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Berkeley Talks transcript: Design anthropologist Dori Tunstall on decolonizing design

Dori Tunstall smiling portrait
Dori Tunstall is a design anthropologist at OCAD University. (Photo by Samuel Engelking)

Björn Hartmann: Welcome everyone to the spring semester at the Jacobs Institute. My name is Björn Hartmann. I’m a associate professor in EECS and the faculty director for the institute. This is the first semester where we try to be more programmatic with our design conversations and so we’re inviting multiple speakers to reflect and have a discussion on a common theme. The theme for this semester is “For whom and by whom: design for belonging.” Inclusion, accessibility and justice are increasingly on our minds and topics of conversation when we talk about design and technology and we have to acknowledge our blind spots and the ways in which in the past, design and technology have both been used as methods of exclusion.

Today’s first speaker for the series is Elizabeth Tunstall. She is a design anthropologist, a public intellectual and design advocate who works at the intersection of critical theory, culture and design. She’s the dean of design at OCAD, Ontario College of Art and Design, and she’s the first black female dean of the faculty of design.

She has a long international history that I think she’s going to tell you something about. I’ll just give a couple of highlights. She got her bachelor’s in anthropology from Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. in anthropology from Stanford just across the bay. She served as associate professor of design at Swinburne in Australia and she also taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago. So please help me in welcoming Dori Tunstall.

Dori Tunstall: Thank you. I would like to begin by acknowledging the ancestral and traditional territories of the over 40 distinct indigenous peoples now brought together under the name of the Ohlone who are the original custodians and owners of the land upon which we are meeting.

Again, I’m Dori Tunstall, dean of design at OCAD. I’m going to talk to you about decolonizing design specifically within the context of diversity inclusion not being enough because back being back here in the United States, there’s lots of discourse around diversity inclusion. So I’m going to tell you three stories. I’m going to tell your story about how diversity is not enough. I can tell you the story about how inclusion is not enough. And then I’m going to tell you a story about how maybe just maybe decolonizing design will be just right.

So often we talk about diversity, we talk about the invitation. What I mean by that is that they say like diversity is getting invited to the party. And as people of color LGBTQ, Muslim, working class folk, people with disabilities, we are all supposed to feel very happy to receive the invitation. Yes, thank you. I’ve finally been invited, right?

And of course, because of centuries of exclusion, we don’t quite know what we’re being invited to, right? But we’re still excited and we arrive and receive the invitation. And again, I, a person of many blessings, have been talented enough and old enough to get lots of invitations. And what I find when I arrive after the invitation is that it’s not enough. Being invited is not enough. Diversity is not enough. So what are the most transformative experiences I had was my first class at Stanford University.

The way to describe this class, and again these are not the people but, but that, this image right, captures the feeling because again, I’m older, so for some of you may not know this is like back then and like the nineties, our notion of diversity was deeply, deeply influenced by the United Colors of Benetton ad. So literally I talk about like that, like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to Stanford. Why? Because my cohort of people will look like a United Colors of Benetton ad.”

And it was amazing to be in a class. The class was cultural, cultural citizenship. The professor was Chicano. We had so much diversity in that class that we had to learn the indigenous participants by their, their nations, right? So Lenape, Métis. I met my first Métis person.

All these different sort of community that we had. Our white male was gay and our white, female was Jewish. So we had people diversity, not just in terms of like from all over the world, but within the context of United States minorities. We were so diverse. I called the class and I still refer to it as the congress of the oppressed. Because any category of oppression that you could think about was represented in that class. So you had a situation of maximum diversity and you know what happened when you put together a room of people with multi ethnicities, multi abilities. You know what happens when you put them in a room together. They oppress each other.

And why does that happen? Because for the first time in that room, we were not the only one for the first time in that room, we felt that we could speak and show how smart we were and be able to like discuss like poststructuralist theory and so coming out of our mouths for the first time, being able to speak in the classroom was the persona of a white male.

Maybe Anglosaxon, maybe a little bit of queerness in there, but we were all speaking on the authority, in the voice of sort of the oppressors because making it all the way to your Stanford University’s and Berkeley universities, what you learn is to assimilate. And when you speak, you forget your own language.

