Life of Artefacts: an ecological Perspective.The Case of Living Root Bridges.
The dualism between natural and artificial is a fundamental, often implicit assumption over which most design activities rest in contemporary society. It shapes both practices and theories of how artefacts come into being. In this paper, we challenge such assumptions and suggest an alternative view based on the notion of artefactualness, a property defining a continuum of degrees of human vs non-human agency, and material synthesis. We define a framework in which humans and other non-human agents interact over different time and dimensional scales to shape the artefact’s life story. Relying on the theory of ecological perception and the notion of umwelt, the framework provides a causal framework of “extended stigmergy”, where agents dwelling different umwelts interweave their actions while shaping the artefact. We illustrate this framework by analyzing the development process of artefacts that defy our conventional catalog of the world: living root bridges from the War tribal area in Meghalaya, India. Living root bridges are relational entities that help to rethink the role of human imagination and design into the more complex ecology of an artefact’s life and to move from designing things to designing with things.