Assembling Critical Practices Reading List

At the Berkeley School of Information, a group of researchers interested in the areas of critically-oriented design practices, critical social theory, and STS have hosted a reading group called “Assembling Critical Practices,” bringing together literature from these fields, in part to track their historical continuities and discontinuities, as well as to see new opportunities for design and research when putting them in conversation together.

Below is our reading list from our first iterations of this group. Sections 1-3 focus on critically-oriented HCI, early critiques of AI, and an introduction to critical theory through the Frankfurt School. This list comes from an I School reading group put together in collaboration with Anne Jonas and Jenna Burrell.

Section 4 covers a broader range of social theories. This comes from a reading group sponsored by the Berkeley Social Science Matrix organized by myself and Anne Jonas with topic contributions from Nick Merrill, Noura Howell, Paul Duguid, Anna Lauren Hoffman, and Morgan Ames (Feedback and suggestions are welcome! Send an email to

Table of Contents:


Section 1: Introducing Critical Design, and exploring Critical Theory

Intro to ‘critical design’

  • Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Chapter 4 from Design noir: The secret life of electronic objects. 2001.
  • Sengers, P., Boehner, K., David, S., & Kaye, J. J. (2005, August). Reflective design. In Proceedings of the 4th decennial conference on Critical computing: between sense and sensibility (pp. 49-58). ACM
  • Pierce, James, et al. “Expanding and Refining Design and Criticality in HCI.”Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2015.
  • Genevieve Bell, Mark Blythe, and Phoebe Sengers. 2005. Making by making strange: Defamiliarization and the design of domestic technologies. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 12, 2 (June 2005), 149-173.

How does ‘Critical Theory’ inform critical design — early work (Heidegger)

  • Heidegger, (1977) ‘The Question concerning Technology’
  • Winograd and Flores (1986) ‘Understanding Computers and Cognition’ (Heidegger) – Chapters 2-3
  • Hubert Dreyfus (1972) What Computers Can’t Do (excerpts) 

How does ‘Critical Theory’ Inform Critical Design — early work 2

  • Lucy Suchman – ‘Human-Machine Reconfigurations’ – (excerpts, focus on chapter 13-14)
  • Agre, Philip. “Toward a critical technical practice: Lessons learned in trying to reform AI.” Bridging the Great Divide: Social Science, Technical Systems, and Cooperative Work, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum (1997): 131-157.

Critical Theory Overview

  • Secondary readings: excerpts from The Frankfurt School and its Critics, Tom Bottomore,
  • Look at Critical Theory in the Stanford encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • The Origin of Negative Dialectics, Susan Buck-Morss (1977) Chap. 1 ‘a biographical essay’ and Chap. 2 ‘Marx Minus the Proletariat: Theory as Praxis’

Critical Theory  2 (Benjamin)

  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction”
  • Buck-Morss (1992) “Aesthetics and Anaesthetics: Walter Benjamin’s Artwork Essay Reconsidered”

Section 2: Critically-Oriented Design in HCI

“Values” in Design

  • Weber, excerpts: ‘The Definition of Sociology and of Social Action’ and ‘Types of Social action’
  • Graeber (2001) Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value, chapter 1: ‘Three Ways of Talking about Value’
  • Nissenbaum, Helen. “How computer systems embody values.” Computer 34.3 (2001): 118-120.
  • Cory Knobel and Geoffrey C. Bowker. 2011. Values in design. Commun. ACM 54, 7 (July 2011), 26-28. DOI=

Early Attempts embedding alternate values into technology

Design Research Methods: Design Workbooks & Cultural Probes

Adversarial Design

Participatory design

Reflecting on Critical Design: What is Critical about Critical Design?

  • Bardzell, Jeffrey, and Shaowen Bardzell. “What is critical about critical design?.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems. ACM, 2013.

Section 3: Further Topics in HCI

Speculative Design

  • (Excerpts) Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT Press, 2013.
  • Bill Gaver and Heather Martin. 2000. Alternatives: exploring information appliances through conceptual design proposals. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’00). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 209-216. DOI=

Design Fictions

Critical Approaches to Infrastructures

Section 4: Assembling Critical Practices


Cognition Perspectives

Intra-Actions, Materialisms 

Intra-Actional Agency 

  • Introna, L. D. (2014). Towards a post-human intra-actional account of sociomaterial agency (and morality). In The Moral Status of Technical Artefacts (pp. 31-53). Springer Netherlands.

The Body and Technology: A Phenomenological Perspective 

  •  Chap 3. “Spatiality of One’s Own Body and Motility” from Phenomenology of Perception”, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1945)

Race, Class, and Marx 

  • Leonardo, Z. (2004). The unhappy marriage between Marxism and race critique: Political economy and the production of racialized knowledge. Policy Futures in Education2(3-4), 483-493.
  • Zeus Leonardo (2012): The Race for Class: Reflections on
    a Critical Raceclass Theory of Education, Educational Studies 48:5, 427-449.
  • Leonardo (2010). “Ideology and its Modes of Existence: Toward an Althusserian Theory of Race and Racism” in Handbook of Cultural Politics and Education, 195–217.

Design and Social Justice

  • Dombrowski, Harmon, Fox (2016) “Social Justice-Oriented Interaction Design”
  • Walter Benjamin’s “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

Critical Approaches in Urban Design

  • Sadowski, J., & Pasquale, F. A. (2015). The spectrum of control: A social theory of the smart city. First Monday
  • Rittel, H. W., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy sciences4(2), 155-169.

Critical Communication Studies (Hall & Gramsci)

  • Hall, Stuart. “Encoding/decoding.”
  • Hall, Stuart. “Gramsci and Us.”

Weber, Charisma, and Charismatic Technology

  • Weber excerpts:
    • Excerpts from Charisma and its Transformation
    • The Nature and Impact of Charisma
    • Charismatic Authority; The Routinization of Charisma
  • Ames, M. G. (2015, August). Charismatic technology. In Proceedings of The Fifth Decennial Aarhus Conference on Critical Alternatives (pp. 109-120). Aarhus University Press.

Imagining Intersectional Futures (CSCW)

Power and Subjectivity

  • Review the Crenshaw “Mapping the margins” piece
  • Grosz, E. (1990). Contemporary theories of power and subjectivity. Ch3 in Feminist knowledge: Critique and construct, 59-120.

Configuring User Subjectivity

  • Review Grosz “Contemporary theories of power and subjectivity” chapter
  • Woolgar, S. (1990). Configuring the user: the case of usability trials. The Sociological Review38(1), 58-99.