A decolonising view on design research and mapping.
Impossible Methods is our current pedagogical research and framework for design education.
The act of designing produces other designs into the world, and does so by intervening in an entanglement of processes, performances, interactions, narratives, and relations that are all context-dependent and socio-culturally informed. In other words, we understand the act of designing as one of producing material discourse; notwithstanding, we argue that the discourses produced by designed things cannot be anything but provisional and performative. In “Impossible Methods”, participants start out from a designed artifact they are asked to bring to the session – responding to a set of keywords or a statement given by us beforehand – and slowly unpack the networks that inform the existence of that object in the world, as well as its implications in-use. This unpacking can take the form of narrative, performance, mapping, or anything available and/or desired; what matters is not the hows, but the whats and the whys.
Photo credit: Boris Miletic
This pedagogical research project is driven by a dissatisfaction with how design research methods overlook the role of the researcher subject in relation to the object of research by subscribing to models of knowledge in which the researcher occupies a position of authority over the researched, and which assume that knowledge may be generated from a ‘neutral’ standpoint.
Inspired by the radical pedagogical strategies outlined by Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal, as well as those implemented in Zapatista communities, we have developed a series of projects and workshops that explore ideas within the realm of design education. In this broad project, our aim is work together with participants to unpack our positions as simultaneous observers and actors, situating ourselves and our research tools within the world we study. We explore the politics of artifacts, examine the power imbalances triggered by design decisions and suggest novel strategies for conducting research. In these experiments, we look into methodologies and strategies stemming from feminist, queer and decolonial studies, and assess how they might translate to a design context.
In Brazil, the Statute of the Unborn changes everything. Life is now legally defined as beginning at the moment of conception. Abortion has always been illegal, but now its definition is broader. The morning after pill and the IUD have been outlawed because they may prevent a fertilized egg from successfully implanting and developing. Even the birth control pill is now a highly controlled medication due to fears that it might be used – in higher doses – for the same purposes of the morning after pill.
Oniria is the first product to be released under the new legislation. Distributed through the country’s public healthcare system, Oniria consists of two parts: a small device which is clipped to the corner of the lips at night and tracks basal body temperature and hormonal levels; and an app that calculates when ovulation is supposed to happen based on the data collected by the device. The information is transmitted to the patient’s healthcare provider; in order to access this information, patients must contact their doctor. However, some premium versions of the product – not available in the public healthcare system – allow the patient direct access to their cycle data.
The “Ocupação Algerinha” or “Vila Algerinha”, formerly known as “Ocupação Dona Algerinha” was one of the biggest occupations in South America in the first decades of the twentieth-first century. During its five-year existence, the occupation was home to around 120.000 people, distributed over an area of approximately 1.33 square kilometers in Southeastern Brazil. The exact origins of the occupation are unknown, but it is believed that the families were initially part of a transmigrational group in Latin America which, in itself, was dissident from a larger group of families directly affected by the housing crisis that followed the wave of Coups d’Etat all over the continent. Due to increased incentives to real estate markets, progressive gentrification in big cities, and the suspension of most social housing programmes in South America, thousands of families – many of whom also unemployed – were forcefully expropriated from their homes, and hence started waves of peregrination and demonstrations all over the continent, particularly in the Southern Cone and Brazil.
“The bomb, singular, is hurled at us, plural, in timed steps, in rhythmic explosions.”
Performative lecture for Transmediale 2017, as part of the Singularities panel, curated and moderated by Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke. Joining us on this panel were also Dorothy R. Santos and Rasheedah Phillips.
A Yarn Session is a pedagogical endeavour we developed in the course of our PhD researches as a way to fostering a decentralised dialogue within and around designed objects and systems. To develop this format we looked primarily at Paulo Freire’s proposal for a Pedagogy of the Oppressed and its iteration in Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed.
Speculations on Birth Control was a project developed between 2015 and 2016. The idea was to collectively untangle the complex terrain of birth control devices and artefacts, discussing the role of design in the establishment of discriminatory regimes of birth control, and speculating on how might these regimes change in a near future – and for whom.
A Yarn Session is a pedagogical endeavour we developed in the course of our PhD researches as a way to fostering a decentralised dialogue within and around designed objects and systems. “Auditory Governances” is an umbrella name for a series of Yarn Sessions developed within the context of the “Algerinha Vive” project.
These Yarn Sessions aimed at using the Algerinha story as a platform upon which conversations, stories, propositions, and debates in and around the themes tackled by the story – racism, classism, migration, violence – all having sound and listening practices as the main threads of the narratives.
How can the ideas of timelessness and anachronism contribute to the decolonization of design practices in Latin America?
Article published in June 2016 at XRDS:Crossroads, a magazine from ACM. The full text is available on this link.
Cover image by XRDS: All rights reserved.
In Latin America, reality is always dangerously touching dystopia. Even though sometimes it feels that we are moving forward, violence and inequality keep pushing us back to realities much akin to our colonial past, and our history seems to repeat itself. The invasion of land, military coups, police brutality, violent regimes, and the genocide of indigenous and Afro-Latin peoples are all integral to the fabric of our reality. The cyclical nature of our history emerges as it becomes clear that the structures of power pushing us back to the past have, in fact, never left. We are left feeling like actors in a play, performing the same scenes over and over again.
