Re-imaginging and re-purposing design(-ing) requires new language, thoughts, deeds and manifestations. It also demands fresh perspectives and orientations. So I want to raise a challenge for all concerned about design(-ing)’s contribution to contingent realities.
Berard Stiegler, the French philosopher, writing recently in a publication called Open 24: Politics of Things: What Art and Design can do in Democracy, explored our contingent realities by proposing that we live in a time of unfaithfulness, a condition determined by the product obsolescence and permanent innovation of [hyper-]capitalism (1). Society, he argues, is ‘fundamentally an apparatus for the production of faithfulness’. He suggests that relations of faithfulness are constituted through ‘Things’ (as identified by Perec and in Baudrillards’ system of objects’) woven thorough such relations as ‘objects of inheritance, work, the formation of knowledge, shared activities, games, commerce of all kinds, etcetera, but also, above all as transitional objects’. These transitional objects emerge through fabricating our world through ‘making-trust’. He notes that the present day is configured by ‘an organisation of dependence grounded in infidelity – in this case a pharmacological dependence on expedients (all objects becoming such expedients, that is substitutes for a lack that is not that of the desiring subject but rather of the addict, made dependent by their toxicomania’.
Stiegler’s discourse offers an interesting dialectic to query the directionality and orientation of design(-ing). To help develop this proposition, we should examine the Greek word, pharmakon. It is imbued with ambiguity and complexity as it means both medicine and poison, and is the stem word from which we derive pharmacology. Other meanings embrace sacrament, remedy, talisman, cosmetic, perfume and intoxicant (2). This micro-lexicon could be readily applied to describe the ubiquitous presences of design objects within our contemporary cultures. To continue the pharmacological metaphor, design has the potentiality of being a stimulant, palliative, sedative, toxin and placebo. Design fuels, while simultaneously appearing to ease, the inherent malady of conspicuous consumption (3). If we call it ‘pharmaka-design’, and we all recognise it, then what can we see as an alternative?
I offer ‘eudaemonic-design’. Eudaemonic, in modern historical times, refers to producing or conducive to happiness, however this is an abstraction of the total meaning. Eudaimonia is a heady combination of happiness, human flourishing, virtue, practical and ethical wisdom(4). So we can ask ourselves…’Does this way of design(-ing) produce more flourishing, more happiness, more well-being or less? Does this way of design(-ing) sustain flourishing, happiness and well-being or are its effects transcient? We should also go beyond our anthropocentric world view and ask how we can create conditions of sustainaed eudaemonia for other living species too?
My second challenge here is to question whether our ‘problem:solution’ mentality to design(-ing) is actually restricting our processes of contextual enquiry, thoughts, actions and outcomes. If we look at a situation, a locale, a particular set of circumstances and ask, ‘What positive assets, capabilities, capacities and other resources do I/we have, and what can I/we create with them, now?’, then we immediately begin to explore possibilities, rather than examine barriers, challenges and problems. We become Possibilitarians.
We can think of this eudaemonic possibilitarian design(-ing) as playful, joyful, yet serious, sense-making, meaning-making and trust-making within a directly lived world. We can reduce our pharmacological dependency on design-as-usual by helping each other flourish. This can be achieved by coming together to design new possibilities in a locale with(-in) communities of interest, practice or circumstance. This way we raise the possibility of ‘co-futuring’.
(1) Stiegler, Bernard (2012) ‘Interobjectivity and Transindividuation, pp51-63, in Seijdel, J. and L. Melis (eds) Open 24: Politics of Things: What Art and Design do in Democracy. Nai010 Publishers, available here.
(3) ‘Conspicuous consumption’ was a term coined by Thorsten Veblen, an economist and sociologist in the late 19th century – yes, our (mass) consumption has been growing in its conspicuous-ness for over 120 years!
(4) Eudaimonia or eudaemonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία Greek pronunciation: [eu̯dai̯monia]), sometimes anglicized as eudemonia (pron.: /juːdɪˈmoʊniə/), is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, “human flourishing” has been proposed as a more accurate translation. Etymologically, it consists of the words “eu” (“good”) and “daimōn” (“spirit”). It is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and political philosophy, along with the terms “aretē”, most often translated as “virtue” or “excellence”, and “phronesis”, often translated as “practical or ethical wisdom”. Source: Wikipedia, ‘Eudaimonia’, accessed 08.02.2013.