Exploring Social Relationships Through Speculating in Real Time

A series of live research experiments and virtual experiences, in which participants interact within a small group gathering set in a speculative near-future scenario.

As part of the Speculative Social Justice studio in Parsons School of Design’s Transdisciplinary Design MFA program, we tested four experiments to develop a participatory method to imagine alternate near-futures.

Participants were invited to join a virtual gathering set in one of four fictional scenarios, which represented a particular group structure and generated varying social relationships between attendees of the call, ranging from strictly hierarchical to egalitarian.

The scenarios were inspired by, but not directly connected to, the COVID-19 crisis: (a) an underground activist gathering within a highly-surveilled police state, which has restricted in-person group gatherings, (b) a strategy convening among representatives of a co-op housing network, in a world where urban communal living is the norm, (c) a company meeting in which the boss discusses their policy on emergency pay, based on a new government mandate, and (d) a virtual picnic by an organization that uses questionable data and class privilege to persuade people to social distance as a lifestyle choice, after years of quarantine lockdowns.

Beyond the context provided in the invitations and designed artifacts that were shared before and during the call, there were no assigned roles or predetermined scripts. Participants were asked to bring in their own personal experiences and improvise in order to contribute to the group conversation in real time, based on the initial parameters that were introduced.

The recordings from these experiments serve both as raw research data, which help us analyze structures that generate social participation, and reveal a form of co-designing speculative scenarios through setting up a novel mode of participation.


Anjali Nair                                                Hannah Rose Fox

HANJALI is a trandisciplinary research-led art and design practice working on issues
of social justice.