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Another Possible is Possible: The Right not to be designed

The following is a recorded online video and transcription of the keynote conversation that took place between the anthropologists Arjun Appadurai and Arturo Escobar for a one-day symposium titled ‘The Right to design: Another Possible is Possible’ at the Röhsska Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden.

Through presentations, workshops and conversations, the aim of the symposium was to consider how the framework of rights could be rethought and reconceptualised in relation to the subject of design. The symposium was part of a series of studies with practitioners, activists and scholars from disciplinary fields ranging from design and architecture to anthropology and law that not only map designs relationships to rights but imagine alternative framings for how rights could be practised, made visible and extended through the discipline of design itself. Although both Arjun and Arturo had followed and referenced each other’s works over the years, the two had not previously met or been in dialogue. With no time limit set, Arjun and Arturo were invited to respond to the prompts of the right to design and the right not to be designed in connection to their ongoing scholarship and activism.


Arjun Appadurai
So, Onkar do you want me to nudge in?

Onkar Kular
Yes, please Arjun, you begin.

Okay, well, I should begin first of all, by saying how honoured and delighted I am to be your guest – alas through this long distance, tech mediation –but we still can be glad to be in contact. The theme and the context are extremely urgent and important. And I must say it’s also a very great delight to have the pleasure to meet Arturo Escobar in person whom I have read since more or less the beginning of my senior days as an anthropologist and as someone who growing up in India in the fifties, whether you were an anthropologist or a sociologist or some other kind of social scientist, or even humanist, Development was the ocean in which every fish had to swim.

Some of us didn’t know that that was the ocean we were swimming in. So I’m grateful to Arturo who was a very early observer of the fact that that was the ocean in tandem with the theory of modernization, with the work of, let’s called it proto- neoliberalism of the fifties, sixties, seventies, (of course, I use these dates from a salvation perspective). All of them would have to be reformed and recreated from Latin America, which is one of the issues I hope we will engage in.

But in any case, uh, after the Second World War, there is no question that Latin America was a very huge site, both for the machinery of development and design actually, or we call it designed development as well as for the, some of the greatest, criticisms and critiques of that, including Arturo’s, but also including, Andre Gunder Frank and many other people who were deeply sceptical of what was happening in Chile in Brazil, indeed throughout the Indis, so also in the Southern cone, in Argentina and we were, I would say in India a little slower,–except with a few remarkable exceptions, like Ashis Nandy and so on– there was a kind of celebratory sense about development modernization. So, we all owe Arturo a lot and I’m very delighted to be here also for that terrific opportunity.

So let me just make a couple of points that have already come up in our informal dialogue that is between Onkar, Arturo and myself, and just flag them, although there are other adjacent and connected and subjacent points that are also very well or pursuing.

The first one is why has there been a kind of strange vacuum in the dialogue between the critical social sciences, humanities issuing from Latin America and those issuing from South Asia? It’s a question that has puzzled me for a long time and like others, I have some speculations or hypotheses about why that should be so, but no clear or defined understanding. So I think that’s quite an important thing because it affects how one understands the contemporary world, how one might understand the trajectories that lead to the contemporary world, how one place is the question of Western or Euro-American modernity and what space it leaves for other ontologies and not least the question: what energy does it leave for leveraging those other ontologies? which may have different forms, and in fact, do in India and Latin America–And of course also in Africa and elsewhere–but today I focused on India and Latin America because of Arturo and my particular commitment. So that’s one question. How do we think about these two? let’s say continental subcontinental in the case of India and South Asia trajectories in creating the environment in which subordinate or subdominant ontologies may or may not have a chance to express themselves critically. So that’s one question. There are a couple of others, and I just flagged them.

There is the interesting question that Arturo himself brought up in our dialogue, which is whether there is a tension in the ontologies of these two large geographical areas about–let’s call it critiques of the world as it is. And whether those critiques lead to a form of refusal or escape, which can leave the existing social arrangements intact.

And there’s a really strong argument that that is the shape of the most dominant refusals is that they also are exits to use Albert Hirschman’s phrase, they don’t disturb the thing, they just say, we are going away, we’re going to another plane of reality or another plane of thought.

In Latin America, that story of refusal on which I’m really keen to hear more from Arturo takes a different kind of form, because the kind of let’s call it Hindu or Indic idea of self-abnegation and refusal of bodily needs is one that doesn’t have the same status. It may be there, but it doesn’t have the same status. So, the question is, does that in some complicated, multi-causal way, lead for example, indigenous communities in Latin America to rise against capitalist and state capitalist violence and exploitation and depredation? uh, whereas, uh, in India that does happen—but now I go into a slightly more specialised English we can talk about or not—It comes from the so-called tribal word, outside cast, which has also aligned itself with Maoism in the heart of India, but the lowest Indian caste have tended, not till recently to frontally oppose the state or capitalist interests, so the tribe was his caste you see? which is a non-distinction, most of all in Latin America, or at least it’s not central to anthropology, it may be important but not so these questions are not.

And finally let me just add one word to say this question of the Right to design as well as the Right to not be designed as well as the other combination, such as the design of rights, because rights are also designed by somebody. So the very idea of rights as going, being the opposite side of duties, et cetera, is a designed idea. The question is how many worldviews does it leave out of account to say, that’s what a right is? It’s the other side of a duty and so on.

There’s an architecture there, which is easy to see as having a particular Euro-American history for better or for worse. But that too has been designed. So the question then becomes whether the tension between the right to design and the right not to be designed with an ‘ed’, is connected with the tension between the right to design and the design of rights. Who does it in the name of what. There are some interesting tensions in these keywords ‘rights’ and ‘design’ that I hope we can also unpack. So let me stop there because I know there’s a lot I would like to hear from Arturo and from everyone else involved. Thank you.

Arturo Escobar
Thanks so much, Arjun for your wonderful comments and its equally a great pleasure and an honour to share this stage with you. I came late into anthropology actually in the eighties, in Northern California, and you were already one of the very foundational authors that we were reading at the time and so your work has always been important I mean, to me, and to so many other anthropologists, not only the global north, but in the global south as well, which is, which is something maybe that we share, which is this going back and forth with the north and the south, not only physically, but epistemically geopolitically and so forth.

And thank Onkar, Elena and the organisers for the invitation. Special greetings to the few of you there in the auditorium, colleagues in Gothenburg. That’s great. And, uh, what I like to do, I’m going to probably weave some of my very initial responses to Arjun as I say some of what I was going to say, at least. And I wanted to start by thinking about How do we characterise the present situation, the present moment today, historically? that–as Arjun has said–is extremely urgent.

And then in the second half, talk a little bit about the Right to design and design in general. So, I’m going to take as a point of departure debates in the interface between social theory and social activist practice in mostly Latin America, which is usually my point of departure for obvious reasons.

And I will start with two formulations. The first one is that constantly indigenous peoples in Latin America, that at around 1992, on the occasion or the 500th anniversary of the so-called discovery of America, began to argue that the current crisis is a civilizational crisis, by which they meant is it crisis in a particular mode of existence; capitalist, western, modern.

