The Political in Design

Posted on May 12, 2015

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The Political in Design, Wednesday 13th May, 1.00pm-3.00pm, SB01, Scott Sutherland Building

led by Hilal Buğalı

This Wednesday’s DART session is about the current stage of Buğalı’s PhD research. In her previous DART in November 2014, she chose to discuss the methodological aspects of her research, and shared some early findings of the ethnographic observations. In this week’s session, her focus will be on the theoretical aspects and she will elaborate the political discourse she introduced into her research process a few months ago.

Following the reading group on Chantal Mouffe’s “Agonistics”, Buğalı has started to use her concepts of ‘agonistic pluralism’ and ‘politics versus the political’ as a lens to investigate the political notions in social design literature such as ‘democratising design’, ‘consensus-dissensus’, ‘inequality / social injustice’, and ’empowerment’. Mouffe defines ‘the political’ as “the ontological dimension of antagonism”, and ‘politics’ as “the ensemble of practices and institutions whose aim is to organise human coexistence”. She advocates an agonistic model for democracy. In this model, she defines conflicting agents as adversaries rather antagonists, and the aim is to sublimate the conflicts, not to eliminate them (as elimination is impossible). Each adversary gets a chance to defend his or her passions in a pluralist milieu. Hegemony is not a threat for any identity.

By building on Mouffe’s philosophy, DiSalvo develops the concepts of ‘design for politics’ and ‘political design’ to analyse examples of design for democracy. Buğalı applies these concepts in the context of design for social innovation, and argues that while design for politics offers solutions for immediate needs, political design creates long-term impact by revealing the underlying issues behind the initial perceptions. However, these two concepts are two destinations on a spectrum, not parts of an absolute polarity.

While discussing how agonistics is used as a base for her theoretical framework, she also aims to raise the issue of integrating theories into research projects in general, hoping that it will be interesting and useful for everyone around the table.

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