CRIT co-director Shaowen Bardzell gave the closing Keynote to the Participatory Design Conference (PDC’14) in Windhoek, Namibia last month. The title of her talk was “Utopias of Participation: Design, Criticality, and Emancipation.” The material she presented is part of a book project she is writing as part of her sabbatical on feminist approaches to design futuring. The abstract of her keynote is as follows:
From its earliest incarnation in labor movements in Scandinavia in the 1970s, Participatory Design has had an emancipatory politics inscribed in it. As PD is appropriated in other contexts, this emancipatory politics can continue to be foregrounded or, as Bannon & Ehn (2013) worry, it can be diluted into corporate practices of “user-centered design.” One way to advance the emancipatory politics in PD is to continue PD’s early embrace of utopian thinking. Yet utopianism today has a poor reputation, openly rejected by many activists. In this keynote, I will revisit some of the criticisms of utopianism. Next, I will explore an alternative framing of utopianism—derived from feminism and science fiction studies—that could productively inform PD, both epistemologically and methodologically, in its most openly political design goals. I will present some of the ways I have tied to engage with these ideas through design research projects ranging in scale from critical-participatory studies involving local makers to designing for and about the identities and aspirations of entire urban populations.