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PHD-DESIGN  December 2018

PHD-DESIGN December 2018

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Subject:

Re: Non-anthropocentric design research

From:

Lubomir Savov Popov <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

PhD-Design - This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 10 Dec 2018 15:01:45 +0000

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Dear Colleagues, 
 
I would like to join Klaus and Ken in support of their positions. 
 
The non-anthropocentric design conceptualization focuses on a very narrow area of design considerations and thus skews tremendously the ecology of the artifact. I understand that some people see a problem with missing particular important considerations in the design process. But their conceptualization and terminology doesn't help at all and leads to imbalance in the list of design requirements. And many other side effects. 
 
The most pragmatic concept that can alleviate the problem that the non-anthropocentric design people see is the concept of design briefing (UK) or programming (US). Theoretically, if programming is done well, all parties will be accommodated in a reasonably balanced way. In practice, this may not always happen. Actually, it rarely happens because the profession of programming is non-existent, there is no expertise, there are no resources for developing the philosophy, theory, and methodology of programming, and there are many other obstacles. Also, the politics of programming are as treacherous as the politics of distribution of resources.  
 
Any attempt to balance the ratification initiative by focusing on underrepresented stakeholders, considerations, and requirements might lead to deformation of the whole. All movements that start with great ideas, great objectives, and great expectations have disappointing results at the end of the day. Just look at the history of 20th Century. The question is how to create a framework for balanced, reasonable, fair, and feasible programming. 
 
It is a pity that society underestimates the importance of this activity and approach to artification. It is a pity that programming is not professionalized. But this is a topic for another talk. 
 
Best wishes, 
 
Lubomir 
 
Lubomir Popov, PhD, FDRS, IDEC, CSP 
Professor, Interior Design Program Coordinator 
American Culture Studies affiliated faculty 
Bowling Green State University 
 
 
-----Original Message----- 
From: PhD-Design - This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design <[log in to unmask]> On Behalf Of Ken Friedman 
Sent: Monday, December 10, 2018 9:06 AM 
To: [log in to unmask] 
Subject: Re: Non-anthropocentric design research 
 
*** Re: Non-anthropocentric design research *** Long Post *** 
 
Dear All, 
 
Over the past week, I’ve been slowly reading the posts in the thread on non-anthropocentric design and non-anthropocentric design research. People added new comments as I drafted and revised my reply. While I was revising yet again, Klaus Krippendorff posted a comment that in great part captures my main point. This is that human beings design, and — being human — it is impossible for us to step outside the boundaries of our human perspective.  
 
Some of the claims made for non-anthropocentric design and non-anthropocentric design research rest on problematic philosophical assumptions and  entailments. Even so, the thread has been an interesting and friendly debate. They contributions are well written, and people have provided interesting documents to clarify their ideas. I’ve enjoyed reading the posts.  
 
Nevertheless, I don’t agree with the concept of non-anthropocentric design. 
 
My view is that we ought to attend to the needs and wants of those for whom we design. That means understanding human needs when we design for human beings. It means understanding the needs of non-human beings when we design for them. And careful design requires that we consider the effects of our design work on the world within which we live.  
 
This isn’t always easy. The first automobiles were in part a solution to what was then the greatest pollution problem facing modern cities: horse manure. While automobiles were common when my father was born in 1920, the small city where he lived still had a horse-drawn light urban railway. Manure was not a great problem. In contrast, large cities such as London, New York, or Paris had hundreds of thousands of horses, each producing 7 to 16 kilos of manure per day along with 1 to 1.5 litres of urine. In New York City alone, over 100,000 horses produced more than a million kilograms of manure daily. Internal combustion engines were a welcome solution. 
 
By the middle of the 20th century, automobile exhaust fumes emerged as a major pollutant. Today, we know that these are a major factor in anthropogenic climate change. 
 
Everything we design fits into the larger economies we create and the larger systems we inhabit. 
 
Nevertheless, it is impossible for human beings truly to engage in non-anthropocentric design. When the topic arose, I thought it worthwhile to raise a few issues that deserve attention if we are to understand designing for living beings other than human beings. Now, I want to follow Klasus’s post with a few thoughts on ideas that came up in the thread.  
 
Every philosophical position carries with it logical entailments — if the entailments do not make sense, the position that entails them requires careful consideration.  
 
Erik Sandelin pointed to useful critiques of flat ontology or the so-called “post-humanist” position. It doesn’t make sense to argue that a planet, a chili pepper, a human being, a non-human primate, an automobile, a horse, a bacterium, a tree, and a galaxy are all ontologically equal. They share the ontic quality that they are real entities. They are not, however, entities of the same kind.  
 
We have ethical obligations  toward our fellow humans, and toward non-human animals. We have ethical obligations with respect to the biosphere of our planet. We do not have ethical obligations toward chili peppers or automobiles, though we may have ethical obligations concerning their use. We have no obligation toward stars or distant galaxies.  
 
