Mutable Matter



Design, Design Activism and the Democratic Production of Future Social Natures@AAG 2012


Image: ‘Portable garden’ (Maria Kalathaki as part of ‘Mutation’ project by Angela Last)

The preliminary programme for next year’s AAG came out last week. Am currently trying to get the placement of our ‘Ruinations’ session changed, which seems to have got spread over two days, with the discussion of the papers taking place on the Friday before the presentation of the papers on Sunday… Hopefully this can be fixed! Meanwhile, the other session I am participating in (as a presenter), ‘Design, Design Activism and the Democratic Production of Future Social Natures’, does not seem to have attracted such logistical issues. Am very curious about the content and dynamics of this session. So far, the organisers have sent some e-mails round to encourage participants to exchange reading lists, as well as comments we have come across that struck us as central to the debates this session is engaging with.

What the design activism session seeks to bring into dialogue are two lines of inquiry that have been pursued in (and outside) geography: design as a ‘technological fix’ and design with a different utopian drive: as social movement that offers resistance to design as purely materialist and instrumental. The latter is, for example, being discussed in the Open University’s ‘Stitched Up’ research group, which looks at the ‘politics of generosity, sharing, voluntary simplicity, informal provisioning and craft’ and how ‘these practices can potentially contribute to sustainable futures’. I am particularly curious about this session, because it seems to bring people from different fields together. Having done work around tension between technocratic remediation and resistance from a design background (fashion) first, I encountered quite a different sort of discourse when I moved into geography.

Being interested in the democratisation of ‘innovation’ and questions of materiality and political agency, I also find the second theme of the session intriguing, which talks about ‘materialising’, e.g. about ‘provid[ing] some kind of material substance to a new progressive politics of the environment’. Naturally (excuse the pun), I am a bit concerned about any claims to ‘materialising’, however I think that there are still a number of debates-to-be-had in the design activism field about materiality and agency, which can benefit both from a design and a geography perspective. As it looks, there are going to be three sessions (and perhaps some post-session chats?), so hopefully plenty of opportunity to exchange perspectives!

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