Now, being pretty clever individuals, we only did that for about halfway through the course. And then after that we were like, why would, should be my favorite course in the entire universe is like my least favorite course? Because we weren’t in it. So what we did is we started bringing in our poetry. I think me and Maria Coteres, we kicked it off where we’ve started bringing in. We started bringing in like Spanish hip hop and French hip hop. We started bringing in our food. We started bringing in our literature. We still read all the theories.We brought those things in, but we, we, we brought our language and our communities and our perspectives and our histories into the class.

So we basically decolonized the classroom. And once we figured out that we could do that, we started doing that in other classrooms and other courses. And as we did more and more of that, more people got nervous, right? Because we were challenging the status quo. And so the nervousness got so high that a group of faculty members who all just happened to be mostly white male over the age of 60 heterosexual, et Cetera, et Cetera, et Cetera, et Cetera, went to the provost and said, “We need our own department because we don’t understand what these kids are doing in their classroom.” And the provost at the time, having to have the same demographic of this group, gave them their own program.

So we split into anthropological sciences and social and cultural anthropology. So in that case, getting invited was not enough because the cohort, the last super diverse cohort that I remember, like it may be different now because that was a thousand years ago, uh, my, the cohort that I was on the committee in terms of being able to create diverse same United Colors of Benetton.

The following year, some money kicked in from the Ford Foundation. And all of a sudden our cohort was mostly eastern European. The cohort I do know after that became even less diverse than that. So you can have diversity, but it’s not enough if you don’t actually change the power structures of the institution. So we were working really hard to change the structures of our classes and thankfully our professors because they were diverse as well, allowed us the space to do that, but the institution didn’t change necessarily because we weren’t able to bring that or engage that at the level of the actual structures of power in and of itself.

So that’s the important thing to remember. Diversity is not enough. Bringing everyone, inviting them to the party, making them feel really, really happy about being there isn’t enough unless you’re changing the power structure.

Now, if diversity is about being invited, inclusion they say is about getting asked to dance. Now I happen to love to dance and generally my dance card has been pretty full in life and what’s been really interesting is that most of the time in the situations that people have been asking me to dance have been white men and that’s actually a good thing because it means that they’ve recognized that the person who they should be grooming for positions of power and influence may not need to look like them or share the same values with them.

But again, it’s still still very tricky, right? Because when they ask to dance, they might ask me to dance the waltz or the f ox trot and again, I can do all of those things, but if I want to do salsa or if I want to do like, you know, the running man, then the institution kind of freaks out.

And I’ll give you a sort of example of how again, inclusion is not enough. So again, you saw my sort of semi resumes who I’ve worked in many different companies, so I’ve moved between academia as well as industry. And I won’t name names, but I’ll name the context.

So, working in consulting, which is what I did, um, you are used to working 80 hours per week, teams of interdisciplinary people. Sometimes I bring the interdisciplinarity myself, being sort of an anthropologist who is engaged with design, but you work really, really hard. And then what happens is like an executive person comes in and they do what we call the swoop and poop, right? You’ve been working so hard. They come in and spend 10 seconds and tell you, “This sucks.” Right? Now I, again, I know how to do the waltz, but sometimes you just have to bring a little bit of flavor, so I called out the executive. And I said, “Well, you know, that’s kind of disrespectful. We have been working here 80 hours. We have not slept. We have not eaten. We haven’t done anything. We’ve worked so hard for you and you’ve only spent five seconds telling us what sucks, but not telling us what works.”

Next Day, my colleagues couldn’t make eye contact with me for some reason. The following week, all these conversations begin. There were meetings held to talk about the Dori problem. Following after that projects that had been on my docket, following the project I was working on, suddenly just disappear. And so basically, I was bullied out of the institution. Now again, I’m talented enough, I could read the signs that I created an exit strategy to get out of there before they had to perhaps fire me. I don’t know if that’s their intention. But because I refused just once, right to do the dance to do the fox trot because it’s really hard to do and it’s really bad on your back, right? That all of a sudden the institution itself had to rally around me as a problem because in none of those conversations that happened in those weeks to actually anyone talk to me about why I would have said that or what the context was around that particular comment that I just made.

