My contribution to Ezio’s and Victor’s call is a new series of DESIS Philosophy Talk, called “Regenerating Democracy” (www.desis-philosophytalks.org), where both designers as scholars from other disciplines such as philosophy can reflect on if and how design can be imagined as a tool to regenerate democracy.
In DESIS network many of our schools are currently experimenting with the creation of contexts where people can have together conversations on issues concerning the public realm. We do not only only focus on creating the physical and digital infrastructures that make such conversations possible, but also work in order to make common issues accessible to citizens. These conversations are not just an exchange of opinions. They are what we call “conversations for action”, meant to be translated into concrete actions and therefore have a positive impact on society, making it more democratic, inclusive and resilient. In many design schools we are also experimenting with ways to help other citizens take this step in the process of a further democratisation of society. We work to create the preconditions to make it more probable for these conversations to be translated into concrete actions. By empowering citizens and make their actions more effective, design schools are working to regenerate current democratic systems. This is a rather new phenomenon, which requires further critical reflection. Here design schools are touching upon an issue – i.e. democracy – which is rather complex and which has a long tradition of study in other disciplines, such as political theory, social science, history and philosophy. Therefore, we should make the best of these insights in order to come to a theoretical framework for our own emerging practices. The idea behind this new series of DESIS Philosophy Talk is to investigate how disciplines such as philosophy, social and political sciences can help designers to question if and how designers are today succeeding in regenerate democracy.
Looking for instance at philosophy we see many similarities between what happens in these practices and what Hannah Arendt describes for instance in her book, The Human Condition as being the preconditions for democracy. Situations and contexts are created in the public space, in which conversations for action can take place on common matters of interest, which designers try to make visible and tangible. To Arendt “democracy” is a set of discourses for actions and the consequent actions that take place in public arenas regarding common “interests” which bring people together. To Arendt, citizens collaborating on common interests have the “power” to transform the conversations into actions. This power is not given to them, but arises from their collaborations. If one follows Arendt’s line of reasoning and contextualises it in contemporary terms, this means that if one provides the contexts in which conversations for action on common interests can take place, and one makes these common interests accessible, this will give power to people. It will thus empower them – to not only discuss which new actions should be undertaken, but also to act, and possibly co-produce these new initiatives that might lead to a more democratic society. These are just some early reflections to set in motion the discussions in this new series of DESIS Philosophy Talks. You are hereby warmly invited to contribute to this promising ongoing discussion.
LUCA School of Arts