Design in Crisis
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Design in Crisis

New Worlds, Philosophies and Practices

Tony Fry, Adam Nocek, Tony Fry, Adam Nocek

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eBook - ePub

Design in Crisis

New Worlds, Philosophies and Practices

Tony Fry, Adam Nocek, Tony Fry, Adam Nocek

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About This Book

This book is an essential contribution to the transdisciplinary field of critical design studies.

The essays in this collection locate design at the center of a series of interrelated planetary crises, from climate change, nuclear war, and racial and geopolitical violence to education, computational culture, and the loss of the commons. In doing so, the essays propose a range of needed interventions in order to transform design itself and its role within the shifting realities of a planetary crisis. It challenges the widely popular view that design can contribute to solving world problems by exposing how this attitude only intensifies the problems we currently face. In this way, the essays critique the dominant modes of framing the meaning and scope of design as a largely Anglo-European 'problem-solving' practice. By drawing on post-development theory, decolonial theory, black studies, continental philosophy, science and technology studies, and more, the contributions envision a critical and speculative practice that problematises both its engagement with planet and itself.

The essays in this collection will appeal to design theorists and practitioners alike, but also to scholars and students generally concerned with how the past and future of design is implicated in the unfolding complexity of ecological devastation, racial and political violence, coloniality, technological futures, and the brutality of modern Western culture generally.

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Part I


Tony Fry and Adam Nocek
The chapters in this part of the book exist against the background of the history and afterlife of colonialism, in which ‘development’ has been deeply implicated, and towards those plural futures that post-development promises.

Development: a critique

In 1949 US President Harry Truman invited Western nations to use their scientific and technical knowledge to develop the world's underdeveloped nations. As was evident in the UN World Economic Report of 1950–1951 the burgeoning notion of ‘world development’ needed to be viewed against the post-war backdrop of rebuilding the economies of developed nations as well as the development of those that were designed as underdeveloped: this so they could be inducted into a world economic order. The conceptual underpinning of such action came from modernisation theory which was predicated upon teleological proposition of nations passing through stages of development—W. W. Rostow (1952) being a notable proponent of this thinking.
Besides the flawed notion that underdeveloped nations would be able to catch-up with the developed (who clearly continued to develop) another misconception integral to the very designation that was to become evident was that these nations were not passive. Modernisation arrived and folded into the rise of neocolonialism, and at the very moment European colonised nations were starting to fight wars of decolonisation. During same moment, the world was being conceptually reconfigured. On 14 August 1952 Alfred Sauvy, a French a demographer and anthropologist, coined the term ‘third world’, this in an article published in the magazine, L’ Observateur. It soon became synonymous with underdeveloped nations (with the first world being developed nations and the second, the communist bloc—the fourth world arrived later to name broken and dysfunctional nations). But the end of the 1950s the UN has designated 1960–1970 as the development decade.
During this period a substantial political critique of development formed. Underdevelopment became presented a mechanism by which the cultures and economies of ‘undeveloped’ peoples were destroyed (Gunder Frank 1969). From this perspective the introduction of development to the undeveloped was an act of ethnocide. Likewise, from the late 1960s the notion of unequal development gained exposure, and with it a division between the centre and the periphery (Amin 1976). Over subsequent decades the geometry of global inequity grew more complex and became clearly seen in the larger and longer-term context of modernity. Equally, from humanist social biased models to rampant neoliberal extractivism, modes of development got more contested and complex.
Development brought a relational instrumental order to Western modernity Eurocentrically conceptualised, as a design matrix of differently realised forms as specifically seen in: governance, industries, institutions, infrastructure and a plethora of economic, legal, social, and political systems, all within numerous nations—some like Pakistan were newly formed, others as post-colonial makeovers. This pluralist and continuous progression was partly seen at the end of the development decade. Certainly, a recognition of the need to counter development and to create a discourse of post-development started to become apparent by the late 1960s. Prefiguring his argument for a contra-mode of development in Tools for Conviviality, and in the context of the form and consequences of development, Ivan Illich writes in the New York Review of Books in 1969 of ‘outwitting developed countries.’ While in the same period Samir Amin was pointing out that ‘the periphery cannot overtake the capitalist model; it is obliged to surpass it (Amin 1976: 383).