So I had to leave. And that’s why inclusion is not enough. Because again, it’s about how we, how we changed the power structure, how we changed things. And, and this is the part where people don’t really understand, is that to ask diverse peoples to dance to a white, European male, CIS, hetero, middle class, able body, status quo, ie. the power structure is genocide to our spirits.

So the reason why after many years as a good corporate citizen that I spoke up is that that point was a point of life and death for me, right? The depth of my spirit to allow, I mean like come on “RESPECT, find out what it means to me.” Like this is an extremely important to ethos in the African American community. Respect. And so to have that respect trampled on and to not speak up meant death. And so these are the decisions that you have to make around how you really create an inclusive environment. Because if you’re asking them in only to dance to your dance, then you’re asking them to die.

So inclusion is not enough. What we actually have to do as the colonize design. Decolonizing is really giving the most vulnerable control over the street party, so it’s not a high falutin’ invitation that you have to have. It’s you the most vulnerable in that groups. Choose the music, choose the food, choose the whatever, so that it is inclusive. Ad it’s a street party. Anyone can come. Anyone can be there. Anyone can celebrate together.

Now how do you do that? It’s hard. So again, as dean of design at OCAD University, it is my job to convince our diverse people, prospects to come to OCAD University and I do so with a heavy heart because I know we’re still in the process of making it so that they don’t have to choose between their many diverse intersectional identities and being a professional designer. But they have to choose that now.

They have to choose that now because again, in the same way that at Stanford I was admitted with like when we were able to speak, the only acceptable language to speak was that of an academic white male. Like the only diversity. You might get as if you were Foucault and you were engaging in queerness. Like that’s the only thing you could find that space, right?

And it’s the same way in design. How many of my students cry, literally cry because they’re not Swiss men. Right? And so the work of decolonizing design is so important because you shouldn’t have to be able to make that choice. You shouldn’t have to choose between who you are and what you want to be professionally.

And again, why are we in this is colonialism, right? And what’s really important about the indigenous acknowledgement that I do in the beginning of every presentation that I do all across the world, which is also an amazing exercise to figure out like what does it mean to go to London and find out who are the original custodians on the land of London. Right? But understand that colonization is the root of these challenges that we are facing in design, that we are facing in tech, because it’s set up a series of relationships that we haven’t figured out how to get out of yet.

And just so you know, like again, the project of colonization was a project of genocide. And that process of eliminating indigenous people from the land, from their own relationships to each other, is embedded in everything that we do that is still part of the colonial structure. And so we have to break it. And so decolonizing design is about breaking that relationship between indigenous perspectives, settler policies and perspectives and slavery, right? Because what happened in colonization with the decimation of the indigenous population, they brought in black people from all the way from Africa to do the work for free. Right?

And so giving back the land in terms of indigenous sovereignty, abolishing slavery and its contemporary forums. And I’m talking here about the prison industrial complex that exists in full force here and dismantling the imperial metropole, which just really means like why is it that you have to move to a city in order to be successful? And at OCAD University, we got a lot to atone for. And that is the first part of decolonizing design is you have to recognize the way in which you’ve done done harm. So the reputation of Ontario College of Art and Design University, which is the oldest and largest art and design university in Canada. It Is the third largest art and design institution in North America. And I tell you that just to give you a sense of the potential scope of impact.

We as an institution created the visual enticement for colonization. We are famous Ontario College of Art and Design is famous for producing the group of seven painters. These are the painters who actually put Canadian art on the map literally globally. And even though they did these wonderful sort of a landscape paintings, they also produced a lot of the promotion material for the advertisements to “Come from Europe. You poor peasants, come from Europe and take over this vast empty land with beautiful waterfalls and nature, and build a better life.” And that that’s colonization, right? Come over from somewhere else on someone else’s land and build a better life.

And so OCAD University forum, its inception, is responsible for that. So that means when we teach our history of design courses that we have to recognize that and have a conversation about that. What does that mean as an institution to hold ourselves accountable for that.

So now this is where I talk about technology. We have a new professor, Alexis Morris, who’s our Canadian research chair for the Internet of things. He’s originally from Barbados and we’ve on, we have a 20 plus hour conversation going on, meaning we meet once a month, which is supposed to be a one-hour meeting, but it’s at the end of the day. So it always goes for four hours. And the topic of conversation is how technology is modeled on a relationship of slavery.