In many ways we can characterise this, hetero-patriarchal, colonial, racist and so forth. And hence, that the task is that of a civilisational transition. So civilisational transition to what? to a different civilizational matrix. And this is the concept that was introduced by indigenous peoples at around that time and continues to be elaborated upon, at that interface between social theory and activist practice.

So, three concepts:

Civilizational crisis


Transitions to the Pluriverse we call it now following the Zapatista, to a world where many worlds fit. And the third concept, that is becoming increasingly salient to me (and worldwide, I think, well, I mean, not worldwide, but in, in the academy, the global north as well in the global south) which is the concept of…

Radical Interdependence or Relationality as a re-emerging foundation for life itself. That life doesn’t really operate–and reality doesn’t operate–on the basis of this dualistic separations between humans and non-humans or reason and emotion, secular and sacred, but the essence of life, really is radical interdependence on everything that exists.

So, the second formulation is the formulation that is closer to what Arjun also said, that the present moment is one of emergency in the sense of a moment or an event that interrupts or reconfigures our customary ways of doing things and thinking. So, a lot of that is happening because of climate change, the Anthropocene or whatever we want to call it but also of emergence, emerge that are genuinely new and, uh, sort of these two things that are interlaced with each other emergency and emergence. So, emergency is the social side of emergency, in the quality, huge upholding in inequalities, intensification of racism, femicides, violence, displacement, and so forth. We know it well on the ecological side (obviously climate change, but much more than that) The sixth mass extinction, as it is called, the classes of biodiversity.

And on the emergence side, we also have a social component of emergence. And I think what is emerging in Latin America, we see very clearly is the movements and collectives and peoples, like indigenous peoples, self-dissenters, environmentalist, feminists, this is this amazing effervescence of new voices that are couching their concerns not only as anti-capitalist, anti- racists, anti-patriarchal struggles, but also in the sense of struggles over life itself. Or the conditions of life. Or why we think that life is and should be. And hence, we understand that as ontological struggles and that becomes pretty clear in many of these, especially when we look at indigenous people’s struggles, but not only that.

There’s a concept, and before I move to the second part there is a concept that to me is very important today, that was proposed initially by the South American movement of indigenous women Buen Vivir, Buen Vivir is like ‘good living’ which is the concept of ‘terracide’ ‘terracideo’, or the killing of the earth, but terracide involves both the killing, the destruction of physical ecosystems, but also of epistemic ecosystems and spiritual ecosystems. It’s all of that. So, there is a very important concept as well. And so, in terms of where, what is the current situation? Where have we been in many ways? And I found in the last few years, I’ve been reading more and more, the work of a Jamaican philosopher, Sylvia Wynter, is not very well known, but I think it’s increasingly influential. And she has this amazing concept of what she calls that she said that we are constrained or trapped within a mono-humanist conception of the human.

So, single mode of thinking about the human and being human, liberal, secular, western, bourgeois (that’s her characterization) and that we move towards a more ecumenical, hybrid ways, multiple ways of being human that are emerging but also always been there, but many of them re-emerging and been reconstituted all over the place. There is an indigenous intellectual from Brazil, Leto Kraynak, I’ll put in the chat later on. That suggests that besides thinking about the post-human, we need to think about the ex-human, meaning by that we need to declare ourselves as ex-human, ex-humans in relation to that dominant idea of the human against secular bourgeois and so forth.

Okay. So now for a few remarks, very quickly on, on design and The Right to design. I see like this, and I want it to refer to something that Arjun said, okay. I haven’t talked about the difference between, conversations between South Asia and Latin America, but I will, if I have time now, if not in the second set of comments, I certainly would like to say something about that as well, but in terms of design and I’m really glad that this seminar is convened under this concept of design.

And I think that one way in which we can also think about The Right to design, Arjun proposed one, between the right to design and thinking about Who and How of rights design, so who designs the rights? Who are the designers of the rights? And I see three concepts in tension.’

The first one is:

The right to design that you have been articulating in Gothenburg and here I would also include not only the right to design in the conventional or European sense of design, but also in all of the emerging concepts and ideas about design from the global south, including autonomous design, decolonizing design, decolonial design, designed by other names, et cetera, et cetera. So, that is the right to design, that still takes place within a critical understanding of modernity or an alternative modernity.

The second would be the right not to be designed, also within the critical understanding of modernity and especially considering that development has been this Grand Design, as Arjun said, it wasn’t named that way in the fifties and sixties or even seventies and eighties. But it is, development has been one of the most important political technologies of modernity for designing, uh, the global south – what we call today, the global south, in so many different ways.

And the third project, is the right to not design or the right not to design. And what do I mean by this? And this is not my idea, it’s an idea for a Colombian colleague, whose name is Alfredo Gutierrez and I will put in the chat a bit later on as well–who talks, how we should, sort of bracket or try to slow down the tendency to incorporate everything that humans prefigure and make and fabricate (manufactured) into the idiom of design, into the grammar of design… because design will always be tainted with this Western origin, design will always be constrained by its habit, having taken place within an ontology and epistemology of separation: subjects and objects and ‘projects’ and so forth.

And that if we look with what Alfredo Gutierrez argues, that if we look at the vast experience of creation and artifice and making, throughout history and today, we cannot reduce most of that to be a reflection of design with ‘capital D’ as we know it. So, he talks about trying to avoid the ‘westoxification’ or ‘occidentosis’ that comes along with imputing design to anything we do, no matter the ontology and epistemology from which that designing emerges. And I think I went one minute over my time, so I will stop there, but I look forward to the rest of the conversation.

Elena Raviola
Thank you both for the introductory remarks. I would like to now in the spirit of the flow, invite Arjun to respond and begin the conversation with Arturo.

Thank you Arturo for these wonderful remarks which cover a broad horizon of problems where I think our interests have probably overlapped for a long time and there are many things, that we could take off from, but one thing that occurs to me, uh, about your comment about your colleague – I think it’s Alfredo Gutierrez? – he is talking about design and the hidden tyranny of the idea of design is if, again, since we are both anthropologists, broadly speaking and therefore, always trying to think about the varieties of human experience past and present, it is very interesting too. I was thinking earlier in the conversation that neither of us has, said much so far about the other word,
which is very near design, which is planning.

So, if you think of a Jim Scott and so on, we know that planning is a big problem. It’s part of seeing like a state. It is clearly Euro-American. It is clearly a technology of control and so on, but design is the kind of good cop with planning as the bad cop. So the question is, are the two cops actually siblings. So, we have to be very careful and not say what is bad and what is good, because I think the Alfredo Gutierrez idea is saying, look, if planning is worrisome, in all these ways, design is not exactly innocent.

But what it takes me to think about, is it forces us, I think–which is a really hard thing for anthropologists–to re-examine the– let’s call it the spaces, which are other than those Euro-American modernity, about which let us say broadly, at least in this conversation, we agree on many things: It is extractive, it is ungenerous, it’s tyrannical, it’s orientalist … you know, the list is pretty clear now, we don’t have to struggle over what the problem is.

