Design as Symbolic Violence. Design for Social Justice. A Conversation @DRS2016uk

This conversation will take place at Future Focused Thinking, the Design Research Society conference in Brighton in June 2016.

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.

Organizing questions

1. How do designers participate in symbolic violence?
2. How can designers reveal and undo symbolic violence?

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Workshop at #COCE2015 – The Visual Communication of the Environment in Theory and Practice: Nurturing Relational Perception

This Saturday 4pm workshop at The 2015 Conference on Communication and Environment in Boulder ‘Bridging Divides: Spaces of Scholarship and Practice in Environmental Communication’  will start with an illustrated theoretical introduction that will display and describe specific visual strategies to communicate environmental information. The session will be followed by an design critique. The design crit is a foundational practice in design education for developing creativity, visual literacy, communication expertise and design skills. It will provide a setting for evaluating and refining individual samples of visual communication design in response to the objectives of each particular piece of work. It will give participants an opportunity to discuss specific examples of visual communication on the environment. The examples for discussion can be submitted by email by anyone interested in participating in this workshop.

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Image-makers have the unique ability to make invisible ecological processes and relationships visible, tangible and accessible. Within the context of an increasingly visual culture, images have potential to nurture the development of new perceptual capabilities and encourage relational perception. Graphic design is well suited to facilitate environmental learning since it can draw on a wide variety of visual strategies to display specific geographic spaces, ecological processes, abstract concepts and future scenarios. With design strategies, image-makers can reveal relationships, patterns and dynamics in complex systems. For these reasons, graphic design has exceptional potential to support relational perceptual practices and ecological literacy.

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More information on this workshop can be found here. 

Mapping Climate Communication: No.1 Climate Timeline and No.2 Network of Actors

The Mapping Climate Communication Project illustrates key events, participants and strategies in climate communication.

1) Climate Timeline visualizes the historical processes and events that have lead to various ways of communicating climate change. Key scientific, political and cultural events are plotted on a timeline that contextualizes this information within five climate discourses. These reveal very different ideological, political and scientific assumptions on climate change. A clearer version of the timeline is available here.

Climate Timeline

Climate Timeline

2) Network of Actors displays relationships between 237 individuals, organizations and institutions participating in climate communication in Canada, United States and the United Kingdom. A clearer version of this graphic is available here.

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Details about this project can be found in the Mapping Climate Communication: PosterSummary Report. This report can be downloaded here.

The maps reveal how specific details in climate communication are contextualized within complex debates. For example:

  1. How does a climate march impact the volume of media coverage of climate change?
  2. How does the work of the climate denial industry potentially impact climate policy?
  3. Do popular movies and books on climate result in activity in the climate movement?
  4. What are the relationships between organizations active in climate communication?

By illustrating key events and actors over time and within five discourses this work makes links between disparate factors and reveals dynamics that contribute to public understanding of climate change. The project also explores politicised issues in climate communication by using a discourse approach to analyse the various strategies and ideologies held by those organizations, institutions and individuals participating in climate communication in the public realm. This report describes the impact of neoliberal dogma and modes of governance on climate communication as one of the central problems preventing a global response to climate change. Theorizing the impact of neoliberalism on climate change communication and policy is key to an understanding of why emissions continue to rise despite the significant work by the climate science community and the environmental movement over the past four decades.

Mapping Climate Communication, new posters July 2014

Mapping Climate Communication: Timeline

This series of three posters maps climate communication by means of a timeline, a network visualization and a strategy map. The work illustrates
relationships between climate discourses, prominent actors and major organizations participating in climate communication including science institutions, academic institutions, media organizations, think tanks and government agencies – along with the interests and funders linked to these organizations. Various discourses are mapped including climate science; counter-movements (contrarianism); ecological modernization, neoliberalism and corporate capture; and social movements (climate justice). The timeline visualizes the historical processes that have lead to the growth of various ways of communicating climate change. The network visualization illustrates relationships between actors and prominent discourses. The strategy map displays methods used within four discursive realms.

The posters are still work in process. They will be presented at the ‘Changing Climate Communication’ conference in July 2014. Feedback from this presentation will inform a final stage of the visualizations, to be completed in September 2014.

No.2 Network of Actors, USA and UK Based Organizations and Individuals.  Version 1. July 2014

The poster illustrates relationships between prominent actors and major organizations participating in climate communication. These include: science institutions, media organizations, think tanks, government departments, non-governmental organization (NGOs) and individuals – along with some of the more significant funders. Actors are situated within four discursive realms: climate science; counter-movements (contrarianism); ecological modernization (often neoliberalism); and social movements (climate justice). These four discourses are mapped on a framework wherein actors are colour-coded according to where they are situated. In this first version the colour, the size of the circles and their positions are all speculative. Subsequent versions will use different methods for plotting the actors and linking the nodes.

 

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Design/Ecology/Politics: Towards the Ecocene

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Today I signed a contract with Bloomsbury Academic Publishers for a book called Design/ Ecology/ Politics: Towards the Ecocene, due to be published 2017.