Most of the technologies that we’ve developed, what are they meant to do? To do work that we either don’t want human beings to do anymore, that we’re afraid of having human beings to do, because we, they’re very unsafe. But all of the things that we asked to do, Siri, get me this, Alexis, tell me what is going on. All of these things are modeled on a relationship in which replaced humans to do these tasks with technologies to do these tasks, which means at the underlying acceleration of our technology in every aspect of our lives, we’re still reproducing structures of enslavement.

Which is why all of our science fiction, paranoia fantasies are basically about slave rebellions, right? Like the technology will come to life and decide that we should be the slaves. We know that scenario from 1882. We know how this story goes. Right? And so from a tech perspective, I’m constantly trying to push Alexis to say, “How are you changing the underlying relationships between what you’re building in terms of AR and VR and artificial intelligence? What is that intelligence meant to do? What is that intelligence meant to replace? Is it something that we are devaluing for some reason because we believe that that social relationship, that some person who used to do that job is not worthy of a livelihood or worthy of existence in some ways.

And that’s why our debate goes on for four hours because we’re constantly not only trying to figure out the ethical implications of this, but we’re also trying to figure out like how do you change the underlying assumptions around the way in which technology works in our world because again, our technologies are still connected to these colonial structures that says, “Let’s build our farm of technologies right on open land. Let’s gather the materials from this exploitative practice in Africa or China or India. And again, let’s disintermediate, millions of people, so that we can have cars that drive instead of having people do it for a livelihood, right?” Like, actually I hate driving. So my sort of conditions in moving to California is somehow figuring this out in a way that’s ethically safe. So I don’t have to actually drive in California even though I want to live here. Right?

But again, this is, this is what we’re doing with technology. And so how do we remove the relationship of slavery that underlies our technology? So again, it’s all about how we think about the power structures in our firms. And and in our institutions and that we have to actively ask these questions of ourselves and what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and who are we doing at for in order to make sure that the things that we’re doing are respectful.

So this is where I turned to what we’re doing at OCAD to get there, right? Besides having four-hour conversations with faculty members, we’re trying to figure this out and honestly we have no idea what we’re doing because no one’s really done it and, and if they’ve done it, they haven’t done it in the same context in which we’re trying to do it. So everyone is trying to figure this out. Including us. I say we have like one month ahead of everyone else in figuring this out at OCAD University.

At OCAD University, faculty in design, we practice what we call respectful design, respectful design. What does it mean to the faculty of design? It means valuing inclusivity and people’s cultures and ways of knowing through empathetic and responsible creative methodologies. It means deepening our relationships, the lives of materials and the cost of making. The challenge facing design today is really to reestablish the relationship with nature. In other words, to design ourselves back into the environment. For example, adding the indigenous concept of seven generations to inform sustainable design. Good design takes a certain amount of humility. We have to recognize that we can do harm as well as good.

It’s about need over want. Respectful design means acknowledging different values, different manners of production and different ways of knowing. The widest possible range of diversity with respect to language, culture and beyond. Designing features with inclusion and belonging for everyone. Join us here at Ocad University faculty design and find out what respectful design means to you.

So what are we doing? Part of taking accountability is changing who we hire. So this year we’ve hired successfully five new indigenous faculty members in an indigenous cluster hire. Now, one of the things that’s particular about Canada that we struggle with a bit here in the states is that you can do actually what’s called positive discrimination. So if you show that there is an underrepresentation of a group, then you can say this position is only open for indigenous members of these particular communities in relationship to turtle island and that’s fine and legal to do so.

This has been a game changer because now they’re on campus. We just went through our curriculum renewal process. They’ve written, we’ve got three in the Faculty of Design, they’ve written three new courses, one in indigenous approaches to environmental design, one in bead work and one in kind of like indigenous design innovation.

And this is going to change everything because you have people there who not only can represent the diversity, the diversity of indigenous perspectives, but they could also model for our students ways of engaging, ways of being a designer that is not Swiss. And they can go to someone and have those conversations of what does it mean to come from a perspective of design that’s deeply embedded in relationality and community building as opposed to efficiency. So they can, that is transforming so much of our possibilities about what design is and what it means.

