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Negotiating Tensions

Designers’ responsibilities in democratic entanglements

Time: Fri 2021-10-15 13.00

Location: Videolänk [SAKNAS], Du som saknar dator /datorvana kontakta [SAKNAS] / Use the e-mail address if you need technical assistance, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Art, Technology and Design

Doctoral student: Maja Frögård , Arkitektur, Konstfack

Opponent: Professor of design Erling Björgvinsson, Göteborgs universitet

Supervisor: Senior Professor industrial design Bo Westerlund, Konstfack; Professor Jonathan Metzger, Urbana och regionala studier; PhD, Senior Lecturer Moa Matthis, Konstfack

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This thesis concerns the roles and responsibilities of designers when we design workshops with democratic ambitions. Reflecting on my experiences from making co-design workshops for citizen participation to support sustainable urban development in municipal planning processes, I inquire into designers’ societal entanglements and explore these from democratic, social, political and designerly perspectives. 

Designing workshops in municipal planning processes made me curious about the diverse interpretations and practices of democracy. Seeking to make sense of my role in relation to these, I trace intertwinements between design and democracy. I reflect on how industrial designers’ roles are historically entangled with market-driven relations, formed by production and consumption. I also look at how political theory and philosophy articulate tensions within democracy, and criticise neoliberal political rationality for erasing the tension between democracy and capitalism. As designers are entangled in past and present relations affecting our roles and practices, we are affected by, but also influence, what we engage with. Designers who engage with democratic concerns navigate these tensions and thus affect how democracy is practiced. 

My inquiry into these perspectives led me to argue for designers’ responsibilities and for the need to reorient our practices to respond to democratic issues. Responsibilities need to be articulated in relation to tensions, as well as from within our practices; tensions can help us consider how we orient our practices – in relation to whom, what and where we design. As our relations also form our response-abilities, these reorientations also reshape our abilities to respond in practice, critically and carefully. 

I propose three concerns to support designers, design students and design researchers in orienting their practices, arguing that it is important to reflect on the concerns of entanglements, tensions, and responsibilities. These concerns focus on designers’ potential of making, on tentatively engaging with and curiously proposing things. My contribution and making of theory are thus for designers to make sense of and take responsibility for in relations shaped through our own particular practices.