Visual essay published in Spring 2016 at the special issue on ‘Mestizo Technology’ of the Media-N: Journal of the New Media Caucus, Vol.12, No. 1. Full essay available in this link.
This article discusses how Sonic Fiction—a concept developed by cultural theorist Kodwo Eshun—can be regarded as a cogent mechanism with which to develop Speculative and Critical Design (SCD) projects, using subjects of sound, music, and listening as their driving force. Through a dissection of the base premises of sonic fictions, this article aims to expand the perspectives taken so far by SCD projects in order to encompass languages other than those informed by the usual theories, as well as to broaden the spectrum of possibilities for sound-based practices within the field. In doing so, it suggests sonic fiction as a decolonial epistemology for assessing design questions.
Published at Design Issues Vol. 32, No. 2 – Spring 2016.
Block Seminar at the Hochschule für Künste Bremen: 2SWS/3 ECTS –Winter Semester 2014/2015
Public spaces are systems constructed for things and people to fit in. Whenever these systems are upset by glitches that expose faults in its structures, reveal the fragility of its foundations, crack its thin, protective walls, said glitches are immediately alienated, excluded or confined to the farthest corners of society. Within those glitches, combinations of nationality, gender, race, class, language fluency and economic power form an unsettling recipe for the interplay of social friction. Who is welcome and who is undesirable? Who and what belongs to certain social spaces, and who and what do not?
Photo Credits: Luiz Gustavo F. Zanotello
Speculative design is going through a troubled adolescence. Roughly fifteen years after interaction design duo Dunne and Raby first started talking about “critical design”, the field seems to have grown up a bit too spoiled and self-centered. Being a fairly young approach to product and interaction design, it seems to have reached a tipping point of confusion, rebellion, contrasting opinions and confrontations. Presently, from practitioners to theorists there seems to be little consensus about what the field is able to offer – and whether it is of any use at all. In this article we hope to pinpoint some reasons why this is so, while at the same time offering not possible, plausible or probable but preferable developments for the field.
Photo credit: Francisco Laranjo/Modes of Criticism
A 1–2 Guide for a well-placed Dystopian Design Project
Earlier this year we published a text on Medium which, apparently, said a few things that resonated quite well among design practitioners and researchers alike. In that text, we pointed out a general disregard for issues of race, class and gender privilege within Speculative and Critical Design projects and publications. For us, it was a serious problem we felt the need to call out. However, SCD projects and publications are still letting plenty of “narrow assumptions” sneak in, and they will only continue to reinforce the status quo of colonialism and imperialism rather than effectively challenging it.
To try to make things a bit easier, we developed this very simple and straightforward “Cheat Sheet” you, Speculative and/or Critical Designer, should consult when developing new projects. We strongly believe that following these simple steps may positively contribute to not only Speculative and Critical Design projects becoming more powerful in their line of questioning, but also avoiding the mishaps it sets itself up so boldly to criticise.
Photo Credit: “Landing of Columbus”, by John Vanderlyn (1847) – Wikicommons
Though critical and speculative design have been increasingly relevant in discussing the social and cultural role of design, there has been a distinct lack of both theory and praxis aimed at questioning gender oppression. Departing from an intersectional feminist analysis of the influences and origins of speculative and critical design, this essay questions the underlying privilege that has been hindering the discussion on gender within the discipline and its role in propagating oppression; it then goes on to propose the concept of a “feminist speculative design” as an approach aimed at questioning the complex relationships between gender, technology and social and cultural oppression.
This is a transcript of Luiza’s paper presentation at the Design Research Conference 2014 held in Umeå, Sweden. The full version of the paper can be downloaded as part of the Proceedings here or individually here. This research is funded by the Brazilian Council for Research and Development (CNPq).
Inspired by the tense political and social ordeal happening in Brazil as of 2013-14, we decided to develop a Workshop specifically aimed at brazilian designers. We were given the opportunity to make this workshop happen in three different settings (at a University, a NGO and at a design studio) and in two different formats (twice as a hands-on workshop and once as a round table). This diversity of formats and places surely made the discussions very different from one another and provided several perspectives on the subject. We think that this exchange of opinions, and, most of all, the possibility to talk openly about politics in different contexts in which the social role of design is often taken for granted is the most powerful outcome we could expect from this firs installment of our research.
A rant on the blind privilege that permeates most Speculative Design projects.
Right now, Speculative and Critical Design preoccupations are directed towards nothing more than an alleged “lack of poetic dimensions” in our relationship with electronic objects. The “social narratives” and “criticism” so advertised by the great majority of its practitioners seem to only apply to the aesthetic concerns of the intellectual northern european middle classes. Those dystopian “critical futures” forget (or oversee it for a lack of empathy toward the subject matter) that the very electronic objects that they are talking about not only are — and will continue to be — accessible to a minimum percentage of the world’s population, but also that those who won’t have access to it will likely be exploited to make that reality happen, one way or another.