We’re changing our structure. So we have had for many years an Aboriginal Education Council and we’re figuring out and changing it so that they have representation on our board of governors which deals with all the economic decisions of the institution and Senate, which deals with all of the academic decisions of the institution. So they have representation, but we’re also exploring what does it mean to create a tri-part governance body in which they actually have their own I would say, terrifyingly for the board of governors, veto power over what happens to the board of governors and what happens academically.

Because we have more indigenous faculty members, they’re actually now more, they’ve all signed up for at least three committees, in terms of bringing those perspectives into all of the bodies of decision making that we currently have in the institution as well as going through a process of changing them.

And this is about, and this is really scary, it’s ceding control. We are ceding control over the decisions of the institutions to those who are the most vulnerable, which in our Canadian case are the indigenous communities. And again, it’s transforming our curriculum. So Howard Monroe was the one who is speaking in the video that you saw and what he’s done is he’s taken the design process and he’s aligned it with the seven grandfather teachings, which is in our region of Toronto, it’s mostly engaged with the Anishinaabi ways of thinking, but it is actually sort of pan-indigenous and there are basically value systems around wisdom, respect, et Cetera, et cetera. And he’s taken the design process and mapped the seven grandfather teachings to that process. And for me, I’m not going to go into it because it’s his work to talk about.

But for me what’s really exciting is to think that five years, 10 years for now, that our students will be like, in the elevator and they’ll be talking about, “I had such difficulty in the respect phase. Right? I had to position myself, I had to like position my relationship with another person. And now I like, I’m ready to move into like the bravery phase and I have to put my ideals out there.” Like so to the extent to their understanding of design will no longer just be Bauhaus, but actually be deeply embedded in indigenous principles of how you be morally in the world. To me, that is the most exciting transformation about what we’re doing at OCAD University.

And one of the things that I’ve run because one of the things being the first black and only dean of a faculty design somewhere is that I’m very serious about addressing the underrepresentation of black youth and adults in the design field. Right? So one of the things that I’ve done is established the black youth design initiative and it’s really, for me, it’s become a model for the institution on how we become part of community.

And you start with the program of black reach that’s reaching 8 to 10 year olds and using sort of culturally based design thinking in some ways to get them to understand and be confident in their ability to imagine challenges that they may face. Imagine the solutions. Make something tangible in response to them. And then being able to connect that to their families, their community, both in the local senses in a wider sense as a way to have impact and that to me, that process of creating opportunities for our students to engage with young people, for elders and again, elders for us is like anyone over the age of 27 because when you’re working with 10 year olds, that’s an elder. So that’s bringing to call forth our alumni networks and our professional networks to model possibilities for our students.

So you have this intergenerational community that’s being built and being built to support one another because what racism, institutional or not, seeks to erode is first, your ability and yourself that you can have impact. Then your ability to make it real, right? I have this idea and I’m going to make it real and tangible in the world and then finally, erode your imagination in and of itself and so we can build these community networks of love and care and support. Then we have a tool to fight the impacts of racism as we work through the institutional structures to eliminate racism in and of itself.

So, final takeaway is that if we want diversity and inclusion it’s not enough to invite, not enough to ask to dance, although I love dancing. We have to decolonize and we have to decolonize because our practices in technology and design is traumatizing our diverse students, our diverse professionals.

And again, I’m extraordinarily lucky and extraordinary blessed, right? But there is real trauma that I’ve had to experience in order to get to this place where I can have this very open and truthful conversation with you about what’s really going on for diverse peoples in design and technology.

So with that, I say thank you. And really just open it up for dialogue and I didn’t show any pictures of work, so if you have questions specifically about what this means in terms of the work of our students, I have teed up some examples of that, but I, my intent is to open up a conversation. And so I wanted to set a framework of engagement and then I can show you all the cool stuff. Cool. Thank you.

Björn Hartmann: Thank you. If you have questions, raise your hand and I’ll bring the mic to you. It’s in the back.