But if you take, what is the other of it, then we have a slightly more challenging problem because, we know that people of every kind, from the simplest societies, to the most complex, in any place and across places, you know, make things, as you say, they are fabricators, they are designers. And here is the tricky part: they are also necessarily in some ways, utilitarian, that is, they’re not just doing things, they look beautiful, like making a mask or, you know, making something on your skin, which can be seen as a pure aesthetic impulse, but leaving those … when you make a boat, when you make a house, when you do this … we know from the whole archive of anthropology, that there is utility. The challenge then becomes what people like Salins kind of, I think bypassed, by, in a way saying the enemy is utility.

Well, if the enemy is utility, then half of mankind is gone, you know? or two thirds! we have to ask, what is the difference between the utility that inhabits, other forms of humanity and humanism to go to your idea about mono from Sylvia Wynter (who I have heard of, but I haven’t really read, and I now will) If we think of those utilities as supposed to the utility, which is intimately connected to industrial capitalism, extraction, surplus, all the stuff that Marx brilliantly showed us. How do we do that without saying that, you know, everybody else in the world is not really utilitarian, they are utilitarian!

But there’s something different [Arjun moves very close to the camera] about that kind of utility and what it reminds me when you think of design, uh, you know, I had, uh, (I just make one further comment and then hand over again to you Arturo) that when I was, uh, briefly in a kind of Magical Realist moment, the provost of the New School, you know, kind of ‘generalismo’ without any training background or experience, one of my responsibilities was to, uh, take care of what was called the Parsons School of Design, which was part of the New School. In fact, it was half the New School. It was a big dog inside the New School economy. So, I was happy because of course I knew something, I was interested in objects. They also knew that I had written some things about material life, so it was a friendly relationship, but I have to think about design somewhat more abstractly. And I saw that design, I said, I thought, and I may have repeated this here and there – so forgive me–is in a kind of triangle where you could say there is ‘Art’ at one corner, ‘Engineering’, because you have to know how to do it. But also, ‘Merchandising’. In other words, if you make only one it’s art, if you make 10,000, it’s design because you want to sell a lot.

That’s the point of design is to sell! And of course, to sell a lot, you have to have engineering, you have to have machines, you have to have everything Marx talked about. So, design from this point of view, I would say, I agree with your, colleague is even axiomatically not possible to separate from engineering and merchandising because otherwise it could be art, you know? The kind of beautiful stuff that Marilyn Strother has written about or others. That you might say is art from another ontological perspective. But the minute you have the market and manufacture, that is, something like the commodity, because you need to make a hundred of them or a thousand of them or 10 million of them, then you have already entered this one.

So, this is just a reflection then. And I would love to hear your thoughts on whether one of the unresolved problems in our anthropological critiques of Euro American thought, or let’s say the Sahlins (Marshall David Sahlins) critique of practical reason, as you called it, et cetera, does it actually have a mono idea about utility? actually multiple utilities! we can’t say utility was made only by John Stuart Mill, you know, and the English factories, that is utility. Everything else is about culture. Well, there is no way to go with that. So anyway, this is just a provocation to say: how can we widen, because if we cannot widen our image of utility in a way we can never widen our idea of design. We just have to say yes or no. Thumbs up or thumbs down. And that’s not a choice I want to be faced with.

Really really great, um, comments, some provocations, Arjun, its hard to, figure it out where to begin. [Arjun chuckles] Well, let me begin with design as the good cop and planning as the bad cop as it does, great. I think that that really is the way it goes. I mean, planning is, we think that planning is the real thing, but design is the real thing. In the sense that is what provides the conceptual architecture, the ontological and epistemological architecture for planning for intervention, for projects and all of the planning interventions, projects are part of what we could call an object-oriented-design. It’s about designing objects that are useful. It’s about designing institutions that are useful, it’s about designing health systems, educational systems, whatever, it’s all about design, which today is all over the place. And it’s part of its appeal and it’s part of its glamour, but we overlook the other sides, so the biopolitical dimension of designing and its connection with a dualism epistemology, and obviously with capitalistic, hetero patriarchal, colonial, social orders.

So, all of that is there, and the question for me is always whether it’s possible to reorientate design [Arjun: Yeah!] Away from all that baggage of, of it’s been in enmeshed, in assemblage of ontologies and epistemologies and social systems and economic systems and modernity. And so that it can begin to, it can be placed at the service of [Arturo’s phone rings]–Oh I’m really, sorry about this–it can be placed at the service of transitions, at the service of all other projects of worldmaking. It can be place of regaining the autonomy of making life more autonomously, as opposed to just outsourcing life–the making of life into corporations and experts and the state and so forth.

And I what is interesting to me about looking at the landscape of designing today–we can call it critical design studies today–is that some of that is happening. When I started working on this book, Designs for the Pluriverse, about 12 years ago or more, before 10 years ago, [Arjun: Aha] I did it because in design literature I started to find some inquiries, questions, concerns that I wasn’t finding in the academic disciplines, at least not in the same way and with the same intensity precisely because design is practice.

And we academics can, you know remain within the ivory tower because it is in so many different ways, conversations among themselves, with ourselves–with the canon–but design is a practice and so because of it is immersed it is thrown onto the world. Then it has to ask, ask these questions because, and it’s part of the emergence of the earth as a new horizon, as new imaginaries, a new agent that is telling us that we are killing her, we are killing the earth. And hence we have to revisit everything we do. And I think some designers began to tackle that head-on.

Um, in different fields, you know, ontological design, design for social innovation, transition design, Just design. We have a whole bunch of movements now and new ideas.

So, what I began to see in design is that design was emerging as a very important domain for thinking about life and thinking about world-making–how we make the worlds. And in that I found a convergence between that and what at least some, activists and social movements in Latin America were doing. That (I will try to link with your initial remarks about the difference between South Asian, Latin America and the Caribbean) in the sense that many of these movements today in Latin America, the Caribbean (certainly indigenous and black movements but not only those) are contesting precisely, I think what you call very well, that mono monolithic ideas of mono ideas, the ‘Monoverse’ of utility and technology and economy, and obviously development and design. In the name of what? In the name of having a different life for doing things differently or world-making in other ways of designing, otherwise, the name of all of those different things.

And so that’s when you say that South Asia came and has come into these questions a little bit later than Latin America. I think it makes sense. I mean, and this goes, goes back to the difference between the different colonial histories between South Asia and Latin America and the why Latin America, (which achieved mostly independence in the early 19th century) became–from the very beginning–almost obsessed with this question about Latin American identity. What are we Latin Americans? [Arjun: Ahum] and the question of modernity as well, especially in relation to modernity.

And the early debates were about that about, about are we civilized like our European inspirations and forefathers, or are we barbarians like our indigenous peoples?

