Article published in Design Philosophy Papers!

1 January, 2013 - 00:00

The article 'Design and Dissensus: Framing and staging participation in design research' by Mahmoud Keshavarz and Ramia Mazé has been published in Design Philosophy Papers.


"A range of alternative formulations of design, such as ‘social’, ‘activist’, ‘critical’, ‘relational’, ‘humanitarian’ design, are amassing. Instead of focusing on form and function, such formulations typically focus on what design produces. At stake in the social turn within design is reconsideration of what design is about – not in terms of its objects but, and perhaps even more fundamentally, its subjects. Further, contemporary design oriented toward the public realm in multiple contexts involves a diversity of possible subjects and political subjectivities.

‘Participation’ has been an approach to addressing social questions in design. Participation has been linked, for example, to “a mindset and attitude about people” and a kind of ‘design humanism’ aimed at reducing domination, which meets the human ideal of mutual support for altruism, a ‘collective instinct of humanity’. In a range of associated projects and practices in recent years, methodologies have been applied to involve more or different people directly in product development processes. Indeed, participation may itself be seen as the objective of design processes. Concern, however, often tends towards methods for improving design objects, with certain questions about its subjects left under-examined or posed in overly general and loaded terms that might be further interrogated.

In this paper, we query participation in design in order to discuss some of the problematics of relating to ‘others’ in practices of design and design research. We argue, as do other design thinkers, for practices involving “micro-political participation in the production of space”, in which design frames and stages the (re)production of social as well as spatial relations. We argue for increased reflexivity about how others participate in design and the political implications. Here, ‘the political’ refers to the issue of who is identified and represented as a subject in studies and practices of design. Concerned with the social organization of everyday life, the design role is always engaged with “confrontation of power relations and influence by the identification of new terms and themes for contestation and new trajectories for action”.

Design Philosophy Papers offers the article freely until the next issue is released. 'Design and Dissensus' has been produced within the Forms of Sustainability project, funded by the Swedish Research Council (project number 2008-2257). The design example discussed in the article, 'Forms of Resistance', was also part of Mahmoud Keshavarz' MFA thesis at Konstfack, which was carried out partially in collaboration with the Interactive Institute.


• Access the article through Design Philosophy Papers

• Abstract and citation

• About Mahmoud Keshavarz' master's thesis