Two Turtles: Children and Autonomy in Participatory Technological Design

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This paper explores some issues that emerged in research about a participatory design process with children to develop a pre-prototype of a social robot for hospitalized children. Using as an anecdotic inspiration, the coincidence of the designing of two turtles as social-robot prototypes, one by roboticists and the other one by children, this chapter explores and reflects on the autonomy of children in a participatory process of technological design. Based on the type of discussion that places care at the centre of the debate as a way to stress the relevance of care as a vital requisite for thinking and understanding worlds, we propose a radical reconceptualization of the notion of the citizen as an individual with rights and, on the contrary, emphasizes responsibilities and relations of caring interdependency. Our main goal is to analyse how matters of care emerge when children participate in a process of technological design and how this challenges the supposed children’s autonomy as something related to individual needs and desires as users or consumers. It is our proposal to introduce a critical reflection about autonomy into the debate surrounding citizen’s participation (and particularly the participation of children and other vulnerable collectives) as an inextricable element for the democratization of technology. The fact of reflecting on autonomy as an emergent quality, as a sustained network of intangibles, and as materiality will turn out to be a political proposal to rethink the debate surrounding the responsibilities of technological design toward society and the role that participation plays in it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCommunicating Science and Technology in Society
Subtitle of host publicationIssues of Public Accountability and Engagement
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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