There was a famous book in the early 19th century called ‘Civilisation of Barbarism’ by a famous Argentinian writer and so that has really shaped the debates in the 19th century, I don’t think that the fifties and sixties is sort of the Latin American version of the debate between tradition and modernity, maybe, but in the sense that made possible a question of modernity and the question of capitalism, but I see very clear in Latin America and the Caribbean, and I don’t see us clearly stated in other parts of the world.

So that’s one of the things that I wanted to say about the difference. One final point about, about utility and engineering. We have to resist the tendency to think of utility in only euro-modern terms. Also think about technology only in euro-modern terms. But the question is how then we address the issue, that I think every region in the world has to address, which is: how do we reconstitute the web of life? How do we develop, how do we articulate Praxis for declaring and healing of the web of life? Which has been destroyed, right and left, without falling back into just the conventional Western solutionism? which are about planning and engineering and so forth. Without slipping back into the ontology and epistemology of intrinsically existing, subjects and objects, which are about control and objectification, profit maximizing, and all these different things.

Anyways, that’s what comes to mind. I don’t know if that makes sense. There was a little bit over all over the place, but that’s what comes to mind now.

Can I make two comments? (I should make sure that Onkar and his colleagues are okay?) I have two quick things to say to Arturo. Your wonderful, again, very wide-ranging highly suggestive remarks just now. And I just want to pick out two things that are many things there. One is a bit more general, and one is on the Latin America, South Asia, which is continues to be, one of these, if I may use Octavio Paz’ kind of labyrinth, a total labyrinth of struggle, interpreting struggle for me. But the first comment, which is not about that contrast, but somewhat more general is that it seems to me the question of finding let’s call it multiple utilities or utilitarians, and not say utilitarian’s that means, this, and this and this. which started in eighteen century it became this and that, then already we have made our job very hard. But just as with humanity, as you said, mono humanity or not, citing, I think Sylvia Wynter, we could also say mono utility. Because everybody is interested in getting something done. People are not just there for entertaining us. They have some purposes, and some of those purposes are indeed a form of utility, but they belong in another world of signification, meaning and that’s what we don’t want to lose, by naming their utility as our utility. And then everything else follows, we will plan for you, you will do this, we will do that, because we see, you are just like us, you know? well, you’re not just like you, so, but utility is there.

But the terrain, I think, which brings design, planning, etcetera, into the picture of how to understand, let’s say plural utilities or multiple utilities is the terrain, is the future. So the West is always ready to give the rest of the world the past (adopts the voice of The West)

You people live in the past, have the past–enjoy! You are doomed to live forever in the past until you take our formula of utility, design, planning, technology, capitalism, engineering, the whole package. If you don’t, you will be in eternal past. And the past is a bad thing. So, there’s of course a bias there. And if you’re very lucky, you may get a special ticket and come into the business class, which is the present, but the future that’s us. [Arturo nods his head] We have the formula for that. So, if you want a ticket into first class—which is the future—or the cockpit, even better! Then

please understand there is no other way than by accepting our definitions of utility, design, engineering, planning, the whole thing, whichever one is the driver, whichever one is the infrastructure.

And you may be right that design which always pretended to be the good cop actually is the driver, conducting the whole interrogation from the other side of the street while planners in the front, fighting, debating, trying to be nice guys, but the design guys at the back somehow. nevertheless, the terrain is the future.

So, the question for me becomes, how can we use that critical realization, which of course I have been interested in now for about 10 or 12 years, that the question that anthropology has, in my view, paid very little attention, to the question of how futures are conceived, built. Because you can read most ethnographies and imagine that the people that are being written about have no idea of the future. They’re just, you know, repeating a custom habit, tradition, whatever. And at best you may have, Bourdieu talking about the present, the habitus, but if you say, do people have an idea of next year? tomorrow? the next
life?! in one page out of five hundred. So this is an old complaint that I have had and I feel completely, it’s not the point.

The point is to do something about it and to look at how people imagine the future. And now in our conversation, the point I want to make is, can we use some of the more creative ideas we have about the future, to free the making of futures from the tyranny of Western planning, design, et cetera, and say, there are other ways? And I’m reading these days with some great delight Ernst Bloch on hope and on the idea of the-not-yet. So if we think of the future in terms of the-not-yet, not utopias, perfect cities, perfect societies, we move right away from seeing like a state into something emergent, something, which is in-the-moment-of-the-not-yet. And that’s where we put our energy, not the final result where everything stops, which is of course a scary place wherever it stops.

But so, to put this rambling comment, more concisely, I would say for me, this question of freeing design from its shackles has something to do with recognizing that the future is the terrain of the struggle. And that we need to think of multiple futurities, et cetera. So that’s one on the other side, we’ll quickly do Caribbean and sorry, Latin America, Caribbean and South Asia on the other hand, to me there are two things that I’m still struggling with a lot, one is what you pointed out: which is the, let’s call it the chronology, is simply different.

So, Bolívar is long before Neru and, Sukarno and, and Nkrumah and Tito … you know, he’s a hundred years? a hundred twenty years and then we have many moments after that. So the freedom from the Euro-West comes much earlier but of course there is a problem because the group that becomes free has a lot in common with the people that they are becoming free from.

So, in India, it’s easy. You can say I’m brown, you’re white, you can simplify, and we have a special community, which is tiny, obscure, and only known to novelists and journalists, which are so-called Anglo-Indians, actually, people who are seen as mixed. But in Latin America, you know, that’s the centre of history! Is the mixed population. So right away, we have a massive demographic difference, which is that the previous rulers and the people who articulate Mestizo nationalism are depleted, which is why there is a struggle though, are we this or are we that, meaning are we barbarian, and that in turn might also explain the
remarkable importance of indigeneity in Latin America, which it doesn’t have in India.

So, we have tribals, but they are not really seen as being in the debate. You can be Untouchable at the bottom of the caste system and have a big voice. Even if you are abused, when you speak people listen, if you are a tribal you are more or less like a piece of wood or like a mine, or like you’re just there for extraction and brutalization. But in Latin America– at least in recent times– yes, you can try and, uh, destroy indigenous people everywhere–but you can’t do it easily because it’s not a small population. It’s a vocal population and it’s a mobilized population and it is mobilized in the name of a demographic, which we just don’t have in India.

So that’s one point, the other, so that one side is just the chronology and the demography of who-is-who, the big groups, the big voices. The other one is Europe. And here, I must say, I have been reading again with the greatest profit and benefit to me, my dear departed colleague. Rolph Trouillot (Michel-Rolph Trouillot). And Rolph you see to me, I’ve been reading his essays, which are reissued even after his death and so on. And I suddenly see, he has a big message, which is to not make the mistake– which certainly we make in India all the time of thinking that the European story in relation to the rest of the world begins with the Enlightenment–but no! it begins with the Renaissance! it’s 300 years before and now I’ve been reading this very closely, to see what happens between the 16th century and the 18th century, which Rolph is very interested in, in regard to utopia, in regard to nature, in regard to many things, which then, shapes the significance of what happens later because for Latin America and the Caribbean, it’s the first part of that European history, which
is crucial.

