Speculative Design, Farmers of Melghat and Co-creation

In whichever way we’re choosing to practice/speculate or share our speculations, it is necessary to look into how accessible is that mode or method. The gallery model is a mode of dissemination but prior to that, is the process through which we even speculate,. This project was all about making the process accessible. A lot of times when we work with communities, it’s difficult to translate all of those thoughts that have an extremely vested Eurocentric origin to somebody who has never left their village. Therefore it’s not a limitation of their ability to understand, it’s just a different world/reality. You have to respect the reality of the people with whom you’re interacting, so the job of a designer is to make it relevant to that reality.

Different stakeholders who exist in the futures rarely get to participate in imagining or building those futures and so whoever does not get to participate in the act of imagining possible future, they’re dreams, hopes, desires and needs will be missing from that future. If one looks into futures speculated in books and movies, there are so many communities that are not even visible in those future worlds. Does that mean that those communities didn’t survive/ didn’t live in the year 2050 or are they still marginalized in 2050 and therefore not visible? the participation of those who have been historically marginalized and those currently marginalized is important because it becomes a way to address their marginalization as it is also an assumption about the world that we live in. Hence the processes which were followed for this particular project aimed at including the tribal community of Melghat in speculating the farming futures of Melghat.

The methodology which was followed was based on two foundational attitudes: ethnography and participation. The aim of the research was to conduct a qualitative systems research in Melghat using generative research methodologies. The field work intended to cover various aspects of Life in Melghat, concentrating on the agricultural system and the systems interlinked with it. The study was conducted in 17 villages of Melghat which included Rora, Kara, Keli, Tarubanda, Savrya Titamba, Khidki, Chaurakund, Chitri, Khot, Ghota, Berda Balla, Mansudhawdi, Nagzira, Zanzridhana, Harisal, Lavada and Rajapur. An experience with the elusive Korku tribal community settled in the heart of India, helped to understand the nuances in the social structure, belief systems as well as the cultural differences through out the area. The research was conducted in all the three domains of ‘say’, ‘make’ and ‘do’ as mentioned in The Convivial Toolbox (Liz Sanders and Pieter Stappers). Co-creation workshops held with the Self- Help Groups aimed at mapping the systems parallel to the agricultural systems and studying their inter-relations. Online Interviews and remote research was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Melghat the future becomes anyplace that is not today. It is not so much about some time that is ahead of the time that we are in right now, it is just about being in an alternate time and space where different things are possible. As a country, India doesn’t live in the 21st century but rather in different times that are parallel to each other. Different parts of the country have different levels of accessibility to resources, infrastructure and technology with respect to time. Participatory futures methodology was followed to narrate the stories of localising emerging technologies in the context of agriculture and Melghat. Collaboration was at the heart of the research, emerging from the notion that one cannot and does not want to think alone. Thinking and knowledge-making do not occur in a vacuum but emerge through interaction with others’ thinking and knowledge-making practices. The artefacts were made along with the local craftsmen post a co-creation session along with the farmers. The exhibit of the Krushi Gomej aimed at creating meaningful discussions and plan of action for introducing the emerging technologies in Melghat.

With the framework for the future scenario created, informed by trends and themes identified in the data corpus, the perceptual bridge has been crafted linking the familiar present with the unfamiliar future. The provocation to engage audiences and provoke an emotional response has been created and the next step is to decide the specific form this Speculative Design Fiction should take. Similar to the problems of classic utopianism , speculative designers attempt to open critiques of emerging technologies or social power structures but do so from their own privileged world views. While designers may collaborate with professional experts on scientific or technological trends, it is rare that they work with people who are most impacted by the issues projects confront. In the end, speculative projects typically appear as static images or artefacts on display, prioritising the aesthetic vision rather than enabling a collaborative process of imagination. The aim of the projected presented in the paper was to let go of the above-mentioned structures to involve as many people possible in the process of speculating the farming futures.