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Holmesburg Prison interior, 2014. Photo: Cristina Mejia Visperas

Soft Structures in Hard Times Series: Cristina Visperas, USC

Part of the Design@Large Series at UC San Diego Design Lab

NOTE: Talk will be presented a asynchronously. The recording of the talk will be available at a later date.


Fleshy Designs: Prisons and the Structure of Experimentation

Cristina Mejia Visperas will talk about how the design logics of captivity and experimentation intersect in prison architecture, tracing the ways postwar medical science research design recapitulated the prison’s practices of control, surveillance, and immobilization. The talk will be drawing from her new book, Skin Theory: Visual Culture and the Postwar Prison Laboratory (NYU Press, 2022), an abolitionist study of postwar medical science research design. 

About the Speaker

Building on her background in molecular and cellular biology, Assistant Professor Cristina Mejia Visperas of the USC Annenberg School examines the politics and cultural histories of the life sciences, with a focus on race and state violence. Her book Skin Theory: Visual Culture and the Postwar Prison Laboratory (NYU Press, 2022) is an abolitionist study of postwar medical science research conducted in prisons and the emergence of modern American bioethics. Her next project addresses the political role of emotions in the Anthropocene. Visperas currently sits on the editorial board of  “Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience”, an open-access, academic journal publishing feminist texts on science and technology.

About Designing Soft Structures in Hard Times

The design of structures and systems brings hard materials to mind: steel, glass, molded plastics, microchips, batteries. But a single layer of graphene, the crumbly-soft graphite used in the pencils we sketch with, is the strongest material we know. The flexibility of “soft” structures like skin, fabric, and the atmosphere makes these forms open to strategic adaptation and imagination, empowering resilience and creativity. For the Design@Large Fall 2022 series, we invite you to consider the power of soft structures in design ecologies ranging from medical research to Indigenous communities, and from the textile industry to web design and the modeling of outer space. We hope you will join us as we consider the power of soft structures in hard times, and as we try our hands at making change through the design of soft structures.

About Design@Large

Design@Large is a speaker series hosted by The Design Lab at UC San Diego, where each quarter we examine a topic in society and the relevance and implications through the lens of human centered design.

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