OK, so there was a long academic paper here. For reasons to do with copyright and somewhat beyond my comprehension, I have deleted the text itself, but the abstract remains. I continue to develop these ideas, and I have had many, many great opportunities to do so this past summer, so chances are that I will post something fresh here soon. Meanwhile, here the abstract of the paper I wrote and will rewrite and hopefully publish elsewhere.
Activist design in Helsinki: creating sustainable futures at the centre, the margins and everywhere in between
Abstract: Initiatives and projects to create an alternative ‘normal’ are flourishing. Seeking socially just, culturally meaningful and materially sustainable futures, practical world-improving efforts of ‘activist design’ proliferate. This arena is an increasingly important route for contesting the status quo. However, design projects to create better tomorrows do not just seek to disrupt and oppose corporate-friendly policy initiatives. They are also part of policy, integral to normal neoliberal governance. Today’s expanded conception of design is increasingly explicitly used to address shared problems, typically via collaboration and experimentation. Activist design has affinities with older urban movement demands, particularly in how it critiques top-down expertise and reconsiders relationships between politics on the one hand and material objects, technological change and environmental threats on the other. Using illustrations from Helsinki, the paper takes an ethnographic approach and shows that although design is easy to identify as activism – design activism – this fuses with government-driven design activity (and rhetoric), with the two often employing similar language and claiming identical goals. The paper calls this expanded space where design is promoted for social good, activist design. As has been noted, social movement scholars could be more actively researching this growing phenomenon, and exploring its implications for political change. Context-specific analyses of activist design could add to our understanding of contemporary politics, without taking design’s emancipatory, radical and even world-saving pretensions at face value. Seeking to avoid both naïve celebration of activist design and a perspective that reduces it to co-optation by the neoliberal city in particular, the paper takes an initial step by considering design interventions as ranging from the technocratic or politically limiting to the politically emancipatory.
KEYWORDS: design; design activism; social movements; environmentalism; urban sustainability; material politics
AND SOME REFERENCES of interest to those seeking information on activist design or on design anthropology
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