Adversarial Design as a Participatory Practice

Designed things can do the work of agonism or be a kind of inquiry with an emphasis on the qualities of the object itself. But yet another tangent to adversarial design builds off the idea of design as a participatory practice. As a participatory practice, adversarial design would engage with groups and communities and use design to collectively and collaboratively explore the political condition and express political issues. Through this practice, adversarial design could become a new way of fostering public political action.

Both the introduction to this book and chapter 4 on ubiquitous computing and articulating agonistic collectives provide hints of adversarial design as a participatory practice. For instance, Jeremijenko 's Feral Robotic Dogs (2002-present), suggests a participatory practice of adversarial design in which the designer or artist works with others in the use of a technology for political ends. As people work with Jeremijenko to hack and release the robotic dogs to detect toxins, they themselves become involved in taking political action and participating in doing the work of agonism. One notable aspect of the tactic of articulating agonistic collectives is that it involves and transforms others and their actions into political expressions. By using products that politicize the everyday, the user participates in political expression. Someone who uses Shepard 's CCD-Me Not Umbrella, for example, might be considered as engaging in a kind of political direct action by working against a surveillance system. And to use Haque's Natural Fuse is to engage in a politicized interaction with others, collaboratively exploring the issues of energy consumption and resource management. However, participation is not the essential aspect of those projects and a participatory practice of adversarial design would need to go further still. In those examples, the user is not the instigator of the political action, and there is a distinct separation between the activities of design and the activities of use. Although this format succeeds as one kind of adversarial design, it is worth exploring whether there are other, more participatory ways that this work might be done.

Practices of participatory design offer insights into how such a shift in adversarial design might unfold. These practices are concerned with opening the design process beyond the experts and including those who might be affected by the designed thing in the activities of imagining, conceptualizing, and creating products and services. Historically, the practices of participatory design have been overtly political. The origins of participatory design in Scandinavia are interwoven with union politics and the rights of workers to participate in the structuring of their work environment. In contemporary participatory design, theories of agonism are beginning to appear and be proffered as useful frames for understanding new kinds of political action through design. Scholars Erling Bjorgvinsson, Pelle Ehn, and Per-Anders Hillgren (2010, 48) have recently drawn on Mouffe and notions of agonism to discuss how the processes of participatory design result in the making of "agonistic public innovation spaces" that enable the public expression of dissensus and foment debate through the activities of design. As I do in this inquiry into objects, Bjorgvinsson, Ehn, and Hillgren use agonism as an analytical frame for the activities and outcomes of participatory design. In the same way as extending adversarial design from an analytic to a generative frame for the making of objects, we can also imagine agonism as a generative frame for participatory design. Central to participatory design is the construction of methods and tools for eliciting and supporting engagement in the design process. These methods and tools have focused mostly on products and services for workplace settings. But we could also consider the construction of tools and methods for eliciting and supporting a participatory approach to adversarial design.

The lessons learned from this discussion of adversarial design can inform a participatory practice of adversarial design. Each tactic could be employed in a collective and collaborative manner. And as a process of inquiry, these could be taken up by both designers and nondesigners. The outcomes of that inquiry, which include the identification of issues and the constituent elements of an issue, might be markedly different with the participation of a public than when undertaken by a designer alone. One consequence of such a collaboration could be a broadening of the range of political issues and relations engaged through design, providing more sites and subjects for contestation.

One of the characteristics of all of the projects discussed in this book is a clever use of computation as a medium. This relies on deep knowledge and often expertise in the manipulation of computational technology. This is not something that could be immediately expected from a novice public.

In addition, many examples of adversarial design leverage an expertise in the making of products and the use of formal aesthetics as a strategy for luring people into the consideration of use. This too would not be present in a novice public. These are reasons to imagine participatory adversarial design differently, not reasons to abandon its pursuit. Part of a participatory adversarial design might then include educational programs that work to develop a level of technological and design fluency in participants. Or a participatory adversarial design could develop a new aesthetic that engaged speculation but without being spectacular or could focus on constructing publics rather than making objects. All of these possibilities merit further attention.

This question of how to imagine adversarial design differently is an appropriate topic to end with because it exemplifies a core tenet of ago- nism—that new sites and practices of contestation must always be pursued and that contestation never ends or is resolved. As Mouffe (2005a, 807) states, "To think politically is necessarily to abandon the dream of a final reconciliation and to discard the idea of a public space oriented to consensus. What democratic politics requires is a fostering of a multiplicity of public spaces of agonistic confrontation."

Doing adversarial design and using design to do the work of agonism require a similar perspective. If we abandon the notion that any one design will completely or even adequately address our social concerns or resolve our social issues, then adversarial design can provide those spaces of confrontation—in the form of products, services, events, and processes— through which political concerns and issues can expressed and engaged. To do adversarial design is to embrace a commitment to discovering and inventing ways to express and enable productive dissensus and contestation.

 
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