Audience member: Hi. That was really interesting talk. Thank you so much. So I’m a Cal alum and I worked for a big tech company. And my question is, have you seen any big companies do well when it comes to decolonizing design?

Dori Tunstall: Nope. That’s the short answer. The long answer is that there are small pockets of possibility in almost every institution and it’s kind of like they’re, they’re kind of at the place where I feel like we were at Stanford and again I was at Sanford like it was like 20 years ago, right? That there are groups of people together who are able to actually decolonize their department or decolonize their way of engaging with things. But the larger the scale of the institution, the slower it is, the process of change. And again, if you don’t have it at the top, if you don’t have it at the top… what is effective at OCAD? And again, we’re small. So part of the conditions of possibility for what we’re doing is that we’re small, like there’s only two layers of higher authority than me, right? And then there’s only two layers of less authority, smaller scales of authority below me, right? And so in a sense, it’s like I can actually make a change. That cascades through wherever the faculty design goes, basically the whole university goes because we’re 70 percent of the university.

So, at scale, it’s really hard to do if you don’t have someone at the top. And half of my job, half of my job is really asking questions that have never been asked in the room. “Why is it that we’re doing this this way? And do we understand the implications of this for this particular group?” The other half of my job is actually crafting the language of response because half the time what I’m doing is explaining to my fellow colleagues and to the upper administration how we communicate the change that we’re trying to do and then train them on how to speak that same message authentically, right? Because I speak it authentically. They have to speak it authentically because if I’m the only one speaking it, then I’m subject to attack. It has to be like the whole institution itself that’s able to speak the same language and speak it with the same sense of passion and urgency in which I do naturally. Right? Because for me it really is life and death.

So until we have that change in large organizations. Who is your CEO? And, and again, it’s tricky even in a global context because like again, I’ve lived all over the world and I have friends all over the world and the experiences, let’s say some of my friends have in India, they are so elite in their position in that society that it doesn’t translate necessarily to a deep understanding of the kinds of marginalization that other people experience. And even I say, one of the success factors at OCAD University is our president is a fem-presenting queer woman who’s Jewish comes from a direct, like real Marxist Marxist background. Right?

And I can say because she has multiple intersectional engages with marginality, that when I come to her and say this decision will have marginalizing effects, she may not understand the specificity of it, but she’ll, she understands what marginalization feels like, that I can have that empathetic connection that allows me to shift her decision making so that it harms less people.

And so in that sense, it’s like that in some ways is one of the preconditions for these things to change at the scale of a large institution. Because we still don’t necessarily have leaders who understand enough positions of marginality to understand how their decisions will affect those who are the most vulnerable in the room. And that’s really all as well as like, it’s not even about the labels per se, it’s really, do you understand vulnerability and do you understand the way in which some communities have such limited safeguards, in terms of the impact, the external impact of your decision has on them. Right?

And like I said, we’re still in baby steps. Like we just improved our academic plan last year, so we’re like a year. I mean, there was like pre-work because in the description to hire me, they mentioned the word decolonization. That’s why I even was interested. But even in this journey at OCAD, I would say we’re probably three to four years into that journey. And nowhere else, the year when I was looking for jobs in North America, no other job in design or art mentioned the word decolonization.

And so we’re such at baby steps, in terms of even beginning to have the language to talk about what it is we’re trying to do. Let alone have the leaders able to facilitate that process. And right now we have like a gazillion leadership searches and, and again, it’s a thing where it’s so hard, it’s so hard to say, “Yeah, we have this person has great administrative skills, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. They’ve done this, they’ve done that today. Can they facilitate this process?” And if the answer is, “No, they can help facilitate this process of decolonization because they can’t even say the word decolonization, that somehow then they become an unfavorable candidate that is really hard to happen in a room.

And I’m in the rooms where this is happening, right. So we’re so far away from getting to that level of institutional change in our large, large organizations. But for me that’s where, like I always used to tell my students, “I don’t want you to work for Greenpeace.” I mean, you can, if you really want to buy much more interesting than you working for, let’s say Halliburton and what I mean by that is that the thing that I’m learning in my position is that being in the room and the perspective that I have, it actually changes the discussion. It things get talked about and brought to the table in a way that I am literally terrified to think what would happen if I wasn’t in this room. Because of the track of decisions that they were going to make until I spoke up is terrifying the impact it would have on people.