It’s not just that it’s crucial in Latin America, it’s crucial in Europe. So this is just to tell you Arturo, where I am, in struggling with this huge comparative problem, which is of an objective history, which is different, but also of a European history, which has different weightings, and then the usual problems of apples and oranges, and which is the significant difference. So anyway, just to, this is a way too long to a comment, but just to say on India and Caribbean, to give you an idea, after decades of trying to think about it. I move an inch at a time and the latest inch comes from Rolf and remember the Renaissance and Euro modernity came long before the Enlightenment. Because if you forget that then, yeah, the Caribbean and Latin America look like, a late version of India, Africa, and the Middle East, which is ridiculous! It reverses the order! Ha, ha, ha. Anyway, all this stimulated by your comments.

That’s really, really wonderful Arjun. And I really like that idea of moving an inch at a time. And that’s what we do. I mean, that’s what we do. I think that, well anyways, I’m going to tell you about Sylvia Wynter again. How I moved, how she moved me an inch, a very significant inch! (maybe there are some inches that are more significant than others) [Arjun laughs] because, I was remembering a proposed text about Rolph Trouillot? And his argument about the Renaissance, but it all begins really with the Renaissance, And I do remember that famous article of his, on (Anthropology and the Savage Slot: The Poetics and Politics of Otherness) the Savage Slot, when he said that the Savage Slot emerges in the Renaissance, not at the end of the 18th century with Enlightenment and so forth. And that’s exactly the argument as well, and I will have to go back to Sylvia Wynter makes, I would have to go back to her work to see if she mentions Trouillot or not. She actually makes a distinction between what she calls Man 1 and Man 2. [Arjun: Hmmm] Man 1 is that man that begins to emerge with the Renaissance with the early scientific revolution, in which the theological worldview begins to be displaced. And the scientific understanding of, of the human and of the world is being set into place. So, and it centres us well on a political project of the early political prism, modernity with Machiavelli. And the second is Man 2, and Man 2 is the end of the mentors, is the same ‘man’ as Michel Foucault, in The Order of Things. [Arjun:Yes]

So, the episteme of man that emerges at the end of 18th Century, with the new sciences of economics, biology and linguistics, et cetera, et cetera. So, Man 2 is the fully liberal, secular, Western, bourgeoisie, capitalistic … that begins to expand worldwide. But I never thought about that, that Man 1 was, was the figure that conquered Latin American and the Caribbean [Arjun gestures in acknowledgment]. So, in a way, and maybe I will comment on that second half of your comment now, going back to the difference between South Asia and Latin American, and the Caribbean, which is that in a way in Latin American, the Caribbean is stuck more fully with both configurations. I think this is what Walter Mignolo, might have in mind when he talks about the darker side of the Renaissance in Latin America as well, that he sees that emerging in Latin America, at the time of the Renaissance. And so to talk about the comparative advantages and disadvantages between South Asia and Latin American and the Caribbean in relation to their being constrained, trapped, or having multiple spaces, uh, beyond the modern, broadly speaking, uh, I would say that, that from the perspective of the differences in demography and chronology of colonialism, that you’re absolutely right, I mean, for South Asia coming in late into … fully, fully into that history of Westernization and so forth, really in comparison to Latin America, meant that there’s an entire demography there that is hugely and hugely important that is much less, has been much less fully incorporated into the onto epistemic regime of man, where Man 1 or Man 2 in Latin America is much more full into that, it’s been 200 years of history, more than 200 years of history of that incorporation and 19th century liberalism, that was hugely
important in Latin America, despite the conservative, pro-Iberian resistance of the elites with the conservative elites, Liberalism, uh, triumphed, generally speaking over conservatism and hence became, became the most significant decades of modernisation and capitalism and individualism and secularism in Latin America, beginning in the 1910s, 1920s. So that means that, that at the same time, that Latin Americans face, this question of modernity takes a very intense form. Especially because in a way we see it very clearly to me, it’s like, well, and also capital capitalism, any, any struggle in Latin America takes for granted that is an anti-capitalist struggle, that it has to be an anti-capitalist struggle. And increasingly takes for granted that it has to be a struggle against modernity. It has to go past the modern through the modern, to the Latin American modern, but to arrive at something (that is, as you say) that harbours or welcomes multiple views of utility and the economy and life and the making of life and autonomy and all these different things.

So, one final point about this is in Latin America, and we had some correspondence about this, and this is a very quick comment: we don’t have anything that looks like the traditions of asceticism or ahimsa that you have been writing about for South Asia, with exception maybe again of indigenous peoples, but for the most part. And that’s why we, I mean, always puzzle me why countries like Colombia and Mexico, who are so intensely, troubled by violence–historically speaking–and today by unspeakable violence–against all forms of life, because nature has been destroyed right and left in Columbia, such an amazingly beautiful country has been a rich country in natural terms, has seen this amazing destruction and continues to so today and the proclivity, the propensity of the elites to kill and to massacre, to subject their societies, to vivisection almost, in the name of this progress and development and globalized neoliberalism as a force is really staggering.

So, I always in that context wonder, why has there not been pacifist specific movements in Colombia and Mexico and in Latin America, important ones. There’s no Ghandi in Latin America. It’s never been, it might be because they are killed as soon as they begin to, to emerge. But I think there is something there, there’s something more profound, which is the absence of in popular practice and in civilizational cosmology of, notions of limitation and abstention … [Arjun: Yes] and the respect of all forms of life, and so forth that are so prominent in South Asia. And finally, this is my final comment, is about another wonderful sentence that I’m sure I’m going to be quoting. The future is a terrain of a struggle of freeing design from its shackles, from its modernist shackles.

So, the future is the terrain of a struggle. And I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, the future has been called, it’s always been colonized. It’s always been a space to be ontologically occupied. [Arjun: Yes!] The academy has been part of the ontological occupation of the futures, uh, despite the contestation within the academy, (we cannot homogenize the academy by taking as the whole), I think the academy is part of the forces of ontological occupation of people’s experiences and ways of being and thinking and cosmologies and hence of the future.

And so the question is what do we do about the future? And the connections you make between liberating the future I guess, for other imaginings, other imaginations of the future, has to go through transforming, transitioning, liberating, decolonizing design, it’s being embedded in this apparatuses of life making and world making that should already be considered to be so damaging, and a thing of the past. But they have not of course. This is my last point (I keep saying, this is my last point, but this is my last point) but the ones who are gaining the open hand in imagining futures, are the techno [Arjun holds his arms out] elite, the technological elite of–especially the U.S.–but if we look at the cutting edge technologies of synthetic biology and artificial intelligence and nanotechnology and genomics and AI and robotics and space travel, they are the ones who I believe are getting the upper hand in shaping our imaginations of the future. And that imagination of the future is profoundly techno- patriarchal: I mean, it’s about control, control of the earth,
control of everything, control of a space now …

… and of data. Of information.

