About a decade ago, I discovered this list, lurked for some time, then posted. Then I dropped off, rarely revisiting. I thought the list interesting, though it seemed to me at the time that the discussion was controlled by a few. It was how I came to be introduced to Ken, admiring his rigorous, critical and encyclopedic mind - and perhaps more so, his generosity in sharing his knowledge resources.
I left because the kind of conversations I wanted to have, and the way I like to bring ideas in the world, did not fit the culture of this list. On the one hand, I felt 'illegitimate,' on the other bored with the type of discussions that seemed to dominate.
After several years - a few years ago - I returned, just in time to see this list in a process of self-destruction. Now, I am a legitimate PhD student, in my late 50s. I take it back, I might not be legitimate, as my PhD isn't in design, at least in name. I had thought re-joining the list (or re-lurking at the least) might help me keep my research connected to design discourse. I was even pleasantly surprised to see that Terry was now interested in neuroscience. I have found myself, strangely, interested in neuroscience as well recently and thought it might be worth sticking around the list, and perhaps contribute at some point.
Yikes! I guess not. Terry, who I met at a conference in Lisbon a few years ago, seemed to me an intelligent and inquiring mind. It is a shame I came too late. But it doesn't surprise me, this blow-up and departure. The conditions for it were always there. Terry was one of the Alphas, but not as Alpha as Ken. Bound to be some scrape-up.
I don't mean to disparage Ken, as I've been the recipient of some of his intellectual generosity, and destruktion, before. A few years after beginning to teach I was offered an opportunity to write a paper for a peer-reviewed journal, which I did. For some reason, the only way I could write it (my first paper for an academic journal) was in the form of an allegory with extensive footnotes. It was accepted and published in the e-journal. I sent its link to Ken, who was kind enough to send me his super long and scathing review. I still read the paper sometimes to students, who always seem to get something out of it, as it is a way for them to understand some of the difficult issues around unsustainability and design, perhaps because being an allegory, it's not too threatening to their aspirations. When I considered moving to Australia to (finally) do a design PhD, Ken was extremely helpful. For personal reasons, it was not to be and I'm in Canada instead.
To a large degree, the culture of the PHD-DESIGN list is the culture of Ken. Rigorous, disciplinary, you-better-be-prepared, generous with knowledge sharing and critique both. To some degree, it is the culture of lists in general. In my experience from back in the modem days, there is usually one or a few dominant participants and there are at least occasional consequences for not knowing what you are supposed to know on whatever the topic is on the list.
It is also, more importantly for the intellectual concerns of those on this list, a problem stemming from a) the relatively recent issues arising from practice-based PhDs; and, more troubling, b) the desire to constitute design and design research as a legitimate area of academic inquiry.
To paraphrase Baudrillard, "(Don't) Forget Foucault." Disciplines accrue and distribute power. The need to legitimate design research as a legitimate area of academic inquiry will be exclusionary and will be based on discursive practices and engaged in through the activities of individual bodies and brains. But also, don't forget Baudrillard: "Power itself must be abolished - and not solely because of a refusal to be dominated, which is at the heart of all traditional struggles - but also, just as violently, in the refusal to dominate. Intelligence cannot, can never be in power because intelligence consists of this double refusal."
It seems that it would be better for designers, design researchers and design theorists to be facing off with the world and not simply with each other. As illustrious as the history of the Academy is, it hasn't prevented our species from actively working towards our own extinction, inadvertently in most cases but also expertly and designedly. You'd think this would be great time to open up the academic flood gates, to reconfigure how and what we know and how we structure our institutions of knowledge gathering and dissemination. Likely, given our already established vectors of power, this isn't to be, at least not yet.
I know now I made the right choice to study philosophy rather than design research. It isn't really even a legitimate philosophy program - I'll receive my PhD, I hope, in Media and Communication. I'm thankful for Ken, again, for posting his slides on how to do research since my institution expects us to learn how to do this ourselves.
To finish, I've always loved this excerpt from Roberto Unger, which begins his 1975 book Knowledge and Politics. I think it might be relevant, but maybe not:
"In its ideas about itself and about society, as in all its other endeavours, the mind goes from mastery to enslavement. By an irresistible movement, which imitates the attraction death exercises over life, thought again and again uses the instruments of its own freedom to bind itself in chains. But whenever the mind breaks its chains, the liberty it wins is greater than the one it had lost, and the splendour of its triumph surpasses the wretchedness of its earlier subjection. Even its defeats strengthen it. Thus, everything in the history of thought happens as if it were to remind us that, though death lasts forever it is always the same, whereas life, which is fleeting, is always something higher than before."
For the time being, I don't think the PHD-DESIGN will justify my time, as I have way more reading in my area to do, to be distracted by dysfuntional discipline-building. But I'll check back from time to time.
Baudrillard, Jean, Sylvère Lotringer, and Ames Hodges. The agony of power. Los Angeles, CA; Cambridge, Mass: Semiotext(e) ; Distributed by MIT Press, 2010. Print.
Unger, Roberto. Knowledge and Politics. New York: The Free Press, 1975. Print.
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