Situating post-development

Certainly, post-development arrives out of a political economic critique of development, but it also arrives, at the same time, out of the influence (Foucault 1972) of a deconstructive exposure of its structural foundations (Lie 2008).
This history also links with responding to the two contemporary imperatives that converge with the initial and current post-development agenda (Escobar 1995, Klein and Morreo 2019, Rahnema and Bawtree 1997) advancing decoloniality and working against globalised unsustainability. Development can be unequivocally shown to be implicated in the ‘darker side’ of modernity (Mignolo 2011), and as an agent defuturing and the defutured (Fry 1999) in the global South. Specifically, the destruction in the wake of the development of the ‘underdeveloped’ cannot be divided from the shattering of the cosmologies of ‘undeveloped’ cultures and the huge erasure of their indigenous knowledges. Critically attuned practices of decoloniality, border thinking, and autonomous design from and of the global South can be brought together to establish futural proto-conditions of ‘being in the world otherwise.’ But this requires post-development to be placed in a field of historically inscribed and currently unfolding neo-colonial forces with real transformative agency.
In all cases of ‘developing nations,’ the modern arrived by combinations of imported knowledge, expertise, and techno-science transfer, plus via the creation of a general and higher education system influenced by norms emanating from global North. Rather than being a vector of post-colonial liberation what was emplaced was a continuity of the erasure of difference and cognitive colonisation via what is now understood as ‘epistemological colonialism.’ Because it played such a crucial but mostly silent role in the advancement of development it is worth looking at it in some detail.
What is of particular interest is how this period, which started in the mid-19th century, created a milieu of translation, dominantly of texts concerned with science and technology. By the mid-20th century this practice had been universalised by UNESCO via the concept of ‘functional literacy.’ These texts were not just produced for, or contained by, their immediate hermeneutical environment in which the industrial ethos and epistemological ground of instrumentalism was still only partly present. Texts became dissemination and started to constitute a wider audience who embraced, and were interpolated by, the values posited with modern technology. Meanwhile, ‘cultivated western literature’ was playing its part in creating cultivated elites.
A condition of nemesis has now arrived wherein technology is acting back to re-colonise it source of creation. Disarticulated from any geopolitical and identifiable familiar source of power, the forces of the digital corporate empire have unwittingly created psychotechnologies.1 What this creation means is instrumental design has reached the apotheosis of its developmental flaw—evident in the ability to bring amazing technologies into being ‘because we can,’ but without the slightest idea of resultant futural consequences, not least their ontological designing agency of the fully instrumentalised systems compliant subjects who, irrespective of values, functioned within the system without resistance (which in 20th century industrial culture became known as ‘soldiering on the job’).
Philosopher of technology Bernard Stiegler has drawn attention to this ‘entropic tendency of digital technology’ and its place in expanding all domains of logical and computational technology, that impose calculation on everything that constitutes the movement of life (Stiegler 2012: 197). ‘Stiegler understands psychopower as new kind of power that expresses and exercises the political agency of digital technologies as they are used to colonise the collective consciousness of societies, their sumptuary conduct and the life of the mind of individuals. Psychopower is delivered by psychotechnologies as they act upon those neural-informational circuits that influence “human” behaviour (Grincheva 2013: 16–22).’2
As discussed at various points throughout this collection (see especially Part II), psychotechnologies are effectively creating and extending neo-colonial occupation of consciousness unevenly across colonised time and space without regards for the past geometry of power of colonialism that connected the machinery of government, the economy and the military (Jandrić and Kuzmanić 2015).3 Currently the impact is growing but is certain to increase as ‘Big Data’ accrues ever more life-directive power. At the same time what is resulting is an expanding digital divide between psychotechnological classes and the world's underclasses, together the growing global numbers of the dispossessed. This divide maps unto a view and debate that see our ‘species being’ polarising between the post-human and the dehumanised. What can now be seen is not only that development cannot be uncoupled from universal unsustainability, but the nature of the unsustainable is changing, and with two connected implications: the situated crisis of design is transforming, and so is design's relation to the still inchoate agenda of sustainment.
More specifically, while there has been some recognition of the ambiguous relation between technology and development—by for example the use of ‘intermate technology,’ especially in the late 1960s and 1970s, as a means to facilitate technological transfer; the relocation of volume production of mechanical and electronic goods to ‘newly industrialisation nations' by ‘advanced industrial nations' to take advantage of a cheaper labour market, plus other cost saving and strategic placement in supply chains serving globalised consumer markets; and, the way digital technology is currently being uncritically posed as a catalyst for economic and social development by development agencies and development studies—the degree to which technology and design (especially in the context of ‘epistemological colonialism’) have been understood and engaged as instruments of neocolonialism, within the discourse and material practices of development, has been neglected (Kalantidou and Fry 2014). While acknowledged (Escobar 1995), there is surprising general lack of articulation between critiques of development and histories of technology and colonialism (Adas 1989, Arnold 2005, Dickson 1974, Fry 2020, Hill 1988). Design is even more absent in critical development studies.

