Enabling Difficult Confrontations for Intergeneration Solidarity and Survival
Presentation at the “Critical Pedagogies in the Neoliberal University: Expanding the Feminist Theme in the 21st century Art [and Design] School” session, #AAH2019 –Brighton, April 2019
I will use this paper to reflect on tensions between generations of feminists with a focus on strategies of denial and their toll on the goals of feminist movements. Feminists movements have historically worked (with varying degrees of success) to end the normalisation of denial of social injustices and symbolic, structural and/or actual violence. Feminist pedagogy must intensify challenges to various manifestations of denial responsible for reproducing patriarchy, oppressive social relations and ecocide.
This paper will address denial in the face of divisive issues such as the ‘me too’ movement; the precarity faced by younger generations; and the intersections of patriarchy and ecological crises. It is based on my personal experience as a daughter of a feminist academic in Canada, as a student at art school and my current role as lecturer in design education oriented towards social and environmental justice. Solidarity and even survival depends on our ability to make confrontations with disturbing information a catalyst for change. The lessons learned from feminist struggles inform the work of confronting oppressions, including those on issues of environment justice.
My experiences have led me to the conclusion that many, if not most, oppressive behaviours and attitudes are rooted in various types of denial and unconscious bias. Both are deep seated forces that prevent many of us (and especially those with more privilege) from seeing things that disturb our self-image. Feminist strategies such as transformative learning help us negotiate these difficult confrontations. These are needed now more than ever in higher education and beyond. Unfortunately, neoliberal modes of governance all but destroy opportunities for transformative learning.
Design embeds ideas in communication and artefacts in subtle and psychologically powerful ways. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu coined the term symbolic violence to describe how powerful ideologies, priorities, values and even sensibilities are constructed and reproduced through cultural institutions, processes and practices. Through symbolic violence, individuals learn to consider unjust conditions as natural and even come to value customs and ideas that are oppressive. Symbolic violence normalises structural violence and enables real violence to take place, often preceding it and later justifying it. Feminist, class, race and indigenous scholars and activists describe how oppressions (how patriarchy, racism, colonialism, etc.) exist within institutions and structures, and also within cultural practices that embed ideologies into everyday life.
The theory of symbolic violence sheds light on how design can function to naturalise oppressions, and then obfuscate power relations around this process. Through symbolic violence, design can function as an enabler for the exploitation of certain groups of people and the environment they depend on to live. Design functions as symbolic violence when it is involved with the creation and reproduction of ideas and practices that result in structural and other types of violence. Breaking symbolic violence involves discovering how these processes work and building capacities to challenge and transform dysfunctional ideologies, structures and institutions.
1. How do designers participate in symbolic violence?
2. How can designers reveal and undo symbolic violence?
Design/Ecology/Politics describes a powerful role for design making sustainable ways of living – but only once informed by ecological literacy and critical perspectives. Instead, the design industry normatively perpetuates unsustainable development. When design does engage with issues of sustainability, this engagement typically remains shallow due to the narrow basis of analysis in design education and theory. The situation is made more severe by design cultures which claim to be apolitical. Where design theory fails to recognise the historical roots of unsustainable practice, it reproduces old errors. New ecologically informed design strategies hold promise only when incorporated into a larger project of political change.
Bringing design, ecological and socio-political theory together, I describe how power relations are constructed, reproduced and obfuscated by design in ways which often cause environmental and social harms. Communication design can function to either conceal or reveal the ecological and social impacts of current modes of production. Revealing these dynamics creates new possibilities for transformative practice. This change-making potential of design is dependent on deep-reaching analysis of the problems design attempts to address. Ecologically literate and critically engaged design is a practice primed to facilitate the creation of sustainable and just futures. With this foundation, designers can make sustainability not only possible, but desirable.
This talk will introduce the many ways that images work to communicate environment issues. With the rise of data visualization, new mapping strategies, network visualizations and other types of information design, images are increasingly being mobilized to support environmental learning. Images can be powerful tools capable of supporting public understanding of the environment while also potentially influencing behavior and social norms. Images can work to make complex information accessible in ways that are especially well suited for environmental communication since they have the unique ability to reveal relationships, patterns, dynamics and causality in complex socio-ecological systems. On the other hand, within the politically and ideologically loaded terrain of environmental communication, images are also capable of concealing tensions, complexities and interests behind environment problems. Images are regularly used to reproduce the perspectives of powerful interests, often in ways that obscure environmental circumstances and the consequences of various types of industrial development and consumption patterns. Visual representation of the environment embodies political and philosophical assumptions about the capacity of the natural world to sustain continued abuse along with other associated notions of human-nature relations. This talk will examine how images are used to both reveal and conceal environmental circumstances with examples of particularly effective, politicized and/or disingenuous visualizations of the environment.
Design can be understood as a practice that evolves as new cognitive and perceptual capacities enable a greater understanding of complexity, context and system dynamics. These emergent capacities create greater potential for social and technological innovation. This paper will argue that despite emergent skills, designers are not able to effectively address contemporary problems in a sustainable manner due to the systemic priorities of the design industry. This paper theorises ‘design’ as the professional practice of creating new products, buildings, services and communication as a broader practice than the work that is produced within the ‘design industry’. The design industry operates according to highly reductive feedback generated by capitalism that systemically ignores signals from the ecological and social systems. The exclusive focus on profit results in distortions of knowledge and reason undermining prospects for the design of long-term prosperity within the context of the current political/economic regime.
*Update* The EarthFirst! logo has now been removed from The Guardian article.
