Author: Decolonising Design

CALL FOR PAPERS: Intersectional Perspectives on Design, Politics and Power – A Two-Day Symposium

When:  14-15 November 2016
Where: School of Arts and Communication, Malmö University, Sweden

Today the topic of design and politics is not unfamiliar to designers or those in politics. Yet despite designers’ engagement in community-based activities, design discourse has not been able yet to produce a useful lexicon of concepts that could offer possibilities of acting politically through design. The reason behind this could be seen in various complexities and difficulties involved in such possible discourses.

One way to approach such difficulties is through an intra-disciplinary engagement not with the fields of design and politics but with the effects that design and politics produce through a series of internal, mutual co-relations. These effects are manifested and produced not merely through legislative and institutional practices, but through designed artefacts, spaces, sites and technologies. Ranging from gentrified public squares to high security checkpoints, from precarious production lines to everyday gendered goods, such material co-enactments of design and politics regulate and manipulate people’s bodies, abilities, movements, inhabitations and life conditions in various ways, based on their race, ethnicity, social and legal status, gender and sexuality. From this perspective, the concept of intersectionality can be a useful frame and method to interrogate how design and politics co-shape each other through power relations across race, gender and class, as well as other identity attributions. Intersectionality teaches us that politics cannot be only understood through rigid power categories but through a matrix of forces and relations that produce different effects in different sites and moments, with different bodies and positions. Scholars in postcolonial feminism have discussed the concept of intersectionality widely and have used it as a method to interrogate various sites and spaces of power.

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A Statement on the Design Research Society Conference 2016

The brief statement that follows is a direct response to the results of two submissions for the Design Research Society Conference (DRS2016) to be held in Brighton (UK) in June 2016. We address the politically-charged reviews we received rejecting our first submission, which led us to withdraw our second, accepted proposal. Instead of doing this in the closed system proposed by the DRS (in which submitters could review their reviewers, thereby informing the chairs), we decided to make a public statement. With that we hope to clarify the reasons why we chose not to take part in the DRS2016, and highlight the need of a profound debate and redirection of the colonial ethos of design and design research in spaces which, we maintain, the DRS is not able to foster.

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Editorial Statement

Over the last century, much of the contemporary academic and professional discourse within the design disciplines have been, with a few notable fringe exceptions, surprisingly bereft of a critical reflection on the politics of design practice, and on the politics of the artifacts, systems and practices that designerly activity produces. Our premise is that, notwithstanding important and valued exceptions, the field of design studies as a whole is not geared towards delivering the kinds of knowledge and understanding that are adequate to addressing the systemic problems that arise from the coloniality of power. We acknowledge that this deficiency is a reflection of the limitations of the institutions within which design is studied and practiced, as well as the broader context of the colonial matrix. We understand the (re)design of institutions, design practices and design studies (efforts that always occur under conditions of contested political interests) to be a pivotal challenge in the process of decolonisation.

Moreover, we propose that a sharper lens needs to be brought to bear on the nature and consequences of design as politics today, extending beyond academic discourses to also encompass professional practices and pedagogies. This becomes imperative given that we exist in a reality in crisis – a reality on the verge of ecological collapse, the imminence of a post-fossil fuel world, rising political instability in many regions of the world, widespread state oppression and violence, mass migrations, growing global economic, gender, race and ethnic inequality…the list can go on and on. So far, mainstream design discourse on global platforms has always been dominated by a focus on Anglocentric/Eurocentric practices and ways of knowing and dealing with the world, and even within the Anglocentric/Eurocentric tradition, has been uncritically informed by the socio-technical politics of the mainstream – there has been little attention paid to alternative and marginalized discourses (around, for example, gender, race, culture, the production of knowledge, material practices etc.) both within the Anglocentric/Eurocentric world and especially outside it.

In short, our goal is systematic rather than additive change. It is not sufficient for design studies and design research to simply include a greater “diversity of perspectives” as a means to delay and offset demands for radical systemic change. While we support and defend measures to include marginalised subjects and our/their concerns in spaces from which we have been excluded or remain precarious, we also believe there is little point to diversifying institutions, practices, and processes that ultimately sustain colonial  imperatives. Our objective, therefore, is to transform the agenda of design studies and design research themselves. Designers can put to task their skills, techniques, and mentalities to designing decolonial futures aimed at advancing ecological, social, and technological conditions where multiple worlds and knowledges, involving humans and non-humans, can flourish in mutually enhancing ways.

It is with the aim of providing a platform for all the voices from the fringes, the voices of the marginal and the suppressed in design discourse that we have opened this platform – initially as a blog. We welcome all of those who work silently and surely on the edges and outskirts of the discipline to join and contribute to conversations that question and critique the politics of design practice today, where we can discuss strategies and tactics through which to engage with more mainstream discourse, and where we can collectively postulate alternatives and reformulations of contemporary practice.

We encourage and seek decentralized dialogues, in which different voices can coexist in their difference rather than in an assimilated, consensual narrative. In this platform we welcome:

  • Contributions from designers working at the intersection of materiality and culture, postcoloniality, decoloniality, gender studies, race studies, and other areas of human thought and action which seek to analyze, question and challenge the relations of power in the world today;
  • New curatorial practices of designerly knowledge, that seek to challenge and disrupt colonial understandings in the field; that is, trying to propose, develop, and understand how designs for decolonisation might be presented, discussed, published, disseminated, and so on;
  • Reviews, interviews, debates, podcasts and other forms of discussion and debate beyond the confines of academic language; other formats that can (or should) be understood as academic knowledge such as visual essays or audio papers are also welcome. This list is not comprehensive;
  • Possibilities for the dissemination of critical thinking in design well beyond the canons of the discipline (e.g. design studies and/as epistemic disobedience);
  • Critical pieces written originally in languages other than English; as well as potential translators in and to languages other than English.
  • Critical pieces written by researchers, practitioners, independent scholars, and students  in the process of completing their degrees and/or who feel they are marginalised or poorly supported by academic institutions. In other words, we welcome incomplete ideas, work-in-progress, and other forms of dealing with the questions above outlined, thus amplifying discourses outside the remit of institutes, which may or may not be projects enfolded in academic work.

Moreover, we seek to connect with already existing endeavors within and beyond the design field for a decolonization of not only academia, but all professional practices and pedagogies, in order to connect and foster exchanges of knowledge that speak from, cross, and remain in the borderlands of design and coloniality.


Ahmed Ansari
Danah Abdulla
Ece Canli
Mahmoud Keshavarz
Matthew Kiem
Pedro Oliveira
Luiza Prado
Tristan Schultz

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