I think it’s a good idea for all of us involved in this initiative to share our perspectives and motivations about it. I hope it would spark a wider and critical discussion on the many issues and concerns underlying this idea.
First, as a citizen of the developing world, I have been at the receiving end of ‘design solutions’ that have been conceived in (and often for) other socio-cultural-political contexts. Don’t get me wrong, much of it could be attributed to the development perspectives and policies of my own country. However, to me, that only emphasizes the various forms and formats in which colonialism persists and propagates itself: I like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy definition of the term — “Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another.” (full text at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/colonialism) And it is this essential process that I object to.
Second, as a designer and educator, I have witnessed (and been involved in) the deluge of ‘ethnographic design’ initiatives (mostly sponsored by large multinationals) that aspire to developing design solutions that cater to the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ market segments. I have an issue with the basic assumption here that a set of cultural and contextual probes (not all of them methodologically robust) are considered adequate to be fed to a remote (in more than the geographical sense) design team, to develop appropriate solutions. Even more than the methodology, it is the politics that I find worrying. In my view, design worldwide (including in India, I may add) is remarkable for its rather naïve and outdated politics — and certainly does not seem to have engaged with developments in social, cultural and economic theory of the last two or three decades (for all the talk about interdisciplinarity). Hence, my instant attraction for the ‘reversal’ proposed here — even if it is taken merely as a spoof.
Third, as one who believes in the potential of design as a discipline to enhance our quality of life (yes, I still do!), I support any idea or initiative that I consider would inform, enrich and expand the discipline towards incorporating greater complexity, criticality and sophistication in its practice. I believe this initiative affords such a promise, even if in a limited or partial sense. I’ve talked elsewhere about un-yoking the discipline from its identification with and submergence within business and industry in this context.
Finally, I would like most of all to see this initiative feed into and evolve into the broader discussion on the future of humanity (and the planet that we live on), that includes diverse voices and views, thereby throwing up many more visions and models for the future than the handful (even that is stretching it) that we seem to have currently.
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