Between Critique and Creation: Research, Design, Activism
Between Critique and Creation is part of The Festival of the New, which features extensive programming celebrating 100 years of the New School’s legacy. Please register to attend Between Critique and Creation and the larger festival here.
What does social and political work look like today? Arturo Escobar’s recent Designs for the Pluriverse, and Bruno Latour’s “A Cautious Prometheus” both point to a form of nonfoundational politics in an unexpected place: design. This seems to be a surprising diagnosis. To most social scientists, design hardly seems an appropriate practice in which to locate a form of politics for pluralistic and pluriversal non-modernist politics. After all, critics have long lamented design’s lack of criticality, its excessive emphasis on problem-orientation over more far-reaching social and political goals, and its (inadvertent) reproduction of social divisions. And yet, we live in an age where designers are actively participating in political movements for social justice and against climate change. They work in government and on public issues, passionately organizing concerned publics and conducting participatory forums, often explicitly including underserved or historically marginalized groups. In light of these divergent accounts, what are we to make of the ways in which designers have begun to shape the political?
While it has become commonplace to question the role of academic social research in actualizing political transformations, design presents an entirely different challenge to the way social scientific work has historically functioned. In its focus on problem articulation, design has long suggested that knowledge division along traditional disciplinary lines, in the natural as well as the social sciences cannot address the complex wicked problems of our age. Is social scientific and design research incommensurable or can these two spheres benefit from each other’s methods and approaches?
In this event, we will explore the process and goal of research in design and the social sciences. Bringing designers into conversation with social scientists, this discussion aims to shed light on what it means to do critical research in an age in which the problems toward which we turn our analytical eye habitually spill over the boundaries we set for ourselves and which are set for us in our professional practices.
Shanti Mathew is Deputy Director of the Public Policy Lab, a non-profit that works at the intersection of human-centered design and public policy. As a strategist and designer, Shanti partners with government to incorporate disadvantaged communities in policy design, transform service systems to be more equitable and effective, and pilot new social programs. She has led work with the NYC Administration of Children's Services, the NYC Department of Education, the NYC Department of Homeless Services, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, among many other public-interest organizations. Shanti is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and IIT Institute of Design.
Barbara Adams is a sociologist whose interdisciplinary research looks at how knowledge is produced and political action is initiated through art and design projects. Her current book project is focused on creative and poetic forms of social research and considers how art and design might redirect sociological thinking. She is also working on a manuscript that examines the politics of helping in socially engaged art and design projects. Barbara is co-editor in chief of the journal Design and Culture and teaches in the MFA programs in Transdisciplinary Design and in Interior Design at Parsons, as well as in the undergraduate program at the School of Design Strategies. She holds a PhD from The New School and was previously a Postdoctoral Fellow at Wesleyan University.
Pauline Gourlet is an interaction designer, researcher, and teacher, currently working at the United Nations as Data and Innovation Lead. Her work addresses the role design can play in the development of both people and organizations; approaching design as a way to interrogate human activities through social creation and appropriation processes of new artifacts. Pauline co-founded L’Atelier de Chercheurs, a collective of designers creating free tools that support learning and creative processes, using a participatory action research approach with various partners (public schools, fablabs/maker spaces, theaters, museums, public institutions...). She holds a PhD in cognitive psychology and design from University Paris 8 and was previously appointed as a visiting researcher at The New School (2017-2018).