skip to content

Sociology Research


Dr Michelle Westerlaken is a Research Associate on the Smart Forests project. As an interdisciplinary researcher and designer her work builds on posthumanism, feminist technoscience, STS, critical animal studies, decolonial theory, and participatory design methods to investigate possibilities for humans and other species for more relational —multispecies— ways of living on this planet. So far, these projects have involved design negotiations together with cats, dogs, ants, penguins, and various interactive technologies. Central to her work are the ways in which theory and participatory research practices continuously inform and inspire each other.

She has a PhD in Interaction Design from Malmö University in Sweden. Her dissertation, “Imagining Multispecies Worlds” obtained in 2020, presents a 'Multispecies Bestiary' in which 10 protagonist species (including, among others, forests, worms, mice, and monsters) guide the reader through a collection of multispecies stories. These stories illustrate a repertoire of world-making practices with other species in which we recognize and engage with the ability to respond to each other. The project involved visiting research undertaken at the Hong-Kong Polytechnic University, Laguna College of Art and Design in California, and The University of Malta.

Besides doing research, she taught undergraduate and graduate courses on the topics of design theory, playful interaction, interactive storytelling, and experimental game design. What draws her into the woods can be summarized as a desire to learn to observe, care for, and forage within the multispecies worlds that are made as forests increasingly express themselves through sensing technologies.

Research Interests

Participatory research; science and technology studies; multispecies design; posthumanism; feminist technoscience; games/play studies; animal-computer interaction; critical animal studies.

Research Projects

Smart Forest Project, funded by the ERC.

Key Publications - Books

Westerlaken, M. (2020). Imagining Multispecies Worlds, PhD Dissertation (Monograph), Malmö University (Sweden).

Key Publications - Book Chapters

Westerlaken, M. (2018). When Game Mechanics come Crawling out of Ant Colonies. In Game Mechanics - Rules for the Magic Circle (Mela Kocher, René Bauer, Beat Suter, Eds). Bielefeld, DE: Transcript Verlag, pp. 299-315.

Key Publications - Journal Articles

Westerlaken, M. (2021). It matters what designs design designs: Speculations on multispecies worlds, Global Discourse, 11(1-2), pp. 137-155. 

Westerlaken, M. (2020). What is the Opposite of Speciesism? On Relational Care Ethics and Illustrating Multi-Species-Isms, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, volume ahead of print, pp. 1-19. 

Westerlaken, M. (2017). Uncivilizing the Future: Imagining Non-Speciesism. Antae – Special Issue on Utopian Perspectives, 4(1), 53-67. 

Gómez Maureira, M.A., Westerlaken, M., Janssen, D., Gualeni, S., and Calvi, L. (2014). Improving level design through game user research: A comparison of methodologies. Entertainment Computing, Elsevier, 5(4), 463-473. 

Key Publications - Other

Westerlaken, M. (2020). Telling multispecies worlds: Traces of a counter-concept to speciesism, Abstract/Presentation at European Association for the Study of Science and Technology Conference (EASST).

Hillgren, P.-A., Lindström, K., Strange, M., Witmer, H., Chronaki, A., Ehn, P., (…) Westerlaken, M. (2020). Glossary: Collaborative Future-Making. A Glossary curated by the Collaborative Future Making research platform, pp 1-34. 

Sandelin, E. and Westerlaken, M. (2019). After the revolution: Prototyping post-speciesist futures, Abstract/Presentation at the 6th European Association for Critical Animal Studies Conference. 

Westerlaken, M. (2018). Imagining non-speciesism, Abstract/Presentation at the Rethinking Animality Conference.

Westerlaken, M. (2018). Speciesism. Genealogy of the Posthuman entry on the Critical Posthumanism Network.

Westerlaken, M. (2017). Self-Fashioning in Action: Zelda’s Breath of the Wild Vegan Run, Proceedings of the Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, pp. 1-14. 

Westerlaken, M. and Gualeni, S. (2017). A Dialogue Concerning ‘Doing Philosophy with and within Computer Games’ – or: Twenty rainy minutes in Krakow.  Proceedings of the Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, pp 1-13. 

Westerlaken, M., and Gualeni, S. (2016). Becoming with: Towards the inclusion of animals as participants in design processes, Proceedings of the Animal Computer Interaction Conference, ACM Press, No. 1, pp. 1-10. 

Westerlaken, M., and Gualeni, S. (2016). Situated knowledges and game design: A transformative exercise with ants, Proceedings of the Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, pp. 1-25. 

Westerlaken, M. (2016). Playful animals: An invitation to participate. Extended Abstract in Proceedings of International Joint Conference of the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) and the Foundations of Digital Games (FDG), 2(13), pp. 1-2. 

Westerlaken, M., and Gualeni, S. (2014). Felino: The philosophical practice of making an interspecies videogame. Proceedings of the Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, pp. 1-12. 

Westerlaken, M., and Gualeni, S. (2014). Grounded zoomorphism: An evaluation methodology for ACI design, Proceedings of ACE’14 Workshop on Animal Human Computer Interaction, ACM Press, No. 5, pp. 1-6. 

Westerlaken, M., and Camilleri, A. (2014). User testing an interspecies videogame. Proceedings of NordiCHI’14 Workshop on Animal Computer Interaction. 

Gómez Maureira, M.A., Janssen, D., Gualeni, S., Westerlaken, M., and Calvi, L. (2013). Comparing game-user research methodologies for the improvement of level design in a 2-D platformer, Advances in Computer Entertainment (ACE’13), vol. 8253, pp. 77-92, 

Westerlaken, M., and Gualeni, S. (2013). Digitally complemented zoomorphism: A theoretical foundation for human-animal interaction design, Proceedings of Conference on Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces (DPPI ’13), ACM Press, pp. 193-200. 

Job Title:
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Contact Information: