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HATCHing New Models of Interdisciplinarity

What do activist crochet jams, movement syllabi, and DIY laboratory work have in common?

They ask how hands-on, justice-driven collaborations between the sciences, arts, and humanities produce new ways of knowing. They train graduate students to consider their research as an ethical commitment to a community. And they’re all part of the lineup of the UC Davis Humanities Institute’s new Mellon Research Initiative, HATCH (Hands-on Arts and Technoscience Community Hub).

HATCH is a feminist arts & science shop created with the goal of developing models for teaching science literacy and connecting social justice with collaborative, hands-on research. Its three-year mission, in the words of co-director Sara Giordano, an assistant professor in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, is “to create and institutionalize a model for university research that changes the research questions we ask and how we ask them.”

One of HATCH’s guiding questions is “When we center social justice values, what research questions become most important?” Graduate and undergraduate students have opportunities to answer these questions through HATCH labs and sponsored projects.

For example, one HATCH graduate student is working with young engineers in Uganda to design equitable irrigation systems; another HATCH graduate student is working with a rural farming community in Knights Landing, California to address health issues. Giordano’s WMS 201 class is collaborating with local organizations in Oakland on research into gunshot wound survival; her WMS 148 undergrads are working with a California-based reproductive justice organization to investigate the relationship between environmental racism and breast cancer in Latinx communities.

UC Davis’s HATCH is one of the first the first feminist arts & science shops in the country, as far as its co-directors can tell. Davis’s proximity to San Francisco and Sacramento allows HATCH to tap into conversations about scientific and technological innovation, while offering plenty of opportunities for non-academic communities to work with Davis researchers.

In HATCH’s events, labs, and projects, students and community members demonstrate that the humanities and sciences are not actually separate from each other. “Humanities scholars understand that meaning-making is part of the whole process of science, and we have the potential to ask the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions” that can keep innovation and artistic work grounded in its ethical obligations to surrounding communities,” says Giordano.

As we have a national conversation about democratizing the sciences and the academy, we also have to consider epistemic diversity, says Giordano. “Epistemological diversity is related to demographic diversity. If you build a more diverse academy, you start to see different kinds of questions being asked, so we need a model that allows those new questions to be asked.” By bringing together community members, researchers, and activists HATCH offers one such model.

For HATCH, hands-on doesn’t just mean working with materials. It means having a space to experiment, tinker, and take the time necessary to produce thorough, ethical work. It also means doing work in and with communities beyond the university campus. HATCH’s upcoming events includes skill workshops, performances, art installations, and various projects that engage the body. Audiences will have the chance to develop their own answers to the question, “Is there something different about producing knowledge when we have our hands on materials?”

On February 1, HATCH will host a screening of “Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure,” followed by a conversation with the filmmakers and activists, Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle.

Quimera Rosa, a transfeminist performance group from Spain, will host a workshop on DIY photodynamic protocols from February 8-17. The workshop, for which students can receive credit, will culminate in an art installation and a performance.

In the spring, HATCH will host Dr. Ellen Foster, who will lead a series of workshops, such as soldering, fiber arts, sound recording/editing, e-waste reclamation, and community environmental sensing, at the Pence Gallery in Davis.

The arts and science shop model has a long history. In the 1970s, activists in the Netherlands realized that the structure of the university wasn’t focusing on the needs of its surrounding community. So they developed a model called a “science shop,” where community members could come to the university, ask graduate students questions about local problems, and collaborate with university researchers to solve those problems.

Then in 2001, Lisa H. Weasel published an article, “Laboratories without Walls,” that argued that universities interested in starting their own shops should locate them in women’s studies departments. Weasel’s argument addressed a growing concern that the community-oriented shop model was being co-opted by businesses or corporate influences. As originally conceived, science shops were meant to be spaces where researchers and their communities could meet to share ideas and collaborate on solutions. Locating science shops within women’s or ethnic studies departments refocuses the shop’s work on social justice, and helps democratize knowledge-production.

–Samantha Snively, DHI Humanities Correspondent and PhD candidate in English literature

This page was last updated: July 26, 2018



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