RESEARCH / DESIGN
Knowledge production is a matter of justice. What we know (or think we know or claim to know) shapes the worlds we make. So if we want to change the world, we need to know differently.
Click for my CV.
[Image description: Book cover appears on right. Image description: White text on blue background reads, “Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. Aimi Hamraie.” Background image shows line drawings of wheelchair users extending their arms into space, accompanied by dimensional notations]
- How does disability restructure the world?
- How does knowledge about bodies shape built and digital environments?
- How does disability culture configure new design protocols and processes?
- What are the possibilities of disability design justice?
I address these questions by drawing on a range of tools: archival research, oral histories, ethnography and participant observation, design-research, critical design, art criticism, and cultural studies. Typically, I focus on the period between the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth century and much of my research focuses on the U.S. As a diasporic person and second-generation immigrant, I bring a critical perspective to research on U.S. exceptionalism and nationalism in disability rights. I also bring perspectives as a nonbinary, disabled person of color to my research on urban environments and spatial inequalities.
I have studied phenomena as diverse as Universal Design; assistive technology; urban design; parks and greenways development; permaculture and regenerative design; urban tree cover; active transportation; social movements and disability activism; critical design; bicycles and wheelchairs; architecture and the human sciences; everyday environments; histories of medicine and statistics; disability in relation to race, class, and gender; and critical approaches to mapping university environments.
Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability (2017)
A critical history of the Universal Design movement, from design for the normate, flexible user-centered design, disability-centered design, and design for all.
Crip Technosciences (in-progress)
Crip technoscience studies has emerged as a sub-field of Science and Technology Studies and Disability Studies. This book examines its theoretical foundations and emerging methodologies, drawing on practices of disability-led design.
Enlivened City (forthcoming, under contract)
Twentieth-century urban designers adopted the language of “livability” to describe urban spaces built around a specific imaginary: the dense, walkable/bikeable, enlivened public space. This project draws on archival research, participant observation, and interviews to examine livability as a discourse and set of affective imaginaries shaping the “urban good life.” This research builds on collaborative work on Sustaining Access with Johnna Keller and Margaret Price.
“Crip Technoscience,” Catalyst: feminism, theory, technoscience (co-edited by Kelly Fritsch, Aimi Hamraie, Mara Mills, and David Serlin) (5.1, 2019).
Design / Socio-spatial practice
The difficult intersectional, interdisciplinary work to be done includes within one frame the spaces of the political economic and the ontological, the battles of the activist and the epistemologist, the tracings of the historian and the artist.
—Beatriz da Costa and Kavita Phillip, Tactical Biopolitics
My work in socio-spatial practice combines elements of interactive engagement and intervention from social practice (art) and spatial practice (architecture) with a focus on justice and world-building. I am interested in the material and conceptual opportunities that socio-spatial practice affords, not only for scholarly inquiry but also for the iterative project of creating a world that nourishes and sustains us. Socio-spatial practice offers opportunities to materialize interdependence as a relation, ethos, and locus of expertise. In this sense, I understand socio-spatial practice as a justice-building endeavor, a project of building access. I am particularly interested in projects that push beyond profit-driven motivations for design and innovation to challenge what we know (or think we know) about bodyminds and their relations to built and social space.
How I work
My research process derives from disability experience and neurodivergence. My attention is distributed and itenerant. I work on multiple projects simultaneously. I begin with large databases, unsorted archival collections, wide-ranging conversations, and years of inquiry. From there, I map connections and tell stories. If you ever made a clothes-hanger mobile in elementary school for a book report, you may have a sense of how this works. But text is linear and the way we tell stories is often confined by this format, so design is also an important part of my research process. Making things helps me understand how our collective knowledge claims shape material realities. A lot of my design practice, which you can read about on the Critical Design Lab website, involves replicating and adapting existing protocols in pursuit of disability design justice. You can learn more about how I came to these methods, and how I think about them in relation to justice, on the Who Taught Me page. I play with socio-spatial practice as it intersects the environmental humanities with colleagues in Office Ecologies.