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
Last update:
Publisher Identification:

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


Open Access article published under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

Suggested citation format (APA)

Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

Publishing with RSD

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design are published online and include the contributions for each format.

Papers and presentations are entered into a single-blind peer-review process, meaning reviewers see the authors’ names but not vice versa. Reviewers consider the quality of the proposed contribution and whether it addresses topics of interest or raises relevant issues in systemic design. The review process provides feedback and possible suggestions for modifications.

The Organising Committee reviews and assesses workshops and systems maps & exhibits with input from reviewers and the Programme Committee.

Editor: Cheryl May
Peter Jones
Ben Sweeting

The Scholars Spiral

In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted the scholars spiral—a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship—and in 2023, launched Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal. Together, the RSD symposia and Contexts support the vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars and practitioners to publish work in the interdisciplinary field of systemic design.

The Systemic Design Association's membership ethos is to co-create the socialization and support for all members to contribute their work, find feedback and collaboration where needed, and pursue their pathways toward research and practice outcomes that naturally build a vital design field for the future.


Verified by MonsterInsights