Last Friday The Guardian published an article where the author unfairly accused the radical environmental social movement EarthFirst! of terrorist activity committed in Switzerland and Mexico by two other groups. Not only was there no evidence that EarthFirst! was involved with the attacks on nanotechnology labs, but two other groups had already claimed responsibility. Clearly the author, physicist Michele Catanzaro, was keen to use these attacks to discredit radical ecological social movements.
I travelled to the DRS//CUMULUS Oslo 2013 – 2nd International Conference for Design Education Researchers with some trepidation. While I have high expectations of the content produced by the Design Research Society (DRS) and was already intrigued by some of the papers and keynotes, my concerns emerged from what I am witnessing in design education in the UK. I was travelling to Oslo supported by a crowd funding campaign rather than the institution where I had been working when I wrote my paper. As an advocate of sustainability literacy and an early career researcher witnessing (and feeling) the impact of the austerity agenda in higher education in the UK, I wondered if the conference would rise to the challenge of confronting the most serious issues in design education.
Designing the City considers how innovative design and architecture can tackle the need for more sustainable and ecologically efficient cities. Our speakers Jody Boehnert from Eco-Labs and Michael Pawlyn from Exploration Architecture, will discuss their different approaches to embedding ecological principals into education and using nature’s models within architecture through bio-mimicry. Chair: Gavin Elliott Chair of BDP Manchester
Tuesday 26 February 1900h-2030h
Hochhauser Auditorium, Sackler Centre, V&A
Jody Boehnert (EcoLabs)
Jonathan Chapman (University of Brighton)
Noel Douglas (Occupy Design)
Paul Micklethwaite (Kingston University)
Climate change, resource scarcity, economic crisis and struggles for social justice have given rise to new movements in design that seek more than creative and commercial fulfilment. What models of design practice support this? How might design work with other activist practices? What role do universities and museums have? How can design activism work with marginality?
Jody Boehnert is an environmental communicator, designer, educator and activist who lives in Brixton. She is founding director of EcoLabs (http://eco-labs.org) – a non-profit studio visualising complex environmental issues and recently completed an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded PhD titled: ‘The Visual Communication of Ecological Literacy: Design, Learning and Emergent Ecological Perception’ at the University of Brighton…
In the UK social institutions maintain their legitimacy with claims that they are responding the environmental crisis with initiatives capable of transforming our economy into something that could exist in perpetuity. The single most important factor in the continued failure of the vast majority of initiatives is the dismal lack of ecological awareness demonstrated by those who put these projects into practice. A technologically advanced civilization that is not ecologically informed simply has no long-term prospects; it will not even understand the ways in which it is destroying itself. Businesses are keen to project the image that they are working towards a circular economy and dramatically lowering both pollution and quantitaties of natural resources needed in the industrial cycle. Are these flashy claims an honest representation of progress, or simply a new front for business as usual?
Re-thinking Progress: The Circular Economy by made2bemadeagain – The Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Over the past six months I have been helping Occupy Design UK explore how design can be used to facilitate popular education on the structural causes of the recent economic crisis. During the London Design Festival we held an event at the V&A called ‘Exposing the 1% and De-branding the City’ where we examined information graphics and animations that illustrate the complexity of our economic system and exactly what went so wrong in the recent credit crisis. The following visualisations expose the dynamics and structural problems within the current economic system and propose what we can do to create a more resilient system for long-term prosperity, social justice and sustainability.
Crises of Capitalism. RSA Animate. Cognitive Media.
This animation features Marxist historian David Harvey’s analysis of the structural causes of the economic crisis and the role of crisis in the history of capitalism. Here animation studio Cognitive Media use the Monopoly metaphor that the Occupy Movement has also repeatedly used to describe the systemic dynamics of capitalism (another example can be found below). This video presents an overview of the contradictions of the capitalism system. While the Royal Society of Arts funded this animation, Harvey’s interpretation of the causes economic crisis remains marginal in mainstream economic discourse. The Occupy Movement has successfully created at least some discursive space in mainstream media for radical critiques such as this one.
Capitalism is a Pyramid Scheme
. CrimethInc. Workers’ Collective and Packard Jennings. Pdf back of poster.
Thanks to Tom Hiron who collect the list of the sites. We are still missing sites. Anyone interested in adding/correcting, please fill write in comments below. I am interested in developing this project and need more information about which sites were won and which were lost. Feel free to add new sites to the map directly in Google Maps if you have this information. Also – where are the present spaces under threat?
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.
An installation of slate signs by Tom Hirons commemorates protest sites against UK government’s road building programme in the 90s. The commemorative plaques mark the 20-year anniversary of the start of the road protest movement at Twyford Down. It was one of a number of activities focusing on the road protests movement at Dark Mountain’s Uncivlisation 2012 festival this weekend.
While many individual sites mentioned on these plaques where lost to roads, the protests did seriously damage the prospects for Thatcher’s road building programme, which was significantly reduced as a result of the forest occupations. The protests were, as described in the Uncivilisation 2012 programme; ‘a high-water mark in the history of the UK environmental movement’. Many of the people who were defending these forests, valleys and meadows were nothing short of heroic in their defense of the land. Living up in the trees and buried in the tunnels, winter and summer alike, these forest occupations worked to stop some of the proposed roads. Continue reading →
Five days ago I uploaded a new paper titled ‘Design vs. The Design Industry: Conflicts in Emergent Orders‘ to the EcoLabs website that has now been downloaded over 470+ times. I should include an explanation as the paper is a bit of an oddity. This paper was not written for design audiences (although it is highly relevant for them). I was invited to write the paper by the ‘Atlas Economic Research Foundation’ and it will be published on this journal on-line here. Continue reading →