BEYOND SPECULATION – Using speculative methods to surface ethics and positionality in design practice and pedagogy.

LEVICK-PARKIN, Melanie, STIRLING, Eve, HANSON, Maria and BATEMAN, Roger (2020). BEYOND SPECULATION – Using speculative methods to surface ethics and positionality in design practice and pedagogy. Global Discourse An interdisciplinary journal of current affairs.

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    Design rhetoric is full of temporal assertions of ‘change’, ‘transformation’, ‘innovation’ Maze (2017), but these assertions point to not just to any possible future but specific and preferred futures. Futures, that design helps bring into being through. As such, Design is deeply and intrinsically political, but for the largest part without reflecting on, or declaring, its implicit biases or intents (Fry 2015, 2010). Whilst speculative methods might sit easily with design methods; as design is already future directed and future making (Yelavich, 2014; Gunn, Otto and Smith, 2013), design also has a knack of technicalising and commodifying methods at will (Hunt 2011), with demands for positionality and foundational ethics often viewed with suspicion and judged as partisan (Tonkinwise, 2019; Fry, 2015). We propose that design education has a much larger role to play in the making and un-making of design practices and visions beyond dominant ontologies and to bring into being more ‘liveable’ social, political and environmental futures - ‘futures yet un-thought’ (Grosz, 1999). The paper explores the relationship between speculative design and ethics, both within and beyond the context of design pedagogic research. It examines some our struggles to, and motivations for, engaging with speculative methods in design as design scholars and practitioners, by reflecting on research which aimed to explore whether speculative, future facing design curricula would have an impact on raising design student’s awareness of design’s agency, beyond the micro-environment of specific design disciplines or disciplinary industrial contexts. The focus of the pedagogic research was a first semester project worked on with MA Design students over three years with three cohorts of students. The project was called ‘Design Futuring the City’ and had international cohorts of students from a cross-disciplinary design programme working on designing specific social and material futures for their home cities. Those futures were developed from a wide range of futurologist predictions; informed and supported by critical design theory and design anthropology. We discuss how findings suggest that speculative methods can encourage students to develop an understanding of how design simultaneously ‘futures’ and ‘de-futures’ (Fry, 2015). We reflect on, to what extent, it has made ethics and positionality visible to students and their sense of their potential material agency in future-making as designers. We draw on feminist theory and critique to go on to argue that speculative methods could help the design discipline to break out of its oft wilful ontological blindness (Escobar 2013, Fry 2015), but in order to fulfil their full critical and transformative potential, foundational ethics, and questions of positionality, require equal status around the table. If speculation is to facilitate the surfacing of issues around positionality and foundational ethics within the design curriculum and beyond, contestations central to feminist critique such as ‘what futures and who’s futures’ (Ahmed et al., 2000) are needed.

    Item Type: Article
    SWORD Depositor: Symplectic Elements
    Depositing User: Symplectic Elements
    Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2020 11:48
    Last Modified: 25 Sep 2020 12:00

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