Designing urban citizenship - Rationalities and implications of 'design thinking' in the city

Authors: Gabriele Schliwa*, The University of Manchester
Topics: Political Geography, Economic Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: governance innovation, design thinking, dispositif
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Napoleon, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 41st Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Design-led approaches to governance innovation are having a moment. Particularly so-called ‘innovation labs’, ’civic hackathons’ and ‘jams’ started to mobilise 'design thinking' and 'human-centred design' as ‘putting people first’ approaches with the promise of empowering citizens to participate in creative problem-solving. Their themes are as varied and ambitious as tackling climate change (‘Climathon’), making children ‘future ready’ (‘Designathon’) or improving public services (‘Global GovJam’). What was previously known as user-centred design in the context of ICT product and service development is now proliferating the urban. But what is behind this trend? Who is empowered and disempowered through these processes? And what are the political implications of governing urban life through a standardised design process? My paper analyses the rationalities and implications of 'governing through design thinking' by mobilising the notion of the ‘dispositif’ (Foucault 1977, Heidegger 1977, Deleuze 1989, Agamben 2005, Bussolini 2010) as a lens to understand contemporary power relations within ‘design thinking’ discourses and innovation activities in the city. Building on works concerned with 'governing through code' (Gabrys 2014) as well as 'governing through Urban OS' (Marvin and Luque-Ayala 2017), this work-in-progress is based on research in the context of smart and sustainable city initiatives with a focus on sustainable transport conducted in Manchester between 2014-2017. Faced with an enthusiastic spread of public and industry-led ‘design thinking’ initiatives, I argue that ‘design thinking’ represents a disciplinary technology that currently results in a designing ‘of’ the social rather than ‘for’ the social within contemporary governance innovation.

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