The Role of Design in an Era of Crisis at V&A


The statement below introduces a seminar at the V&A on September 19th. I will also publish two statements on apolitical design. The events is free but booking is required. 

Does design practice today work for the common good? Are our cultural institutions serving the interests of common people and the planet? While capitalism imposes harsh austerity on the public – it is also increasing profits for elites, the 1%. This dynamic is a threat to democracy and our collective futures, but these dangers are camouflaged by the design industry and our cultural institutions that fail to take the crises we face seriously enough as we head toward unprecedented and irreversible ecocide brought on by the logic of profit for profits sake.

Jody Boehnert from EcoLabs and Occupy Design UK will describe how the design industry functions to manufacture consumer desire, conceal the impacts of capitalist modes of production and legitimise the current socio-political-economic system through a process of symbolic violence. The values embedded in capitalism are reproduced by the design industry. She will briefly review recently written work on how designs function to perpetuate the status quo; how capitalism destroys the capacity of the design industry to work for sustainable futures; and how there is no such thing as apolitical design. Design that claims not to have any politics serves the interest of the neo-liberal corporate-state.

Disaster capitalism is characterized by a merger of state and corporate power and the privatization of public institutions and property. Cultural institutions such as the V&A, Tate and the National Gallery serve to camouflage and legitimise these processes. Noel Douglas from Occupy Design UK will examine how highly visible corporate sponsorship and the alignment of the senior management of our cultural institutions with the 0.1% helps reproduce the cultural values that maintain the system presently destroying future possibilities for the rest of us.

Once we have established the role of design and design institutions in perpetuating crisis conditions, this seminar will also make space for an exploration of strategies for subversion, intervention and resistance. While there is much vague anti-consumerist and anti-corporate rhetoric in design circles – a cynical stance, on its own, will not transform the dysfunctional political systems. What is urgently needed in design is new form of politically, socially and ecologically engaged design practice. The work of building new social practices, relations and institutions that can resist, occupy and transform the political and economic institutions of disaster capitalism requires transparent, truthful and participatory communication systems. Designers must engage with social movements who have a legacy of creating agency and developing means to see through oppressive cultural practices. In this way, design can become a force for emancipation rather than manipulation.


Occupy Design UK will host two events as part of the London Design Festival. The events are free but booking is required. 

Exposing the 1% and De-branding the City: Sun 16 Sept. 2012 at 14:00 – Hochhauser Auditorium, Sackler Centre

The Role of Design in an Era of Crisis: Wed 19 Sept. 2012 at 15:00 – Seminar Room One, Sackler Centre

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