Hormone Epistemologies

by k0


“How do we know what we know about hormones?” This was the starting provocation of my lab within the School of Commons. Before starting my project in the School of Commons I knew exactly what my project would look like. During the course of the residency, I’ve revised most – if not all – of those tightly-held ideas. Here’s that evolution, in the form of  accretive annotations of my original lab description.

What is the role of participatory performance in building body knowledge about hormones?

Below is the original articulation of the performance practice I wanted to explore.

“In a series of participatory online performances, groups of strangers will co-create a visual / textual collage on the topic of what it means to navigate or understand hormonal bodily experience. Each performance centers on a specific bodily experience; lasts up to 2 hours; invites up to 15 participants; and offers 20CHF compensation to each. The first session will explore hormones and gender expression; more detail and an open call will be circulated through SoC social media.”

This idea hinged to the online nature, which I had previously found to be supportive of sharing difficult personal health experiences in a more anonymous and comfortable manner than in person.

But then, I facilitated two in-person events (in June, a workshop on community data practices at the Weizenbaum Conference; and in July, the School of commons intensive in Zurich) through which I encountered 2 new invitations within the research.

  1. In general, our collective knowledge about our embodied experience is not very articulate. It is even more inarticulate when it comes to hormones, which operate on a scale and within a causality that is very hard to observe. When people can articulate in words a hormonal experience, it is often implicated in frustration or shame (about one’s body, and/or a medical experience). Thus, focusing on talking focuses on experiences of prior pathology, at the exclusion of other experiences that may be neutral or positive, and which have hormonal process as a key aspect, but which are not recognized as being about “hormones.” So, how can the participatory performance move beyond the articulable?
  2. In both events, I worked with drawing as a method of self-reflection less demanding of articulate expression. In an in-person event, the use of drawing is indeed expressive. In addition to that, the literal sound of pencils on paper created a sonic landscape of rhythm, and led me to consider how to use sound and voice within a performance to explore hormonal rhythms in the body.

My contribution to the end-of-year School of Commons event Dec 3 will be a participatory sonic performance exploring both of these ideas.

“Safety in Numbers”

The original title was safety in numbers, and the project had a distinctly data-oriented focus:

Safety In Numbers investigates community data practices. When we undergo care for chronic illness, mental health, or gender confirmation, we are undergo an intense process of quantification. This can become a tool of gatekeeping or harmful internalization of imposed norms. At the same time, measurements and self-monitoring enable us to project-manage (as we must) our own healthcare. The data we accumulate can also feed into community support and knowledge-building in many existing, vital online self-organized resources.

Safety In Numbers provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how data is already mobilized, expand our imagination, and create possibility models for subversive discourse around data. We all participate, though not always enthusiastically, and often without direct awareness, in the quantification of our own bodies. This is a commonplace experience, which includes everyday activities like step-counting or period tacking, but it is often made individualistic by the tools available. This reinforces the perception of our challenges and triumphs with these tools as idiosyncratic, isolating, and sometimes even problematic – in part because there are not many spaces for sharing, exploring, validating, and understanding our data-body experiences.

These topics are explored in an upcoming conference proceedings following up from the Weizenbaum event (Drawing as a Facilitator for Critical Data Discourse: Reflecting on Problems of Digital Health Data through Expressive Visualization of the Unseen Body Landscape) which I hope to continue to enact in both academic and non-academic spaces.

Importantly, though, this part of the research is more about offering a recipe for facilitation. A prior iteration of this recipe focused on data exercises (CRITICAL DATA PRACTICE AT HOME AND WITH FRIENDS – part of the Critical Coding Cookbook) and next iterations would focus more on the drawing aspect.

At the conclusion of the residency, my goal was to collate these co-constructed collages:

At the conclusion of this project, the resulting collaboratively-produced digital collages – as well as reflections from the performances – will feed into future publications through SoC that will further catalyze new conversations that happen all too rarely. 

But the current iteration of the publication is focused on using images and short prompts / invitations to become curious about body rhythms and cyclic processes, including those about hormones. It is by providing recipes for facilitation and threads one can pull on that this project aims to enable conversations about inarticulable body experiences.