The Prototype: more than many and less than one

The prototype: more than many and less than one by Alberto Corsín Jiménez is  part of a series of research papers presented at the Prototyping Conference and published in the Journal of Cultural Economy. Special Issue, Prototyping cultures: art, science and politics in beta, ed.

Reprap DarwinPrototypes have acquired much prominence and visibility in recent times. Software development is perhaps the case par excellence, where the release of non-stable versions of programmes has become commonplace, as is famously in free and open source software (Kelty 2008). Developers are here known for releasing beta or work in progress versions of their programmes, as an invitation or call for others to contribute their own developments and closures. An important feature of prototyping in this case is the incorporation of failure as a legitimate and very often empirical realisation.
Prototyping has also become an important currency of explanation and description in art-technology contexts, where the emphasis is on the productive and processual aspects of experimentation. Medialabs, hacklabs, community and social art collectives, dorkbots, open collaborative websites or design thinking workshops are spaces and sites where prototyping and experimentation have taken hold as both modes of knowledge production and cultural and sociological styles of exchange and interaction. Common to many such endeavours are:user-centred innovation, where users are incorporated into artefacts’ design processes; ICT-mediated forms of collaboration (email distribution lists, wiki spaces, peer-to-peer digital channels), or; decentralised and so-called ‘horizontal’ organisational structures. Some economists favour the term ‘open innovation’ to describe an emerging production paradigm, where the boundaries between production, distribution and consumption (inside and outside an organisation) are increasingly blurred and interpenetrated (Chesbrough 2005). Computer-aided rapid manufacturing or 3-D printing are for example contributing to the collapse of some such categories, say, when a person can customise an artefact’s design from her home computer and have it immediately printed out in 3-D. The object’s materiality is then rendered ‘propinquitous’ (Buchli 2010),‘an intangible everyware(Greenfield 2006), less of a thing than an event. From a historical and sociological angle, the backdrop of such cultures of prototyping is not infrequently connected, if in complex and not always obvious ways, with a variety of artistic vanguards, the do-it-yourself, environmental and recycling movements, even the development of cybernetic philosophy (Turner 2006)…..

Prototyping Culture

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