Post-development articulated

Prompted by the neglected lead given to Illich in Tools for Conviviality in 1973 on the relation between development and crisis, post-development requires very substantial advancement to become a futural material redirective practice. Futuring post-development can be considered as counter-discourse and practice of making sustainable futures to pose against the defuturing consequences of all forms of action that negate those conditions that sustain life—this includes the propensity of development to be environmentally and culturally unsustainable. As such post-development can be considered as a situated context of the extension of design futuring as specifically positioned within ‘design and the Global South’ and in ‘design in the borderland.’ So placed, it can be understood as a proto-autonomous practice directed at sustainment—but not just as a project accompanying alternatives to unsustainable development but as resistance to it as defuturing. There can be no design for sustainment, as an end point, only design with as an endless process. As such it is an example of resistance to what Boaventura de Sousa Santos (2014) calls epistemicide and action towards a convivial technology that ontologically realigns the plurality of our modes of being in difference with the continuity of the being of the worlds of our collective dependence. What this transformation demands is a learning of futural forms of ‘being among beings' that was, and residually remains, elemental to many indigenous peoples ontologies. There can be no idealisation or romantic appropriation of this mode of being in the world. Rather it requires the creation of conditions of our own unmaking in which ontologically we are remade.
Post-development so framed cannot simply be directed at the displacement of the materiality of defuturing development but rather acknowledge and act on the indivisible relation between the exterior and interiority in which learning in place, and making a place in the world in which to continue to be, ontologically constitutes an individual and collective means to be otherwise. Such an understanding, such a design direction, is what the specificity of post-development as practice, process, and multiple projects begs to bring into being.

Design and/in the global South

As hopefully is now clear design, was and still is a silent and powerful force of (neo)colonialism. The ordering of the spaces of colonisation—the colonial city, the plantation, mines, the time of production, and more—were ontologically designing practices of power and control that directed conduct and ruptured the colonised subject from their prior ways of life and thereafter imposed a mode of being and acting in place (Legg 2007).
In order to work across cultures to create affirmative transformations that enable the South to design far more of its future requires collectives based on a ‘commonality in difference’ created in the in-between conditions of the borderland formed by the imperative of sustainment. The chapters in this part of the book strive to imagine how s...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Design in Crisis
APA 6 Citation
Fry, T., & Nocek, A. (2020). Design in Crisis (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)
Chicago Citation
Fry, Tony, and Adam Nocek. (2020) 2020. Design in Crisis. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Fry, T. and Nocek, A. (2020) Design in Crisis. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Fry, Tony, and Adam Nocek. Design in Crisis. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.