Designing Politics | Politicizing Design - (In)visibilities of power through the urban and social fabric

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Digital Geographies Specialty Group, Political Geography Specialty Group, Urban Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM (MDT)
Room: Napoleon, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 41st Floor
Organizers: Mark Usher, Gabriele Schliwa
Chairs: Mark Usher


Whilst urban design and political organization have always been linked through the material fabric of the city, from the Baroque aesthetics of the absolutist era to the Fordist functionalism of the International Style, this relationship has become increasingly ambiguous, sophisticated and discreet. At the same time, we have witnessed an ever increasing visibility of ‘design’ in popular and academic discourse, which tends to circumvent or downplay questions of the political in favor of technical and environmental concerns (Montgomery 2013; Tonkiss 2013; Armstrong 2014). This suggests that the ways in which design plays out in contemporary society is undergoing a number of transformations with profound implications for urban and political life, from the decentralization of government through integrated infrastructural management systems to the affective and behavioral manipulation of the population via smart technologies. However, current understandings and debates on design in the urban context, and their political and cultural implications, are still poorly developed and theorized. This represents an academic as well as practical challenge in need of an interdisciplinary field of study, which calls for critical geographical inquiry into design research, political theory, human-computer interaction, smart cities and urbanism.

This session therefore seeks to raise attention within geography to the politics of design and critically engage with this trend by focusing on notions of ‘designing politics’ as well as ‘politicizing design’. Enthusiastically celebrated initiatives aimed at developing cities at the ‘human scale’ through participation in various ‘co-processes’ (co-design, collaboration, co-production etc., see Bason 2014; Manzini 2015; Concilio and Rizzo 2016) can also result in enhanced social control and governmental techniques, and processes of de-politicization (Swyngedouw 2005). At the other end, how can we conceive and enact alternative forms of design politics to that of capitalist modes of production and create new types of collective commons (Boehnert 2014)? What kinds of ‘wicked problems’ (Buchanan 1992) may arise when thinking design politically? How does the design discourse relate to ontological shifts towards contingency and complexity (Machard 2007)? Can new ways of living together be designed from below? And how can the public realm be designed along more democratic or radical lines?


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Ole B. Jensen*, Dept of Architecture & Design, Aalborg University, The Material Politics of Future Airport Cities - Re-thinking design, power, and materiality in light of airport design 20 4:40 PM
Presenter Günter Gassner*, Cardiff University, Democratic Cityscapes: Politicizing Urban Form Against Private Profit Maximization in London 20 5:00 PM
Presenter Gabriele Schliwa*, The University of Manchester, Designing urban citizenship - Rationalities and implications of 'design thinking' in the city 20 5:20 PM
Presenter Marcus Owens*, UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design, Reviewing Forty Years of Design and Politics at Tempelhof Airfield 20 5:40 PM
Discussant Stephen Collier The New School 20 6:00 PM

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