Every Body

A conversation with Sara Hendren & Elizabeth Guffey

Celebrating the arrival of two books that question hidden assumptions about ability, the body, and roles for design and technology in defining shared worlds.
Cambridge, MA


Thursday, October 8
12–1 pm EDT

EVERY BODY: a conversation with SARA HENDREN & ELIZABETH GUFFEY from metaLAB(at)Harvard on Vimeo.

What does it look like when we engineer assistance for adaptation, rather than “normalcy”? How do makers, users, and designers actively reshape environments into usable worlds? In this conversation with Sara Hendren, author of What Can a Body Do? (Riverhead 2020); and Elizabeth Guffey, co-editor of & contributor to Making Disability Modern (Bloomsbury 2020), we explore the hidden assumptions on which our everyday environment is built, and the roles of design & technology in defining ability & disability.

Hosted by metaLAB’s Matthew Battles, the conversation also features a response by Meryl Alper, assistant professor of communications at Northeastern & author of Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, & Inequality (MIT 2017). According to Alper, Making Disability Modern “makes visible often-obscured aspects of human life, the built environment, and societal factors that materialize through design, disability, and their intersections over history and across continents.” Sara Hendren’s project, meanwhile, is to “re-center the people, behind the tools, who must work with their surroundings,” writes The New Yorker’s Katy Waldman, “their adaptations at least as miraculous as the technology that helps them…. Why aren’t people like her in charge?”

Sara Hendren is an artist, design researcher, writer, and professor at Olin College of Engineering. Her work has been exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, The Vitra Design Museum, the Seoul Museum of Art and other venues and is held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt Museum. At Olin, she is also the Principal Investigator on a three-year initiative to bring more arts experiences to engineering students and faculty, supported by the Mellon Foundation. She’s at work on a second book about classical mechanics.

Elizabeth Guffey is the coordinator of the MA program in modern and contemporary art, criticism, and theory at Purchase College. She is also the author of Designing Disability: Symbols, Spaces and Society (Bloomsbury, 2017), among other books and numerous articles on design, and is the founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal Design and Culture, published by Routledge.

This event is the first in a series, Making (It) Work, exploring the kinds of work that books do in the world, during the pandemic & beyond.