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Designing the Ecocene: Mapping the political economy of design

Format: Papers, RSD6, Topic: Economics & Orgs

Joanna Boehnert

The global challenges of the Anthropocene must be met with deliberative transitional strategies on all scales of society. Despite the intense difficulties associated with the transition to post-carbon economies, these transformations are a basic imperative. The disciplines of both economics and design are central to the development of sustainable and socially just futures. Both fields are involved with the production and reproduction of the artefacts, systems and structures that propel modern ways of living. These provide for the needs and want of populations (or certain constituencies) and determine the human impact on the environment. Both fields require deep-reaching transition strategies to respond to severe environmental and social challenges. Recent literature in both economics and design draws attention to the relationship between the two fields and their role in driving climate change and other environmental and social harms and injustices. Some scholars suggest that the design of the political economy and the political economy of design are at the crux of both environmental and social problems. Many sustainability theorists contend that deeper engagements with the complexity of human-ecological relations are necessary to change theory and practice in the domains of both economics and design to reflect ecological circumstances. By focusing attention on the political economy of design with mapping practices, this research project will explore the challenges and opportunities for the design of interventions towards a redirected, regenerative and distributive economy.

Despite process and technological innovation and a deepening and widening knowledge base, design in its many forms is not yet sufficiently mobilised towards slowing down and reversing the trajectory of climate change or other accelerating social and ecological harms. Strategies and opportunities for deeper interventions have been proposed, and over the past years, three new seminal publications have focused attention on the intersection of the economy and design. Design historian and theorist John Heskett’s posthumous Design and the Creation of Value (edited by Clive Dilnot and Susan Boztepe) delves into the relationship between value and values. This text brings economic theory to design and design theory to economics. Oxford economist Kate Raworth’s Donut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (2017) is a highly accessible text that outlines a proposal to transform economic thought. In this ambitious work, Raworth simultaneously makes a strong case for image-making and design as transformative means to revise and redesign economic systems. Sustainability educator David Orr published an introduction in the most recent Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Design (2018). Orr argues that changes in design practice cannot meet the challenges presented by environmental problems without attention to the political economy of design. These texts all emphasise the intersection of economics and design as a lever for transition. I use them to explain the significance of this research project in this paper.

Keywords: knowledge visualisation, ecological literacy, political economy, sustainability, transition, geospatial economic development




Citation Data

Author(s): Joanna Boehnert
Title: Designing the Ecocene: Mapping the political economy of design
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Host: Oslo School of Architecture and Design
Location: Oslo, Norway
Symposium Dates: Ocotber 18–20, 2017
First published: 12 October 2017
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