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.
Econopoly: Phase One of Ecology Games 2012
The original game of Monopoly was invented by a Quaker woman called Elizabeth Magie in 1903 (and originally called The Landlord’s Game). Elizabeth Magie’s game intended to demonstrate the injustices of Henry George’s Single Tax on land but instead Parker Brothers bought the rights and made a game about buying property, making monopolies and beating other players by charging them rent.
Econopoly is about the commodification of the natural world. Presently, ecological ‘services’ are being given financial value in a desperate effort to convince industrialists to acknowledge the importance of Nature. The financialisation of ‘ecosystem services’ is based on the belief this will help protect biodiversity. But does assigning ecosystems an economic value really work?
Consider the recent The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report, which estimates a total economic value of insect pollination worldwide at €153 billion (Gallai et al. 2009 in TEEB, 2010: p.8). It’s a high number, but does this number actually reflect the value of pollinating insects? Considering that we are dependent on functioning ecological systems, surely these ‘ecosystem services’ and the pollinating insects which are a vital part of these ecosystems are in fact priceless. Continue reading
Having just spent a week working at Memefest Festival of Radical Communications on mapping socially responsive communications, I had the opportunity to reflect on what it means to make communications that address societal problems. Oliver Vodeb described seven characteristics of socially responsive communications as a starting point from which the group assembled to build on the theory by creating new maps. While intrigued by Vodeb’s work and appreciating its relevance I believe that something is missing.
Socially responsive communications must also address ecological problems because we are all ultimately completely dependent on the wellbeing of the ecological system for social wellbeing. The consequences of ecological degradation are more keenly felt by the poor and the least politically powerful so the environment is also about social justice. Powerful forces have a vested interest in representations of the nature as ‘resources’ available for industrial exploitation and actively work to suppress communications that challenge this orthodoxy. As the impact of ecological problems increasingly drives social problems, representations of the environment is a primary site of struggle. Continue reading
Endeavors to create conditions that will develop an awareness of context, political consciousness and the potential for social action have a long history in adult education. The remarkable shifts in women’s rights in the late twentieth century were the results of over a century’s worth of struggle by feminists, a struggle that became institutionalised in universities in the 1970s with the emergence of women’s studies. This radical education transformed the daily lives and political realities of thousands of women.
In a 1975 American nation-wide study of women’s education Jack Mezirow identified ten phases often encountered during consciousness-raising process within women’s education and developed the theory and practice of transformative learning. Transformative learning has now been developed into a practice that helps learners critically examine assumptions and as well as develop social capacities to put new perspectives into practice. This practice is a powerful tool with the potential to help learners cross the infamous value / action gap in environmental education. I recently presented a slideshow on transformative learning at the Design Research Society’s SkinDeep 2011 conference on experiential knowledge and multi-sensory communication. Continue reading
Response to Channel 4
Last night’s ‘What the Green Movement Got Wrong’ documentary launched a Twitter storm of protests to the one-sided misinformation calculated to discredit traditional green values and political projects. The debate on Twitter was entertaining yet unfortunately most viewers will not have been sitting at their computers and will have been subjected less critically to the one-sided polemic that hit the airwaves. Towards the end of the two-part programme the dismal lack of female voices on the Channel Four documentary became apparent and a new sub-theme emerged on Twitter regarding the exclusion of women from the debate.
Channel Four editors claim they could not find any women and that those that they asked refused. I can certainly understand why a woman would refuse to allow herself to have her position misrepresented, ruthlessly discredited through biased, severely selective, and ill-informed journalism. If women environmentalists were enabled to make a document about ‘What the Green Movement Got Right’ we would have a fair platform. Unfortunately, what Channel Four wanted was a few environmentalists to argue their positions in a mosh-pit debate in a little post-documentary forum. By fabricating an illusion of fairness they attempt to escape properly presenting the green arguments. Although some debaters did an excellent job at debunking Channel Four’s corporate green spin – the show still managed to disseminate some deeply anti-green ideas as described by George Monbiot this morning in this blog post ‘Deep Peace in Techno-Utopia.’
The women vs. men issue is not about tick boxing. It is about presenting powerful and dominant political positions as the only perspective in town. It’s about recognizing that power inequalities exist due to historical exclusion of women’s voices from public debate. Ultimately, the environment is a feminist issue.