Daring to live in uncertainty – research out of becoming

Experience PhD Student Profile: Ana Paula Lafaire

Last year, a group of six doctoral candidates started their research related to experiences and experience design. Ana Paula Lafaire is one of them, her research exploring the tacit dimensions of experience and creativity in organizations. When it comes to the research methods, she has taken some radically creative approaches.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design at the University of Guadalajara in México, Ana Paula Lafaire started her working career designing furniture. Soon she became interested in “making the design happen” from the organization’s perspective and took responsibilities regarding strategy, clients, employees, suppliers and so on. To gain more understanding of organizational design practices, Ana applied for the master program of Business and Design at Gothenburg University. Her master thesis, co-authored with Dinara Zhubaniyazova, was called “Daring to dare: the journey to a critical practice” and it was about how designers, architects, and artist stir their careers in an unconventional and political direction.

Ana wanted to learn more about organizations and critical perspectives which lead her to apply for her PhD at Aalto Organizational Communication Unit. She feels grateful to be part of the Aalto community: “I am lucky to be sharing my experience with passionate, kind, and wise people. There is a culture of uplifting and supporting each other, not only in the academic sense. We are more than co-workers, and that has been very important for me. Their insights and emotional support have been key this year to feel welcome and thrive in the adventure of settling in a new country, a new job and a new discipline.”

Ana dares to proceed with uncertainty. Without carving her research question to stone, she has started to circle her research area with multiple methods. Her theoretical approach includes the theories of meaningful work from the perspectives of space, embodiment, empathy, and wellbeing.  She has been inspired by Orlikowski and Scott’s theory of sociomateriality, which challenges the assumption of separation between the social (meanings, activities, contexts…) and the material (artifacts, technology, objects). “It is a new way of thinking about the world, since our language and culture conceive things as separated categories, not as a fluid entanglement”, Ana says.

Along with reading about practice, she has concentrated with “rich collection of data grounded in lived experiences”. These qualitative methods include interviews, participative inquiry, and ethnography. She has experimented with some unconventional ways of producing phenomenological understanding by forming new communities. Along with her co-author Leni Grünbaum, Ana started a project of “Becoming in Academia”. Despite the difficulties with corona restrictions, they managed to design, facilitate and collect data form 10 workshop sessions with 12 doctoral candidates through Zoom. “The group worked as a relational space to meet peers and discuss relevant topics like uncertainty, motivation, struggle, and balance, using non-conventional methods like storytelling, roleplay, and metaphors. It was gratifying to participate and listen to their accounts, especially during those days of isolation”, Ana explains.

It’s easy to see that Ana’s research on the tacit experiences and implicit creativity reaches to her childhood:” I have always been interested in personal stories of ‘becoming’. From History, movies of “based in true stories”, listening to my grandparents’ stories… I like to ask people about their life stories and their most important ‘aha!’ moments. Ana seems to be happy for her time as PhD candidate: “I hit the nerd-jackpot since I can follow my curiosity and read what I like, and then discuss it with likeminded people working in different disciplines.”

The Finnish Academy Profi4-funding has enabled Aalto to profile in multidisciplinary experience research. With this funding, six interdisciplinary doctoral students strive to create new scientific knowledge about human experiences. The topics touch the psychological and brain mechanisms of experiences, shaping experiences via art, design and architecture, and the organizational, managerial, and emotional aspects of experiences.

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