Yes, definitely data. So, it’s about data and measurement and control and algorithms and all these different things. And again, it’s been happening so quickly that we critical social theorists are, I think we are behind in doing the homework, or doing, I mean, you’ve been one of the people that have been working on that for a while. Of these imaginations of the future, the future as a cultural political issue of great importance. So, I think we have to take that on decisively.

I just have a few quick reactions. I know our time is beginning to run out, our organizers are probably getting worried that we may go on and on! but I’ll try and be as brief as possible, just there’s such a rich and open discussion. That’s making me think you know, a lot in a live way … to see that alas in India, what is going on now, is the murder of the whole Gandhian heritage. In open sight. Untouchables are being killed; journalists are being murdered. It is turning into what is the worst let’s say of Colombia or Mexico or the US Mexican border: femicide, killing of farmers… Today in India the media is so completely bought out, both the inter-media, but also the global media, CNN, Al Jazeera, all of whom were celebrating the Arab Spring and long ago celebrating the Zapatistas–for whatever reason, they thought they were entertaining–but we have the biggest movement going on in India of farmers. They have surrounded Delhi, but no one is identifying with them. [Arturo: That’s amazing]

There is more sympathy for Muslims and for Untouchables than for these farmers, from Punjab all over the north, as well as all over the country, it could be the most important, large scale mobilization, peaceful, but the latest incident last week is the son of a politician in Uttar Pradesh, the worst state in India, you know, a convoy of three cars literally ran over and killed eight people just with SUV’s, literally murdered people. It’s an assassination by car you might say.

So India sadly has come very quickly a long way from that other more creative, more kind, more generous … I mean, Gandhi, as we all know, had some contradictions, problems, but his ethics, nobody questioned, you know? and his courage, nobody questions and his commitment to non-violence nobody questions. They wonder about its effectiveness and all, but he is being co-opted by people who are exactly the opposite of him. The current regime but they’re acting in his name. Meanwhile, his assassin, the man who shot him is being turned into an icon.

It’s unbelievable, what-for? so I’m very sad to report that today everything is on a knife edge, whether that other India still has a chance or whether it is being choked to death by the most extreme forms of violence which are being exemplified at the top and enacted at every level by every street thug … every policeman now feels impunity, kill a Muslim, rape a woman. No problem. Nobody’s going to ask you why if you cloak it as some kind of interest of state, it is unbelievable! And I never lose an opportunity to say it breaks my heart.

However, that said, the question still is very important about asceticism uh, the kind of self-abnegation which can produce inclusion, generosity, openness (Gandhi exemplified this) and why it found a home in India, even though that home is being destroyed. And why doesn’t find such an easy home say in Africa, for example, and certainly in Africa you see a Mandela, but in Latin America, it’s hard. So, my thought is, I see two things that I just throw these out, because this is not to be resolved, it’s just to tell you what I’m learning today. One is that I think in fact, in India, because of the reality, as well as the colonial experience and the tropology– India has been totally enmeshed in the west more or less all the way from top to bottom. In Latin America you see, I think the indigenous world, which is numerically sizeable, can be killed, but it is not yet owned.

So as a result, this is why the anthropology of Latin America brings us, everybody from Viveiros de Castro, on the other hand, Mignolo from cultural studies, yourself, all people with many differences, but this collage (you know, the list is long) but there is no such list in India. In other words, and the reason is not because people study India are blind or this or that, the phenomenon is not there, there are no such alternative worlds to document. So Descola (Philippe Descola) can come and tell you about a whole way of thinking about the world, in his book culture, human nature, culture, for example, out of twenty books like that, that many people have written, and you have contributed to, uh, in India, everything seems already narrated into the story of the West. So, caste has to be always examined in relation to race, or class! There is no other word. Whereas in Latin America, somehow, I think from my outsider’s perspective, it looks like there’s a vast terrain of indigeneity, which has not been fully captured,–therefore–an anthropologist with some openness can see other worlds actually existed, not just imagined and so on so, the question then, (and this is where honestly, I’m a bit critical of Walter, for example, in comparison to someone like Achille Mbembe) and the reason I’m critical is not because of what he says in general–which I’m of course totally sympathetic to, because of course, you know, his big messages come from Kiano and so on, who are, you know, great bridges between Marxism and the new ontologies and so on. He’s a one-man bridge, you know, where many people are walking across. So, all that is fine.

My worry is we need a device, or a method, or a principle by which to make this whole world of indigenous life forms, world-making and so on–which is clearly not dead–it’s not gone–into, not an identity, but a project. In other words, where it becomes a claim on the future, not just a form of life, that must be given a chance, that will not happen, it will be finished, but it must be enabled. I don’t know how, as something which claims the terrain of the future and is mobilized to, for that purpose, not only for the purpose of its alterity, you see.

So, when I read Descola, I always ask great Phillipe, to myself of course not to him, but what do we do with this? That there are these four ways of thinking and so on, what next, you know? So, my answer to what next is, there has to be something. And of course, the Zapatistas and maybe many others in Bolivia, I know there are movements of women, colour and so on, but I don’t know enough about them, who definitely do not want indigeneity in Latin America to be simply a museum of difference.

They want to mobilize it, but from the outside, it doesn’t look, like these efforts are making great inroads against the neoliberal elites, the armies, the narco militias, those people seem to hold the power. So anyway, all this to just give you a live view of my own puzzlements! and also on the Indian side, uh, South Asian side, my deep disappointment with my country. And then Pakistan is of course a Gabriel Garcia Marquez nightmare. You know? It’s the extreme case of everything. And Pakistanis themselves, all my Pakistani friends will tell you ‘if there’s anything terrible, we are ahead’. India is coming slowly, it’s a little bit bigger. Anyway, I’ll stop there. I’m sure I’ve gone on way too long but inspired by your terrific observations.

Thank you. Arturo, I know that you would like to answer. But can I just suggest that we move the conversation to maybe a couple of questions on the side of Onkar and myself, and then we open to questions from the audience.

Elena, I have to add that I did say to them in our email correspondence, we would go with the flow.

Yeah, you’re right. And you told me they would freestyle. So, this is freestyle design. But Onkar, I take the chance to start. Yeah. So, thank you very much and that there are lots of ideas and things. Certainly, worth too to pick up. And I’m very fascinated by this idea of the varieties of utility. And I wonder what our friends, the national economists would think about. Maybe the formula would fit anyway, if you just change the kind of utility that you model into their models.

I would like to start with the idea of design and this struggle between the good cop, bad cop with design and planning. What happens when design as an idea travels to other parts of the world than systems that have generated this very idea? as I hear you and as I read you I understand that there is sort of a double edge sword in design, in bringing it to other parts of the world and asking what does it produce? right? when you multiply design, right? And when you bring design varieties and bring in new forms of design you take this and, and sort of ascribe other meanings and make it different than what it was. What, what does it bring and what are the problematics of doing that?

