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Material Anxieties

Sarah Wilkes has been awarded a three year Wellcome Trust Humanities & Social Sciences fellowship for a project entitled Material Anxieties: The Perceived Health of Materials in Medical Products.

A wire object

Further Information

This project follows both new and familiar materials being developed for healthcare applications: from their inception in laboratories and manufacturing facilities to their selection in design studios and finally to their everyday use in formal and informal healthcare environments. The ultimate aim of this project is to better understand how materials like steel and silicone rubber mediate people’s experiences of health and wellbeing in positive and negative ways. This understanding will be used to influence design practice, inform research directions in materials science and identify and develop materials that better suit the needs of clinicians and patients.

Through a series of project workshops, materials producers, healthcare designers & architects, clinicians and users will be brought together in a dialogue about health and materials. In order to ensure this dialogue between disciplines is effective, the project uses a novel, multidisciplinary approach to gain a holistic understanding of human experiences of materials. This tripartite method combines ethnographic research, design research and psychophysical experiments, allowing for a simultaneous focus on the physical, sensory, aesthetic and cultural affordances of materials.

The project begins with eighteen months of ethnographic research to identify small healthcare applications (e.g. prostheses, architectural hardware and furniture) where materials have the potential to enrich healthcare experiences or exclude people.

Wilkes, S., Wongsriruksa, S., Howes, P., Gamester, R., Witchel, H., Conreen, M., Laughlin, Z. & Miodownik, M. 2016. Design tools for interdisciplinary translation of material experiences. Journal of Materials & Design doi:10.1016/j.matdes.2015.04.013. View.

Wilkes, S.E. 2015. Sustainability and the co-constitution of substances and subjects. In Drazin, A. and Küchler, S. eds., The social life of materials: studies in materials and society. Bloomsbury Publishing. View.

Wilkes, S.E. 2011. Materials libraries as vehicles for knowledge transfer. Anthropology Matters: 13, 1. View.