Prefigurative Politics and Design
It’s difficult to imagine what life might be like without capitalism, patriarchy, and modernism, yet these systems did not always exist; they were built. As professional designers who want to work towards something different, what can we do? Some have turned to prefigurative politics for a path forward.
Prefiguration is a political strategy of working towards social transformation by “building the new world in the shell of the old”. For example: solidarity economies prefigure an economy based in cooperation rather than competition through shared ownership of production; and transformative justice initiatives prefigure a world without police by finding new ways for people to keep each other safe. These efforts question the fundamental values and beliefs underlying the oppressive systems we rely on today by building something different.
This presentation grapples with questions like: How have professional designers worked with prefigurative projects in the past? What roles do designers think we could play in prefigurative projects? When designerly frameworks and methods, timelines, partnerships and outcomes carry the baggage of an industrial field born out of capitalism and modernism, is it possible for a design practice to contribute towards building systems based in fundamentally different values?
prefiguration; counter-institutions; participatory design; pluriverse
Alix Gerber is an independent design researcher in New York City. For the past five years, she has investigated designing for futures without policing and capitalism, working with groups of young people in Harlem, residents in Ferguson, Missouri, and college students at Washington University in St. Louis. As a designer interested in prefigurative projects, she has been reading design perspectives to explore her own hesitancy about using a professional design practice in prefigurative contexts. Alix is a white, cisgender woman from Portland, Oregon, born to two industrial designers. She became a design researcher through working at consulting firms after studying interior design in college. Her experience in the Transdisciplinary Design MFA program at Parsons School of Design caused her to question and explore the implications of applying design practices to social issues.