Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Rubbed raw

So I've been thinking about rawness. More specifically I've been thinking about when I was a child: that time in my life before I learned that one is not supposed to enjoy having one's skin rubbed raw.

(Get your minds out of the gutter! I'm thinking about skinning my knee, getting rug burns or 'Indian' burns, things like that. It's the rawness that I'm interested in.)

So why rawness? Because I've been thinking about social friction - and why we talk about that and not about social rawness.

Some time back I posted a link to Rune Huvendick Jensen and Tau Ulv Lenskjold's Designing for social friction (pdf). Their paper draws heavily on my own work, but takes an important diversion into the realm of friction. They define friction as the "process which separates different expressive behaviours and contexts from each other" as well as the "‘rubbing off’ of people on each other" and the "constant actualisation of difference". In other words, friction appears to be an organising force, as well as a force for change. They go on to claim social friction as an integral and critical part of everyday life, a means by which we shape our worlds. Seems reasonable. Unfortunately, the remainder of their argument lacks enough coherency and consistency to help me understand what makes this idea interesting for design practice. (What, exactly, are they advocating as critical methodology?) Nonetheless, I've greatly enjoyed having my mind stretched into the very idea of friction, and over the past few months I've tried to unpack what that might mean.

As usual, I started with definitions. The word 'friction' comes from the Latin to rub or to crumble, and it refers to the force that resists relative motion. In social terms, this is fully consistent with the idea that friction organises. It also refers to clashes or disagreement, and starts to share commonalities with chafing. To chafe is to warm by rubbing together, but also to irritate and make sore, and again in social terms, chafing involves movement that affects change. However, at this point I got distracted by the idea of something rubbed raw. To be raw is to be uncooked, unprepared or imperfectly prepared, lacking experience or refinement, as well as lacking covering, being exposed and susceptible to hurt.

It was then that I remembered being a child: the sheer joy of being raw and the games we played to make ourselves raw again and again. I was uncooked, unprepared, imperfect, exposed and vulnerable. In retrospect, I would describe that as always existing in a state of potential. Instead of feeling scared, I felt free. Instead of feeling pain, I felt alive. I loved being rubbed raw. And despite being told that was more than a little twisted, I continue to seek out things that make me feel raw. And now I want to explore what social rawness is - and how it differs from social friction...


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