An event and a short paper on defining design activism

There are a couple of items here, an event and a paper. I’m chairing the upcoming event next week, Weds. 25th May. The talk is part of the “Scarcity Exchanges”  program of the research project, Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment. This session speculates on design and consumerism, looking particularly at available material and social resources that may become prominent in a post-consumerist scenario.

the consumerist scenario — what are elements
of the post consumerist scenario for designers and architects?

The first speaker, Ed van Hinte from NL, will talk about “Harmless Housing” — consumerism, “lightweighted” housing, and a bearable consumerist society with respect to architecture and housing. Ed hails from Lightness Stduios. The second speaker, Steve Broome, will talk about the RSA connected communities project, including the characteristics of social networks and social ties, and preliminary findings about the connection between social networks and physical places. Details for the talk are here, it’s at 6:30 at the Univ of Westminster in London — if you come along introduce yourself!

This paper about how we might define design as activism has been submitted to the Journal of Architectural Education, although I am allowed to share it here on my website with you, my colleagues. Find the paper here: Thorpe-definingdesignactivism (PDF 1.1MB)

Here’s the abstract:

In this article I argue that current conceptualizations of design as activism are often weak or narrow, and don’t stretch to the broader landscape of social movements from which most activism is born. Drawing on concepts of activism from social movement research and conventional activist practice, we can formulate a more useful, robust characterization of design as activism. Such a definition helps designers and social movement actors gain a better understanding of the spatial and material possibilities of design’s role in activism. It makes design activism more accessible within the field of design, and also to wider constituencies

I welcome comments and discussion on the paper’s arguments and examples.

One Response to An event and a short paper on defining design activism

  1. Nada Filipovic says:

    Given the complexities and multifaceted nature of social inclusion is design activism destined to swing between:

    A) ‘Built form’ projects which in their attempt to engage with existing injustices or inequities end up as tokenistic gestures (my personal favourite are mural walls – St Kilda in Melbourne is a good example) or objectify those they are attempting to include and so simplify the complexities of people’s experiences (Sean Godsell’s Park Bench Project did a great job of this). Either way, attempt to resolve the irresolvable.

    Or alternatively:

    B) View social inclusion as an irresolvable pursuit and so focus on creating dialogue (such as the stencil work of Meek, ‘Keep your Coins, I want Change’), in which case, they are generally focused on long-term change and as a consequence, to a degree, allow existing injustices to continue.

    Naturally, there are other categories, these examples are only intended as a starting point…

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