Future Folklore

Our research explored how collaborative designing and making can draw upon the myths and folklore around bees and beekeeping to reflect on contemporary issues. We aimed to create Future Folklore using a co-design method in which knowledge about the past is codified or repackaged in new artefactual and narrative forms. Future Folklore is closely aligned with the emerging field of Design Fictions – a way to explore possible future narratives through designed objects or “dialogical tools”, enabling new perspectives and conversations on present and near future issues.

We focused on beekeeping because it has changed radically since the advent of the varroa destructor (a parasitic mite), first discovered in the UK in the 1990s, with beekeepers now having to adopt more ‘hands on’ management practices to keep varroa (and other pests and pathogens) in check. Meanwhile, bees and beekeeping have experienced a recent surge in interest, as evidenced by an ever-growing body of work in arts and literature. These creative interventions recognise the honey bee as a powerful cultural symbol, and are mindful of global challenges concerning food security and production. Our research was inspired by this body of work, and adds to it.


Publications from the project are…

Beebots-a-lula, Where’s my Honey? Design Fictions and Beekeeping.

The honey bee is a powerful cultural motif that remains an important symbol for the future. Their role as pollinators, alongside a myriad of other species, is critical to the continued diets of humankind. This Future Scenario explores a possible near future where human intervention poses new risks to their survival. Drawing on folklore and contemporary beekeeping practices, Mr Shore’s Downfall tells a tale of discovery and loss as a young beekeeper is introduced to the world of honey bees. Three imagined artefacts are revealed through the story and discussed with consideration of their cultural context, desirability and relation to socio-economic factors. Themes from Mr Shore’s Downfall are examined, and the potential of writing practice for design fiction practitioners is considered. Source

Bee Boxes: Designing Spaces for Stories

Bee Boxes were one strand of a research through design project that worked with communities of beekeepers, storytellers, and school groups. The overarching project sought to understand existing and changing knowledge systems of beekeeping to imagine and potentially shape narratives and knowledge systems for future generations. The Bee Boxes were created in collaboration with three rural primary schools, in an area historically renowned for hard fruit production. To strengthen and contextualise school children’s understanding of their local environment, a physical story box was designed in the shape of a wild hive to store pupils’ stories. Each school had their own hive shape, inspired by organic, parabolic forms of honeycomb. Following a talk by a beekeeper, pupils collaboratively wrote stories and decorated their Bee Box. This paper illustrates the value of a design-facilitated making process to extend engagement opportunities and provide a resource for inspiration and future narratives. We will discuss the use of research through design to create open experience-artefacts intended for use in environmental education about honey bees and pollination. We reflect on the ways that openness has enabled appropriation of these artefacts creating additional opportunities for knowledge sharing and gathering by considering the role of the Bee Boxes across five distinct life phases. Source

Stories in a Beespoon: Exploring Future Folklore through Design

This paper explores the role and potential for design as process, artefact and experience to help frame and address societal problems. We consider this through examining a future folklore dialogical object, designed to stimulate conversation and question assumptions. Beekeeping is a particularly rich context with which to adopt this methodological approach, given the significance of global threats to insect pollination aligned with beekeeping’s extensive cultural heritage. By drawing on past narratives and contemporary knowledge and practices, the Beespoon, a small copper spoon representing the amount of honey a single bee can make, was codesigned as an experience that actively engaged people with concepts of work, value and pollination. Our design process oscillated across past, present and future stories – the Beespoon as future folklore artefact and experience reflects this complexity, operating across time and value systems to provide new ways to think about how we perceive and understand bees.

Applying Design Fiction in Primary Schools to Explore Environmental Challenges

We present a case study describing the use of design fiction in a cross-curricular project with four classes across two primary schools in inner-city Sheffield. The project combined elements of a Mantle of the Expert dramatic-inquiry approach with design thinking and design fiction, to explore the world of the honey bee. We worked with the schools and children during half a term, leading them through a set of activities (including drama, design, creative writing, and 3D prototyping) to enable the children to discover and understand the threats facing bees, beekeeping, pollination, and the global environmental ramifications of a world without bees. This paper describes the approach adopted and the created design fictions. We discuss the value and limitations of our approach and conclude by offering suggestions for researchers and teachers wishing to engage young people with complex problem spaces.