Initial Research Reflections

Last week commenced the research phase of degree work. Below are my thoughts regarding a small selection of articles, podcasts, and other miscellaneous inspiration.

Carl DiSalvo & Adversarial Design

Natural Fuse by Usman Haque

Though he visited Umeå last year, I was embarrassingly relatively unfamiliar with Carl DiSalvo’s work and research until last week’s UID Wednesday lecture. Following a talk by Jamer Hunt, who again gave his inspiring scalar framework lecture that I repeatedly enjoy, DiSalvo discussed his concept of Adversarial Design, an alternative approach to Design for Democracy within Critical Design. Based on the democratic model of agonistic pluralism, which emphasizes the positive affects of political contestation, Adversarial Design uses design to reveal conditions of power while creating a space for productive conflict. DiSalvo asserts that many Design for Democracy projects are governed by the democratic principle of consensus, avoiding to acknowledge the necessity of discord. I particularly found beneficial his explanation of the difference between ‘designing for politics’ and ‘political design’ – rooted in the distinction between politics and political – the means by which a social order is held together versus a condition of contest within society. From his paper Design, Democracy and Agonistic Pluralism, DiSalvo states, “design for politics strives to provide solutions to given problems within given contexts, political design strives to articulate the elements that are constitutive of social conditions.”

A few key strategy points from his paper:

  • Identify new themes
  • Reveal conditions of power
  • Create a space of conflict
  • Identify new trajectories for action

As the primary aim of my degree project is to critique society’s relationship with energy, not make the consequences of Global Warming more accessible, I found DiSalvo’s lecture especially relevant. I additionally appreciated his presentation of Usman Haque’s Natural Fuse in which he highlighted the

  • importance of a designed system to allow participation,
  • playful and experiential engagement of resistance,
  • overload of meaning in common objects that become a challenge,
  • avoidance on a single ethical stance,
  • and leaving open the resolution of contest.

Furthermore, in the followup discussion with both Hunt and DiSalvo, they discussed a specific tactic within Adversarial Design I aspire to assume – identifying collectives of various scales, and binding them strategically through a series of exclusions. While I haven’t yet formally defined how this will be accomplished in my future speculative scenarios, I believe it will be a useful and important method for both linking daily activities with personal technology and creating a larger relational network. Lastly, I also intend to adapt Hunt’s advice of beginning with an exploded diagram, mapping out my problem and design opportunities, formally placing where I believe I can intervene.

Discovery: Geo-engineering by BBC World Service

Geoengineering by Science in Seconds.

As I last week delved further into a more comprehensive understanding of Global Warming, the resulting climate change, and the three primary strategies against – climate engineering, adaptation, and mitigation – I listened to a podcast on geo-engineering. Discovery: Geo-engineering specifically focused on the release of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere to reflect incoming sunlight. While I have always viewed this particular technique as rather radical, I appreciated the discussion regarding the unintended consequences, and therefore potential slippery slope, as well as the unavoidable termination effect. The former I could have assumed, but find something compelling with the general concept of the slippery slope argument that I feel could be integrated into my potential scenarios. In regards to the latter, after moving past my disturbance over the realization that if employed, once geo-eningeering is discontinued, the earth’s climate soon resumes its prior state; I see an interesting temporal conflict between a solution for now versus the future, overlaid with an enormous commitment to a finite procedure. Additionally, geo-engineering ironically seems to be most successful in its unintentionally role of inspiring people to use less fossil fuels – a radical proposal with serious intentions turned into critical design project. In conclusion, research into geo-engineering only furthers my commitment to focus on mitigation as an idealized outcome of my thesis – for “mitigation deals with the root causes of climate change.”

Freakonomics: Fear Thy Nature

Sleep No More photo by Yaniv Schulman and Robin Roemer

Though more for entertainment than in relation to thesis, I really enjoyed Fear They Nature by Freakonomics. The episode is about the effects of external circumstances on human behavior, particularly focusing on the theater show Sleep No More and the famous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. While intensely focusing on a long term project, such as a thesis, its easy to draw parallels within almost anything, I definitely identified both personally and as a designer to the quote, “On putting people into total new situations, thats how we discover something new about ourselves.” I think the podcast’s discussion on control and context in connection to new situations can be applicable to critical design. Plus its an interesting listen.

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