This is the outline for a forthcoming panel event and one-day symposium being hosted by Loughborough University during 2022 on the theme of FLUX. Text by me. Image by Dr Federico Vaz.
Crises make acute the impermanent nature of our social systems and therein the latent possibility to redesign, remake and redirect our social worlds towards sustainable futures. These crises imply not only changes in our living environments, but also widespread changes in our political, social and economic orders.
The overarching design symposium theme of FLUX aims to speak to the essence of this temporary condition and the subsequent prospects to displace outmoded and ingrained systems, practices and ideas with vital new ones.
Yet, in a critique revealing the political, social and historical conditions through which design has manifested, design’s marriage to and standard articulation as a universalist industrial modernist practice has been panned by design theorist Tony Fry as de-futuring. This speaks to contemporary design discourses on power structures and privilege, which are foregrounded in an increasingly self-critical field.
Facing this allows us to conceptualize and understand that any-and-all design institutions—conceptual, educational, governmental—are always in flux, as they are articulated within changing sociopolitical contexts. This is to situate our interests squarely within the need for new social and cultural design practices that form institutions out of and towards new visions of living well together.
Designing in instances of flux necessitates designing within and through ambiguity, relationality, mutability, dependency, reciprocity, and fluidity. By observing sites of tension, dissonance, and contradiction we derive meaning that is productive of and generative to new design knowledge.This speaks to emerging practices and movements towards design after design, ontological design, open design, publics, decolonizing design, critical design, more-than-human design, and so on.
The FLUX symposium will consider these questions and provocations through the intertwined themes of dialogue, difference, and displacement.
Arundhati Roy reminds us that “There is no such thing as the voiceless. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Giving voice. Listening. Making heard. What does it mean to design dialogue? And in which contexts? Design education clings to outdated modernist paradigms that put into play siloed disciplinarity, and that fly in the face of student calls for more social, political and ecological education. Through this theme we ask:
- How might we teach and learn design differently and in dialogue?
- What new design discourses are emerging?
- How do design practices mute or amplify voices in dialogue? How might design better navigate, display, or turn towards competing narratives? How do we design generative dialogues or foster productive alliances for social transformation?
- What’s the point of collaborating? With whom and what are we designing in dialogue?
- Which dialogues are central to and generative of moments of flux?
Following post-colonial scholar Achille Mbembe, we might ask: “Is it at all possible to build something in common in the face of agonism?” Through uptake of concepts such as dissensus, agonism, alterity, otherwise, more-than-human, design has sought to challenge consensual modes of designing. Through this theme we consider:
- How can we design across communities and contexts of difference?
- How can we design for co-sustaining difference and unity simultaneously?
- What are the new conceptions of difference that design must grapple with and engage?
- How are design and non-conformity productive for sustainable futures?
Optimistically, displacement may lead us to conviviality and new cosmopolitanisms, the sharing and celebration of the diversity of our collective beings. More insidiously, to displace is to enforce movement, of ideas, people and social groups, be that through political upheaval or the problems precipitated by the design of our socio-economic systems. As Lichtman and Traganou (2021) posit, “in all instances of displacement there is a will, a force, a motive sometimes violent and from without, followed by resistance, tension, discontinuity, and distress; and that while one goal is being accomplished through or as an after-effect of the act of displacement (often with unjust results), new gaps open up, new contentious relations arise….when the new pushes the old or demands rearrangement….” Thus, we might ask:
- How can design support displacement of old ideas, practices, norms, models, and worldviews?
- Is cosmopolitanism relevant in the global contexts of increasing nationalism? What alternative concepts are there?
- What challenges, strictures and limits does research funding place on design research projects?
- How is design engaged with processes of displacement through movements for change?
- How are places conceived, reconceived, and dis-placed—through new design contexts, localities, communities, organizations, institutions?
The FLUX symposium of design will be hosted by Loughborough University London in September 2022 and will consider the dynamics of FLUX and its implications for the interwoven issues and transformations of economic, ecological, and sociopolitical contexts. These questions and concerns will be considered against the urgency for a variety of new forms of critical design research and practice.
FLUX Participating Academics:
Professor Ramia Mazé
Professor Lesley-Ann Noel
Professor Zoy Anasstasakis
Professor Erling Björgvinsson
Professor Noortje Marres
Professor Ezio Manzini
Dr Anaïs Carlton-Parada
Dr Federico Vaz
Dr Sharon Prendeville
Professor Rebecca Cain
Professor Mikko Koria
Professor Cees Dorst