Annotated Bibliography - Design Activism: Challenging the Paradigm by Dissensus, Consensus, and Transitional Practices.

An annotated bibliography of the article "Design Activism: Challenging the Paradigm by Dissensus, Consensus, and Transitional Practices" by Alastair Fuad-Luke. Taken from The Handbook of Design for Sustainability. Submitted in 2021 for partial Fulfilment of the Bachelor of Arts in Product Design at Lasalle.


Denise Wang

Details : Fuad-Luke, A. (2013). Design Activism: Challenging the Paradigm by Dissensus, Consensus, and Transitional Practices. In S. Walker & J. Giard (Ed.). The Handbook of Design for Sustainability (pp. 466–487). London: Bloomsbury Academic.

In this book, Fuad-Luke explores how design activism tries to inculcate positive change and raise awareness, whilst also challenging the conventional design knowledge and approaches. He proposes a new framework that discusses the challenges of the existing paradigm through consensus, dissensus, or transitional practices. And as design activism encompasses a large range of disciplines, Fuad-Luke proposes a meta framework that encompasses the 3 different approaches, and explores this framework in relation to the capitals that govern it and the types of spaces it inhabits.

Fuad-Luke proposes a new emergent meta-framework for design activism that encompasses the 3 different theoretical approaches in relation to the paradigm. The first category adopts a consensus over dissensus approach within the paradigm. The second category is where consensus and dissensus meet, either in individual and/or collective transitional practices, which is often found at the edge of the paradigm. The last category adopts the dissensus over consensus approach outside the paradigm. (471) He argues that the way an action levers political change would depend on the type of approach used, and that arguably, designers would need a combination of all three in order to effectively bring about change. By being able to adopt and adapt a wide range of design approaches depending upon the chosen context, design activism is intended to be catalytic, enabling (469) and aims to provide agency towards transformative positive change. (483) Thus the new framework hopes to make it easier for us to understand the basis of these approaches.

Additionally, as design activism acts on our anthropocentric condition, each category and its approach must be acknowledged along with the capitals that govern it. Approaches within the paradigm tend to focus on building social capital, whilst the edge of the paradigm focuses on the human capital. Approaches outside the paradigm focuses on contesting current constructs of cultural capital.. Some modes of practice, such as craftivism, hacktivism, open design, and slow design, have a tendency to act on more than one form of anthropocentric capital. (471) By acknowledging the type of capital that needs to be addressed, designers would be able to facilitate the correct processes required. One example is how building social capital would require more participatory modes of practice involving more engagement and democratisation, whereas contesting cultural capital requires more disruptions and provocations. (472) Thus bringing up the issue that whilst it tries to elicit change, being aware of its tendencies to act predominantly on the various social, human and cultural capitals would encourage better results.

Finally, he discusses how the spaces each act inhabits affects the influence of said act. He explores this in accordance to 3 different spaces, the space of places, space of flows, and space of concepts. (475) As designers must understand how in order to choose the correct actions towards a particular design, one must center it around the space it will inhabit as it has to effectively operate within these social spaces to influence change. These social spaces differ in each situation, they can be real, virtual, or conceptual. In real, tangible spaces, they vary from the personal to private, semi private, semipublic, and public. Virtual and conceptual places refer to visions of spaces which do not yet exist. (475) Consequentially, the different spaces house different audience groups, the 3 key audiences being the general public, the online networked public, and the individuals and communities of Design Culture. Thus, the ability to trigger system change on these socialized activities is inherently dependent on the scale of the social space and influence of the audience and their habitus. (478) One example of this is the Sasa Clock by Thorunn Arnadottir, which redesigns the way people tell time in their personal spaces by using a string of different coloured beads that turn on the electric cogwheel of a clock. The users remove the necklace only when they want free time, before returning it back when time needs to be counted once more. This challenges the perception of time as a metric system, and instead based on the feelings and wants of a person, thus introducing design activism into their personal space.

In conclusion, this article is useful as the meta-framework Fuad-Luke proposes helps to define the different design approaches of design activism in relation to the 3 theoretical variants; Within, on the edge, and outside the paradigm. (472) Furthermore, he discusses how the capitals governing each category needs to be acknowledged, and how the audience and their habitus of each space influences the impact of change of each act. Through this, we will be able to better understand how different design approaches are being applied, as only through the collective impact of all these factors will we be able to understand how design activism challenges and transforms the existing paradigm.

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