Robot Spectacle: Affective calibrations of the social life of humanoids

  • Kristian Hoeck

Student thesis: Phd


This dissertation investigates human robot encounters and how robot existence here is calibrated to the social lives of humans. Based on a year of fieldwork in two laboratories dedicated to the development of human robot interaction in the Kansai region of Japan, this dissertation follows professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, his associates and the humanoid beings that populate the two laboratories, Intelligent Robotics Laboratories and Hiroshi Ishiguro laboratories. From within the walls of these laboratories, I investigate how the roboticists strive to make robots with systemic and affective capacity for relating to humans. I approach the laboratories as a specific community that calibrate the social through technical means and through staged and choreographed encounters between humanoids and humans. In these calibrations the roboticists standardize and attune the humans and robots to each other through patterns of communication, linear algorithms, material affordances and limitations, dynamics and speed of movement. Equally, the roboticists apply models of human behaviour, and repertories of cultural expressions. The calibration of the robots’ social existence involves a search for social and communicative standards that both robots and humans can partake in. But such calibrations are not harmonious, and this work goes beyond the machinic and ordered regimes of calculation. Through their work, the roboticists themselves are affected by the on-going intimate tinkering and calibration of their robots. The robots are unruly, ambiguous, spectacular beings that provoke strong reactions of intimacy, care, recognition and affective uncertainty. Such tensions create affective relations that rouse sensations of excitement, alienation or confusion and render the robots open for conflicting interpretation and meanings. In the staging of the encounters between human and robots, the roboticists try to frame these tensions in productive ways through performative expression that juxtapose conventional understanding of human sociality, with technical capabilities, and the promise of the innovatively new.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPenelope Harvey (Supervisor), Rupert Cox (Supervisor) & Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (Supervisor)


  • Japan
  • Social calibration
  • Desire
  • Affect
  • Robotics
  • Adaptation

Cite this