CONTESTATIONAL DESIGN: HOW AGONISM TRANSFORMS PARTICIPATORY DESIGN
Participatory design for some often implies common purpose, stakes and equitable dispositions among participants engaging in a consensual process towards amenable design outcomes. Much has been written about the nature of participation, power relations, and the socio-political challenges of ensuring co-determination, reflexivity and agreement in participatory design. What happens in social contexts or publics “characterized by heterogeneity and difference with no shared object of design”, harkening the "agonistic pluralism" posed by Chantal Mouffe? The concept of agonism runs counter to tacit consensus and highlights inherent disagreements and confrontations in many contexts that may well lead to productive deliberations, resistance or contestation.
Nitin Sawhney is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at The New School and a 2018-19 GIDEST Fellow. In his research, teaching and creative practice over the years, he has worked with many artists and activists using participatory media and tactical urbanism to engage with contested issues in Occupied Palestine, Guatemala, Russia and New York City. As part of his GIDEST research, Nitin has been examining how design practitioners critically tackle various forms of dissensus, agonism and conflict emerging in urban design and civic initiatives. For his GIDEST talk Nitin will share outcomes from interviews, workshops, and case studies conducted over the past few months to reveal the ways in which conflict and agonism can be leveraged to nurture or inhibit productive design alternatives, expand social inclusion, and spur civic action in contested urban contexts.
Nitin completed his Ph.D. at the MIT Media Laboratory and taught at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology. He has conducted digital storytelling initiatives with Palestinian youth in refugee camps and co-directed the award-winning documentary Flying Paper, co-produced with children in Gaza with support from National Geographic. He established the Engage Media Lab at The New School to support participatory media programs and research with youth. In 2011-12, Nitin led OccupyDataNYC, a series of hackathons and exhibitions visualizing socio-political data and tactics of urban protest, conducted with activists and researchers in New York City. In 2014-15, he led a curatorial research project, Guatemala Después, examining contemporary artistic practices with collaborative exhibitions in Guatemala and New York. His essay “Zona Intervenida: Performance as Memory, Transforming Contested Spaces” was recently published in Rethinking Peace: Discourse, Memory, Translation, and Dialogue by Rowman & Littlefield International (March 2019).