And so that’s kind of where we’re at. But part of coming and having these conversations is so that there’s more people who understand and more people who can engage. And I always tell my students is like the decision of whether to use this image versus that image that is a decolonizing opportunity that you can take in and of yourself. And it’s all these micro-decisions that actually will change things. Because even in the rooms, in the conversations I am in, these are micro decisions that we’re trying to shift about who we hire and what curriculum that we need to do and what do we put forward and what do we consider to be our values as an institution. Sorry, that was like a really long answer. I’ll try to keep them briefer, I promise.

Audience member 2: Hi, first, thank you so much for being here. I’m currently a cognitive science student here at Cal and I’m hopefully trying to work in AI, but I’m confused on how you want to change the relationship between technology and the people who create it because I feel like as long as we’ve had technology in all forms, it’s been to make our lives easier in some way. And so, what is the dynamic that you’re trying to aim for between that relationship?

Dori Tunstall: The closest I think about it is the way in which generally let’s say indigenous knowledges works and it has to do with this notion of, and I’ll, I’ll, I’ll speak about it in the context of, so why respect. Respect says that I value your existence beyond the utility that you have for me. So the fact that you just exist in and of itself is marvelous and beautiful and I pay homage to that and I don’t want to do anything to destroy that.

Our tech decisions is about, “I don’t really care what impact it has on you as long as it’s good for me. So even flipping that driver right behind a decision like that’s the, that’s the solution, right? Again, to do that though requires a lot of thinking through and un-thinking what it is that we take for granted, what we build as assumptions around what we’re building and why we’re building it for. Right?

The other aspect is what I love is in sort of indigenous notions of relationality is that… so as indigenous, and I’ll speak mostly to, I’ll speak to Australia because I know that one a little bit more from spending seven years there, is that, so generally in aboriginal, cosmological systems. Everything has a relationship to one another. So as when you’re born as a person, you have a relationship to an animal, you have a relationship to a plant life, you have relationship to a water form, whether salt, water or fresh water, you have a built-in relationship to everything that exists within your ecosystem that is required to keep you alive, right?

And then the reason why you have you have diversity in that because it’s like, okay, you need people to take care of the opossums, you need people to take care of of the snakes. You have people that, so you have all these different totems so to speak, so that every person and everything in that ecological system, there is a relationship of obligation towards and that obligation is found at the level of kinship, which is why they built in a kinship. So you can’t eat your cousin or your brother or sister because that love relationship that you might feel for your real brother or sister is also extended to that tree form, to that animal form, to that water form, to that soil place form. Right? We don’t build our technologies in that way.

Now the really cool thing, I think particularly about artificial intelligence that we can, we can, we can set up that kind of relational obligation within that, but we, we don’t because we don’t have the mind frame yet to be able to activate to those technologies in those specific ways. But those are kind of the kinds of shifts in thinking and shift in kind of our notion of being that if we design our technologies so that they are relational and based on mutual obligation towards everything that’s in this ecosystem like that, that’s the revolution, right?

But like I said, it’s, it’s hard to get there because we don’t, we still, we have to decolonize ourselves, right? Like we’re still speaking Foucault, which is okay, I like Foucault, but we’re still, we’re still speaking in that voice and in that understanding that is still based on colonial structures. And it takes a lot of self-reflection and it takes a lot of work to get out of that. And then it takes another series of to figure out what we can create that’s news, that is not based on that.

And we’re not, we’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. I mean like again, I have indigenous colleagues who are like great technologists and they’re trying to figure this out, like how do I bring my principles into the designs of what I’m doing?

Björn Hartmann: Thank you. We are at time for this event, so let’s thank Dori again. If you want to continue this conversation, there are two options. The first is we have 10 minutes or so right now before Dori’s next event, if you want to come up and ask some questions in person. Also, we may have one or two office hour slots available this afternoon. If you’re interested in a one-on-one conversation, please talk to Robert Kett in the back. He’s raising his hand right now and he is in charge of the schedule and be more than one-on-one. Yes. Thank you so much for coming.