And at the same time, I’m also very fascinated by the idea that design can be a connector. So can be not, necessarily a colonial force, on to other parts of the world, but a way in which other ways of designing can sort of connect to maybe euro-centric design. In Arturo’s idea of autonomous design, I read this sort of hope that design, that autonomous design, is not only designing otherwise, or designing in a separate word, in a separate world and making different worlds, but also connecting to, and this idea of relationality to worlds that are maybe outside, or others, others than the ones that are designed.

So I wonder if you can in the spirit of the evening, the right to design, the right not to design–a precise case that you brought up–not to design, and to be against the sort of grand narrative of design, if you could reflect about this double sword of design and bringing design elsewhere than the systems where it was generated.

I begin with a few comments. It would be interesting to, to see what economists make of varieties of utility. I don’t think they will be able to understand it. I mean, to me, economics and political science in many ways, especially, or at least in the Anglo-American context. But also in the Latin American con- text, political science is very sheltered, onto-epistemically and politically. For good reasons: they are listened to, they are sought after, they pontificate on the economy, on the state and political parties and everything, often missing the point and missing what’s really going on. But, but nevertheless, and that’s why I think a transcending decentrality, decentring the economy from, it’s being ‘the’ arbiter of social policy and social life is so hugely important civilizationally today.

And I see it all the time. I mean, when, when people interview, when journalists interview, experts about almost anything that the world, who do they chose to call, the economists and political scientists, from time to time somebody from another discipline. Anyway, that was just a minor thing.

So, what happens when design travels towards other parts of the world? And what usually happens, is that it is implemented, in a relatively conventional way, there is some application that has to be done, sorry some adaptation. So, some adaptation, that has to be done to the local context. I’m not an expert on these, but in the field of development, design, or design and development, I think that a lot of this is happening now, it’s NGO’s who carry the mantle of design and co-design and participatory design.

So there is something that is happening there. Yes, there is. I think Elena used the concept of connector. That is good. That is constructive. Which is, how do we connect with other types of designing? How do we engage in a significant reconceptualization of what design is, in on to epistemic terms, in a context in which relationality and interdependence, for instance, in indigenous context continues to be important and important source of life.

What would it mean to design from interdependence? What would it mean to design pluriversally? (assuming that the prevailing cosmology in that particular community is and should be for everybody living, cosmos, not an inert universe) Meaning by that designing for the particular place, a particular way of world making, particular project of world making. So how would that help? Some people who are working on decolonizing design say, well, we have to decolonize design before we go and impose it on other peoples and other lands and other situations. I think that makes a lot of sense, but it’s not something that we can decolonise actually only, and once it is decolonized, then we go on to be in practice.

So, there’s a lot of experimentation, there is a lot of learning and engagement with on the ground experiences. And unfortunately, rarely do designers find the conditions to do that more substantial kind of engagement on the ground, so to speak. So, there’s quite a bit to be done and I don’t want to suggest that we don’t learn from these theoretical debates, theoretical and political debates. But it has to be reconstructed on the ground, so to speak. So, I would say that’s what I would say about that. And if we have time later on maybe, I will comment on Arjun’s last set of comments.

Thank you.

Let me just say one thing, connecting Elena’s, question and Arjun. One concept, what is happening in Latin America at least, but in many parts of the world is happening in indigenous lands in North America, in Northern Europe, in many parts of the world, what is extractivism and what are the larger extractive structural operations that are happening. The environmental conflicts that are created that are huge, are in many ways, also ontological, they are ontological conflicts, in the sense that they confront, different ways of being, different ways of seeing what life is, what should be done, what the economy is, different ways of existing, different models of existence.

In the context of Latin America (and Arjun is exactly right) the intensity of intellectual political production, conceptual production comes from that huge sector of struggles against extractivism against the neoliberal extractive, larger scale, compound development model. So, it is there where we find all these supposedly ecological struggles, environmental struggles, not only by indigenous peoples, but also by Afro descendants and sometimes peasants, women’s groups, environmentalist of course–that are about more than just defending resources or defending nature. Because as they often argue in defending, they

defend a mountain or a river or a lake or seeds because they are, they cannot be, they cannot exist without them because they are humans. The activist say, we exist with the river, we are one with the river, we are one with the mountain. We don’t exist without them.

That’s a relational ontology, and as they defend the relational worldview, they are activating politically that worldview or that world, that way of making life and making world that is more grounded, more grounded in interdependence and on the fine anthropocentric way of doing and being.

I’m receiving signs that we soon have to start to wrap up the session which addressed many points, I also wanted to elaborate on this brilliant conversation. And specifically, also in relationship to this, the email conversation I’ve been having with Arturo and Arjun, and specifically in relationship to this idea of refusing design and the question of refusal and what happens outside of that question. But we have to find another opportunity to take that, and then I really want it to take up Arjuns point of the ticket into first class. And I was hoping to slightly flip William Gibson’s quote which is ‘the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed’. And whether we could modify that and suggest that ‘imagination is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.’ So with that, maybe we should open it up to the audience just for one or two quick questions.

Thank you. My name is Jan, and I would like to follow up to an observation or something that Elena said before. What happens when design travels the world. And there is an interesting figure for me, perhaps the most interesting one in design history or in the younger design history. And that is someone who travelled from the Latin America to central Europe to then become the last director of what I think was one of the most relevant design schools. And I’m talking about the HfG Ulm and talking about Tomas Maldonado. And I think much of what a lot of your critique and energy and passion for redefining, renegotiating design, mirrors for me, what has been brought up by Maldonado in the late fifties and then seventies, also being one of the first engaging with the upcoming digital technology. So my question is what happens to Tomas Maldonado?

Can I say something very quickly about that? Something really quick? I think that’s a great question. And to be frank, I don’t know. And that I don’t know what happened with Tomas Maldonado is a of reflection of how much we need to decolonize design histories. So, bringing about also the circulation between designers from the south where the self-proclaimed designers are not into the north and may be contributing to reshape the agendas of design in the north. So there should be part of this decolonizing design histories as well.

Henric Benesch
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Thank you so much for this really inspiring conversation. I’ve a few things that came into mind; the idea of craft in relation to design, which has been the bullied relative of design for a while, since it lost its connection to utility. And in this kind of post-emergency situation of radical dependence do you see that craft can once again fill a position within design, which it hasn’t had for a long time? The reason why I’m saying it is that craft is traditionally a field that is includes multiple economies, and multiple utilities as per definition. Thank you.

Any thoughts or comments on that? I was also thinking about how design travels the world. I guess you can also think about how it travels in time. Both backwards and forwards. I think the impossibility, or the concept also becomes clear if you push it backwards as well. I mean, relative to your question about craft, it loses some of its stability, as soon as you move back to time as well, and it becomes clear what kind of construct it is. And it might actually also be useful how to think of the future. I mean the fact that we are at the Röhsska museum, which is also a craft museum. So, the kind of colonization of both the past and the future, let’s say to design concept, I think is also one kind of key in this discussion.

