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Friday, June 9 • 1:50pm - 2:10pm
Notes Towards a ‘Design Humanities’

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Extending the conference theme of “critical making and social justice” my presentation will take the shape of a proposal for a new, experimental field of transdisciplinary exploration that I would like to call the “Design Humanities;” a field where an ethically and politically inflected practice of ‘making’ in the design disciplines meets ways of thinking and doing that are offered by a training in the literary humanities; Versions of this conversation have been staged over the years for instance, in the emergence of ‘STEAM’ with the addition of ‘Art’ (although not the Humanities) to hegemonic STEM fields or, the increasing body of work in anthropology and/or sociology of design (again, primarily social science disciplines), but I would argue that a robust engagement between design and the literary humanities has so far only received insufficient attention from scholars and practitioners in both fields. It is also important to mention that while my proposal is cognizant of various existing configurations like ‘humanistic design’ or ‘human-centered design’ that have primarily emerged from the ‘making’ end of the conversation what is unique about my approach is its focus on amplifying methods, concepts and assumptions emanating from the specific academic discipline of literary humanities instead of larger, somewhat totalizing conceptions like ‘humanity’ or ‘humanism’. Chief among such disciplinary assumptions and methods in the literary humanities is learning to work with knowledge that is unverifiable, often intuitive, since it is modeled on reading (imaginary) texts of fiction - think world building - or, an unfashionably slow training that has its sights set on producing problem solvers of the long term (imagining justice) instead of solutions in the short term (passing a law). These transdisciplinary lineaments I am proposing here build upon Arturo Escobar’s (decolonial) idea of a “cultural studies of design” and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s (postcolonial) argument about humanities teaching as “training of the imagination for epistemological performance;[i]” along the way I will also engage with the work of many scholars and practitioners directly invoked by this conference like Dunne and Raby, Costanza-Chock, and Benjamin, and some others perhaps only indirectly cited like Tunstall, Schultz, and Crosby and Stein. My speculations are also informed by a decade long experience of teaching the humanities to art and design students, collaborating on research projects with artists and designers, and most recently, co-leading a university-wide, year-long faculty seminar on decolonizing art and design education, all of these at an elite insitution of higher education. A ‘Design Humanities’ conceived along the above lines, I submit, will therefore turn on the fundamental significance of the imagination that animates the work of both design and the literary disciplines, but especially the reparative imaginations of BIPoC and Global South authors, artists, texts. My broad goal here is to create a philosophical-theoretical architecture to ground these interdisciplinary conversations rather than offer another market-friendly notion of ‘humanities-lite’ which, unfortunately, often tends to be the case. In their 2004 ‘Manifesto for the Humanities in a Technological Age’ Davidson and Goldberg had already declared: “The humanities promote a broad range of social and cultural literacies. They offer critical civic competencies, ways of comprehending cultural and technological values, and the worlds such values conjure; in short, ways of world making.” Inspired as my proposal is by this visionary manifesto it also attempts to supplement it by highlighting the specific conjuncture of design (not just technology) with and within ways of imagining worlds that is above all the remit of the literary humanities.

[i] Arturo Escobar, Designs for the Pluriverse (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2018; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can there be a Feminist World?” (2015).


Avishek Ganguly

The Political Theatre of Utpal Dutt in a Global Frame, Rhode Island School of Design
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Friday June 9, 2023 1:50pm - 2:10pm EDT
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