt, to practice comparative percussion. Two socks were turned into scrotum by being stitched together, so that they could be pulled for examination.

After an hour of making the medical teachers put their projects on a table and took turns guessing what they might be, with much laughter. They looked at the objects, picked them up and tried to move them. Some textures were surprisingly similar to the body part being simulated – the pitting edema for example – whereas others were poor imitations – the crinkly cardboard. Teachers who had crafted the objects explained why they made them – to try and teach a complicated part of anatomy, like the inguinal region, or complicated neurological processes, like the cranial nerves. There were many models of male genitalia which is of no surprise, considering this is a very tricky examination for the students, and one which currently they do not have very good models for. The teachers observed when existing models might do better, that the tool they just crafted was too complicated, unnecessary, too distracting or the scale wasn’t right. Sometimes they wondered how they might make another version, from different materials. They talked about how sometimes it was the problem that came first, when designing their object, and sometimes they just worked with what materials were to hand. They also wondered what the students might be making themselves?

As education strives for efficiency, standardisation and assessibility, more room is needed for making, every day design and tinkering in medical education. Such activities are not reactions against the digital but can also inform digital technologies in the classroom. It was a privilege to be able to spend a morning working with incredibly knowledgable and inspiring teachers, who make time for tinkering, not only in designated workshops.

Images from the pattern in the Wellcome Library, see more here:

And for an inspiring essay on winter knitting, read Barbara Kingsolver’s piece here. In the spirit of our interest in materials and their sensuality, I have pasted her thoughts on texture below:

“It starts with a texture. There are nowhere near enough words for this, but fingers can sing whole arpeggios at a touch. Textures have their family trees: cloud and thistledown are cousin to catpelt and earlobe and infantscalp. Petal is also a texture, and limepeel and nickelback and nettle and five-o’clock-shadow and sandstone and ash and soap and slither. Drape is the child of loft and crimp; wool is a stalwart crone who remembers everything, while emptyhead white-haired cotton forgets. And in spite of their various natures, all these strings can be lured to sit down together and play a fiber concerto whole in the cloth. The virgin fleece of an April lamb can be blended and spun with the fleece of a fat blue hare or a twist of flax, anything, you name it, silkworm floss or twiny bamboo. Creatures never known to converse in nature can be introduced and then married right on the spot. The spindle is your altar, you are the matchmaker, steady on the treadle, fingers plying the helices of a beast and its unlikely kin, animal and vegetable, devising your new and surprisingly peaceable kingdoms. Fingers can coax and read and speak, they have their own secret libraries and illicit affairs and conventions. Twined into the wool of a hearty ewe on shearing day, hands can read the history of her winter: how many snows, how barren or sweet her mangers. For best results, stand in the pasture and throw your arms around her.”



July 2nd 2018, MAASTRICHT – It was a beautiful bike ride through the Dutch forests, and for the first time that year we needed sunscreen. We were heading to the Brunssum Blote Voeten Park, a barefoot trail not far from our Faculty, Carla our wayfinding guide.

We started along the trail, shoes left in lockers, chatting and catching up on months apart, finding out about fieldwork adventures, new ideas, holidays. It was easy to get lots in conversation but the trail soon called us to attention. Smooth sand disappeared into woodchips, causing our toes to curl up a little. Soon a muddy trough greeted us, and tentatively we waded, sensing how far we could descend into the cool water, hands out for support. We climbed wooden beams like children, and looked over the park from up high. Down below we could see fellow barefooters inspecting splinters in their usually shoed feet, soft from years of woollen and cotton socks and slippers.

In his much cited article “Culture on the Ground”, Tim Ingold (2004) suggests there has been a bias in scholarship for head over heels and that we need a more grounded approach to human movement that is sensitive to the embodied skills of footwork. Shoes, he suggests, like chairs, are a technology which privilees the intellect over instinct. Ingold argues that:

“The mechanization of footwork was part and parcel of a wider suite of changes that accompanied the onset of modernity – in modalities of travel and transport, in the education of posture and gesture, in the evaluation of the senses, and in the architecture of the built environment – all of which conspired to lend practical and experiential weight to an imagined separation between the activities of a mind at rest and a body in transit, between cognition and locomotion, and between the space of social and cultural life and the ground upon which that life is materially enacted.” (2004, p 321)

While my young son can still squat comfortably, he has quickly adopted shoe wearing as habit as he learns to traverse the cobblestone streets of Maastricht. The first time he encountered grass he begged to be picked up, the first time in sand he tried to flick it off. We become shoe-bound so quickly that it opens up a gap in the market for footwork retraining. Barefoot trails offer the senseless feet of urban dwellers the chance to rediscover mud and woodchips and splinters all over again. The training is not through a guide or signposts but through subtle drawing of attention to change – visitors to such parks are guided by rails, by abrupt differences, by needing to climb or descend. The differences need to be obvious for the rusty foot feeler doesn’t notice subtlety.

We came back from our barefoot trail with our feet tingling. The walk was not only a perfect way to reconnect as a group, but also to disrupt our sensory habits, just for an afternoon.

Image by bark (Flickr), used under the Creative Commons lisence.

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Workshopping videos (1/6): Napkins

by Anna Harris
November 11, 2019

Movement Interview for Museum Motus Mori

by Andrea Wojcik
November 6, 2019

Place and Affect: From Semmelweis to Soeterbeeck

by Rachel Allison
September 11, 2019