I just have a comment on one part. I think it was Elena’s question, which has been a big part of my general interest, not so much about design, but about culture and generally circulation and so on flows and so on. And I just want to quickly say a couple of things is really huge a terrain but to say, this is a big question. And, uh, somewhere in my early work, I tried to say, we need to understand the connection between the circulation of forms and the forms of circulation. By the forms. I mean, the speed and velocity and so on. And the circulation of  forms, means for me, things like design itself, not just this or that, but design, architecture, constitution, democracy–these are forms they circulate and the circuits on which they circulate are separate from those forms.

So, we need to do that, but it’s a very big and a very difficult enterprise, but I’ve two practical answers to the question of bridges, connections, flows, which is a very big and very

controversial subject because the minute you say flow, people think you are cheering for global flows. And I keep saying, I never cheered, because I’m just telling you they’re happening! But anyway, that’s a side point to say two quick things.

One, I think I find it extremely an increasingly interesting to pursue other Europe’s, alternative histories of things that were designed in Europe, thought about Europe, then discarded. So that’s a big archive, but it’s a little hard, maybe like Maldonado, I don’t know, but others who are canonic figures from one time, but who have been left in the margins of history and are European–fully, but there are other Europe’s or hidden Europe’s or alternative Europe’s! So, unlike some of my colleagues who are in, let’s say post-colonial theory or anti-colonial studies, which I sympathize with, they have decided, you know, we don’t need to look at Europe anymore. We’ve done it forever, but my answer is sorry, you know, there’s still more there. So that’s one.

The second, very practical suggestion for circulation, connection going into Elena’s question, coming from a design environment, which is a practical environment and also educational environment. Pedagogy is very important, so I’m always fascinated by design and architecture because they have studios, they have juries, they have charrettes, these are very exotic things! We don’t know anything about them in the regular university. And so, my feeling is those can be used in a revolutionary manner and today, when I see, let’s say a studio from the Harvard school of Design in Mumbai, it is not using its capacities enough because, what happens is students come in in two months, they’re providing design solutions to things that people have been struggling with for a hundred years. And here’s a twenty-year-old student say, well, this is the way to do it. Now my feeling is it’s a good optimistic energy, but it could be a site for some re-doing. So we get a different, shall we say pedagogy in the Freiren (Paulo Freire) sense, which reinvents Europe in Bombay or in Bogota, but that is not happening now, but it’s possible! So, I just throw out that as a little incentive, for those of you who are actually in this practice yourselves. And I’ll say thank you.

Can I have sixty seconds to endorse this idea of looking into the non non-dominant Europe’s or Alternative West’s as we can call them. And not certainly in intellectual life, but also in the archives of the practices of making. Since we’re talking about design.

Which are also already here, these alternatives are here, they’re just not recognized, I mean, if you go up the north of Sweden in Norrbotten, there are these histories that have been marginalized, but there are really interdependent ways of making, doing, living that are not well recognized. They’re already here, they’re just not visible.

Sure, sure.

Lots of work to do, and we haven’t even touched the question of technology making the future and AI and things like this. So, we need to plan another opportunity.

But I see a series: the good cop bad cop lectures.

Are you free tomorrow?

Always free! I’m always waiting for the phone to ring.


But I do have a feeling if we made Arjun and Arturo the co hosts and we came back tomorrow, they probably would be still talking.

Yes, we can try it. That’s an experiment. Yes. Thank you so much.

Thanks to all of you. Thanks Arjun.

My pleasure too and thanks to our Arturo, to Onkar, to all of you, really, a very generously curated conversation, which allows, people like me to wander a bit freely, which we, I simply appreciate, I think Arturo does too. I offer my thanks and I now go to deal with my seven-year-old. This is the time I do some curation of my own. So, I will say goodbye. And thank you all.

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Arjun. 

And thank you to all the audience.

And thank you, to the museum for being so patient. Alright. I would like to thank you as well for staying and making it through the day. I hope it’s been fruitful and a lot to take in. We’ll begin the process of processing.

Thank you and Henric for setting this up

This conversation took place on the one-day symposium titled “The Right to design: Another Possible is Possible” at the Röhsska Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden, here the documentation is presented as part of the Urgent Pedagogies Issue #9: The Right to design.

Arjun Appadurai

is the Goddard Professor (Emeritus) in Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. He is also The Max Weber Global Professor at the Bard Graduate Center (New York). He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a Member of the UNESCO Commission on The Futures of Education. He is Co-Editor of Public Culture and serves on the Editorial Board of Global Perspectives. He has authored numerous books and scholarly articles, including Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger (Duke 2006), Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, (Minnesota 1996; Oxford India 1997), The Future as a Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition (Verso 2013), and Banking on Words: The Failure of Language in the Age of Derivative Finance (Chicago, 2016). His most recent book, co-authored with Neta Alexander, is Failure (Polity Press 2019). His books have been translated into French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese and Italian. He is currently working on a study of the new political lives of caste in India.

Arturo Escobar

is an activist-researcher from Cali, Colombia, working on territorial struggles against extractivism, post-developmentalist and post-capitalist transitions, and ontological design. He was professor of anthropology and political ecology at UNC, Chapel Hill, until 2018, and is currently affiliated with PhD Programs in Design and Creation (Universidad de Caldas, Manizales, Colombia) and in Environmental Sciences (Universidad del Valle, Cali). Over the past twenty-five years, he has worked closely with Afro-descendant, environmental and feminist organisations in Colombia.  His most well-known book is Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (1995, 2nd Ed. 2011).  His most recent books are: Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds (2018); Pluriversal Politics: The Real and the Possible (2020); and Designing Relationally: Making and Restor(y)ing Life, with Michal Osterweil and Kriti Sharma (forthcoming).

Onkar Kular

is Professor of Design at HDK Valand, Academy of Art & Design and Programme coordinator for PLACE (Public Life, Arts, Critical Engagement) at the Artistic Faculty, University of Gothenburg. His research is disseminated internationally through commissions, exhibitions, education, and publications. His work is in the collection of the CNAP, France, and Crafts Council, UK. He has guest-curated exhibitions for The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, Karachi, and the Crafts Council, UK. He was Stanley Picker Fellow 2016 and Artistic Director of Gothenburg Design Festival, Open Week 2017 and Co-Artistic Director of Luleå Art Biennial 2022.

Henric Benesch

is an associate professor (docent) in Design at HDK-Valand—Academy of Art and Design—acting Dean at The Artistic Faculty and an associate of Centre for Critical Heritage Studies (CCHS) at the University of Gothenburg. He is an architect interested in socio-material, spatial, and temporal aspects of knowledge regimes and (co-)creation of knowledge with a particular interest in situated and speculative methodologies. During 2023, together with Onkar Kular, he participated in “The Public Design Office”, an ArtInsideOut Residency in Falkenberg (SE). Recent publications include “The Right to design” (2020), “What if a 1%-rule for Public Design” (2021), and “Co-curating the city: universities and urban heritage past and future” (2022).

Onkar Kular, Henric Benesch

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