Select Page


Systemic design and social marginalization – Mapping and assessment of projects for the empowerment of people experiencing social exclusion

Format: Papers, RSD6, Topic: Socioecological Design

Giada Pezzi, Marco D’Urzo and Cristian Campagnaro

social marginality social exclusion design for social innovation wicked problems capabilities approach This paper presents an application of the systemic approach for the mapping of projects that address the issue of social marginalization seen as object involved in the process of participation, social cohesion and economic development. The concept of marginality refers to an organization of society characterized by inequality in which some individuals are not integrated within the system, have little access to resources, and are unable to build strong social ties. For individuals, this condition is a situation close or equal to social exclusion. According to the definition of the sociologist Z. Bauman, who introduced the concept of “human waste” (Bauman, 2003) the marginal subject may be identified as unusable by society and thus relegated to its margins, like any other inanimate material waste meant for the landfill. In accordance with the Capabilities Approach developed by A. Sen and M. Nussbaum, for a person to be able to deeply express his/her existence, he/she must be recognized in their full complexity, with respect to both needs and potential. In this sense, anyone who is in a position to completely live one’s life and exercise their agency, is a resource not only for oneself but for society as a whole. This shows that people who are socially excluded may become key for the activation of virtuous processes both at individual and collective level. Starting from this view on marginality, we analysed how the fundamental principles of Systemic Design (Bistagnino, 2009; Jones, 2014) in the context of the approach to complex problems (Buchanan, 1992) can be an effective tool to investigate the issue of social exclusion and its possible solutions. In fact, Systemic Design highlights the distinctive features of the natural processes according to which there is no such thing as waste: any waste (output) within a system becomes a resource (input) of another system, starting new virtuous processes (Bistagnino, 2009). Similarly, an individual placed on the margins of society, from our point of view must be seen as a person full of resources and potential, whose abilities, skills, characteristics can be rehabilitated and positively reinserted into the community, instead of considering him/her as an “unnecessary, useless and unwanted person” (Bauman, 2003). The study was conducted through a desk review and the subsequent mapping of projects confronting social marginalization. While defining the specific field of research, we focused on today’s increasingly solid relationship between precarious and atypical working conditions and the creation of marginality. This relationship has led us to identify, as the field of analysis, the issue of poverty resulting from chronic unemployment or job precariousness within the European context. In this field, we looked for experiences that, beyond their specific purpose, could represent a starting point for the development of new community policies addressing social marginalization. We have therefore defined an analysis tool to highlight the impact of the projects on their contexts and also to enable a comparison between the different cases studied. It allowed us to: •Map (tangible and intangible) flows and the nature of relationships generated by the projects. The mapping exercise involved both the marginalized individual’s point of view and that of the community in which the project is developed. Throughout the whole process, we highlighted the connections between material culture, social fabric and the production and environmental characterization of the territory. •Identify those factors that allow the project to develop and remain self-sustainable from a social, environmental and economic perspective. Relatedly, determine factors that allow marginalized subjects to develop tangible and intangible resources that support the ability to attain self-sustainability during and after the participation in the project. •Evaluate the connections that the project activates within the territory, while particularly highlighting to which extent and how the characteristics of the context have determined the orientation of the project and, conversely, to which extent and how the project has affected these characteristics. •Evaluate the project’s ability to enhance the specific characteristics of those involved, to provide them with new skills and knowledge and to reintegrate them into society, allowing them to express themselves in their whole being. Additionally, assess the social, economic and environmental impact of the project on the community. The characterisation of the project outcome was also analysed for each project, with reference to the four design domains identified by Jones and van Patter (2009). These four are defined as “design for the creation of:” • Artefacts and communication • Products and services • Organizational transformations • Social transformations Within such analysis, the role played by the designer in the different project phases was highlighted, defining the level in which his/her competence has intervened in conceptual, organizational or productive terms. In conclusion, we observed how systemic design could represent an approach that enables a holistic view of the projects analysed, by allowing to a comprehensive elaboration of their complexity related to the involved individual and to the context within which the project is developed; generating an exhaustive insight into the whole process.

Presentation & paper




Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2017
Title: Systemic design and social marginalization – Mapping and assessment of projects for the empowerment of people experiencing social exclusion
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 12 October 2017
Last update:
Publisher Identification:
Verified by MonsterInsights