Design/Ecology/Politics describes a powerful role for design in creating sustainable futures – once informed by ecological literacy and critical perspectives. The book moves the debate in sustainable design beyond its narrow focus on the design of marginally more sustainable consumer products. Designers have expertise in influencing subjectivities. Ecological theory explores the philosophical problems at the root of the environmental crisis. Social theory describes the social and political function of design. This book examines the relationship between these three domains. While there are prominent movements in design working towards socially responsive practice, these efforts are hampered by the manner in which power relations are constructed, reproduced and obfuscated by design. Revealing these dynamics creates new possibilities for transformative practice – i.e. design which will create ways of living enabling human prosperity over time. It will be available in October 2017 for $19.99.

Visualizing the Environment and the Politics of Representation

sea ice volume12:00 – 1:00 PM, 16 April 2014. Center for Science & Technology Policy Research Noontime SeminarSpring 2014 Series.

Institute of Behavioral Sciences, 155 B  (webcast live). Grandview Avenue. University of Colorado in Boulder.

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 vs. the Design Industry – Paper for the DRS 2014

Design vs. The Design IndustryPaper to be presented at Design Research Society’s conference DRS 2014.

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.

Download the paper here.

EcoLabs is moving!

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In Colorado, I will be working on visualising issues of the green economy and climate communication discourses. This work would be situated in the Integrating Activities research theme at CIRES will focus on the visual communication of complex ecological problems. This practice-based research would facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and learning thereby contributing to greater capacities to respond effectively to environmental problems.

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Review of DRS//CUMULUS Oslo 2013 – 2nd International Conference for Design Education Researchers

Designing Learning for Tomorrow: Design Education from Kindergarten to PhD
DRS//CUMULUS Oslo 2013 – 2nd International Conference for Design Education Researchers

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Oslo Opera House and skyline

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.

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EcoLabs: Ecoliteracy at the Manchester International Festival

RED-ARROWEcological Literacy at MIF

Dr. Boehnert from EcoLabs will be talking how ecological literacy transforms the ways we understand sustainability at a free public talk for the The Biospheric Project at the Manchester International Festival.

Thurs 11 July
6-8pm
Designing the City

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

 

Ecological Literacy in Design Education: A Foundation for Sustainable Design

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The paper ‘Ecological Literacy in Design Education: A Foundation for Sustainable Design’ has been accepted for the Design Research Society  // CUMULUS 2013 2nd International Conference for Design Education Researchers in May 2013. This paper is available for here for free but it will only be published and presented at the conference proceedings if I am able to find sponsors. THANK YOU to everyone who helped raise the money for this presentation! The crowdfunding campaign worked and I will present this paper in Oslo next month.

Ecological Literacy in Design Education: A Foundation for Sustainable Design

Abstract: Responsible design in an era of scarcity and risk associated with environmental problems must be ecologically informed. Ecological literacy is necessary in order to both understand the nature of environmental problems and to respond effectively by designing sustainable ways of living. Embedding ecological literacy into design education is happening at the most progressive institutions – and yet for many others, sustainability education is still virtually absent from the curriculum. Progress is slow despite the fact that natural scientists warn that risks will escalate if we do not take dramatic action. Ecological literacy is a severe challenge as it disrupts educational cultures and challenges basic assumptions about what constitutes good design. While sustainability can seem profoundly difficult, ecological learning is the basis for sustainable design and thus it is a basic imperative in design education. Design education needs to expand its scope of inquiry to include a range of disciplines in order to address complex environmental problems. This paper will present an introduction to ecological literacy for design education, describe six ecological principles including associated concepts in systems design, and explain why critical thinking is necessary to make the work of transforming structurally unsustainable systems possible.

Keywords: sustainability, philosophy, design education, knowledge, ecological literacy, epistemology, philosophy of design education, multidisciplinary design education

The paper can now be downloaded from the EcoLabs website here.

The slideshow of the presentation can be accessed here.Nature-Patterns2012M

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIG THANKS to everyone who made it happen by supporting the crowdfunding compaign. On Twitter you are: @Ian_Willey @blindspotting @hugh_knowles @karinjaschke @sDesignLabs @paul_chandlerUK @sorafferty and @jenboehnert. Some of you are not on Twitter (as far as I can tell) and you are Richard Owen Frost, Prof. Gregory Stock, Jonathan Crinion, Joel Davis, Ali Hodgson, Chris Kitchen and a few Anonymous contributors.

A Critical Look at RSA and TSB’s ‘New Designs for A Circular Economy’

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

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Flows of Money Into and Out of Low and Middle Income Countries

In wealthy countries such as the UK we like to think that rich nations help poorer nations with aid and other types of development funding. We have millennium goals to eradicate poverty, surely we are helping our Southern neighbours develop sustainably?

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Activists from the Global South tell a very different story. This map illustrates this counter-narrative using data from World Bank depicting the hidden flows of capital into and out of low and middle-income countries. It exposes the disturbing fact that rich nations extract significantly more money from the low and middle-income nations than they give in aid. Continue reading

Design vs. The Design Industry

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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 hereContinue reading

Design History Society does Design Activism

I returned last night from four busy days at the Design History Society’s Design Activism and Social Change conference in Barcelona. Convenor Guy Julier has a more thorough conference blog here. The conference provided a space to debate emergent themes in design activism: politics and design, ecology and design, the role of agency, reflection vs. action, the importance of the language we use, peak oil and the capacity of design to address social and environmental problems within capitalism and current forms of democracy. The event started well with Henk Oosterling’s keynote describing a movement to a philosophy of relations. Attempts to repress ontological connectedness are destructive and a role of design is now to internalise what is currently externalised in order to better reflect the essential conditions of connectedness.

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