There are something like one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. No one in any design firm or university on earth today will ever design for those galaxies or anyone living in them — if anyone does. At the moment, it seems doubtful that anyone on earth will even communicate with another galaxy. That makes some of the flat ontology arguments I’ve heard seem a bit odd. It’s not as though we have any obligations to the hundred billion galaxies in the universe or the trillion billion stars scattered amongst them.    
 
Erik points to an article by Zipporah Weisberg in which Weiberg criticises some of the far-fetched positions entailed by certain varieties of post-humanism. Anyone who believes that we have ethical obligations toward bacteria must stop washing with soap and stop taking bactericidal drugs. These include drugs that cure such illnesses as pneumonia or bacterial infections of many kinds.  
 
If we believe that to be the case, how are we to adjudicate between the rights of a human being to live a good life and the rights of bacteria to thrive? How, for that matter, are we to determine whether we will protect the health of an animal for whom we have responsibility at the cost of bacteria that harm the animal? I prefer my dog to any bacterium. I make decisions based on my responsibility and attachment to a being who treats me well in return for my care.  
 
Much of the literature of flat ontology and post-humanism is like three-dimensional chess. It’s interesting in an abstract way. Human beings have ethical obligations toward our fellow human beings and toward many of the biological creatures with whom we share the planet. This does not extend to bacteria, even though they are biological entities. And I believe that we have no ethical obligations toward non-living creatures such as automobiles or stones. Such issues as historical preservation or our obligation to preserve works of art arise from the value of history and art within human cultures. These are an extension of our obligations to human beings. They do not change the ontological status of an ancient castle or paintings in a museum. 
 
While this thread generates interesting thought, I have problems with many of the assertions I read in a large and sometimes foolish literature. Some of the literature demands that we grant to non-human creatures the same rights and status that we grant to human beings. In a world where too few of our 7.7 billion fellow human beings have the lives they deserve, I do not worry about chili peppers, automobiles, or the civil rights of bacteria. 
 
One can raise an interesting thought for people who argue that flat ontology, post-humanism, or certain varieties of actor-network theory require them to attend to the rights of such non-living objects as automobiles. The notion of automobile rights might well be the philosophical position of General Motors or Fiat, Rosneft or ExxonMobil.  
 
The argument that artificial beings deserve the same rights as real beings also lies behind the legal position for corporate rights. It is interesting that the corporate rights movement argues that corporations — as legal persons — deserve the same rights of free speech and property as human beings, but few argue that a corporation should pay the same kind of legal penalties as human beings for committing a crime that would deprive a human being of property or send that human being to jail. 
 
No one has argued here for any of the wilder versions of flat ontology nor argued for corporate rights. I’m simply saying that these are not merely research issues. These issues are embedded in the larger context of the world in which we live. The abstract discourse of non-anthropocentric design, flat ontology, post-humanism, actor-network theory, and the like require us to make decisions about the world in which we hope to live. Right now, automobiles and the corporations that make them are winning, along with the pooled companies that service them. One could argue that this is linked to some of the positions that fit with flat ontology or actor-network theory. 
 
The philosopher Arran Gare argues that some varieties of postmodern philosophy shaped the framework within which people now reject the findings of climate science with respect to anthropogenic climate change. This, in turn, reduces the political will to change the way we live.  
 
The question of human survival ultimately rests on how we — as a species — address these challenges. The different kinds and varieties of non-anthropocentric design, flat ontology, post-humanism, actor-network theory emerge, in great part, from the philosophical positions that Gare condemns. He takes a strict ethical position on the necessary environmental entailments of ideas that would otherwise merely seem interesting in the way that three-dimensional chess is interesting.  
 
The deeper problem is clear. Nothing that arises from the philosophical entailments of three-dimensional chess poses a risk to human or animal life on our planet. 
 
A few closing thoughts ... 
 
Erik noted that he asked for design research references from the design research community. True enough. I was myself suggesting that it is difficult to understand these issues properly without looking at the relevant literature from other fields. 
 
Temple Grandin’s work involves more than simply treating animals as sentient products. Even so, I appreciate Erik’s reference to Anna Williams’s 2004 article, “Disciplining animals: sentience production and critique.” One must ask whether we will eat animals as part of our lives. Most of the people whom I know personally on this list do eat animals. One of the reasons I like living in Sweden is that we treat our farm animals respectfully and ensure them a worthy life while they are alive. If you take a strong animal liberation perspective, of course, that seems wrong to you, and I can’t disagree — providing that you avoid anything that requires an animal to die for your well-being. This kind of issue appears in Wendell Berry’s (1981, 2009) beautiful book on Amish farming: The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. Berry is worth reading. 
 
Terry mentions Synectics. The work that George M. Prince and William J.J. Gordon did on Synectics is a major contribution to creativity methods — but not an example of non-anthropocentric design research. Prince was an advertising executive. Gordon was a psychologist and inventor. Creativity engages the human mind. Imagining that one is a piston involves a human being imaging what it is like to be a piston.  
 
The same goes for geo-engineering. The presumed goal of geo-engineering is to limit the increase of overall planetary temperature rise. We’re already seeing the results of unplanned geo-engineering in the form of climate change. Geo-engineering is a form of anthropocentric design. While some processes within geo-engineering — or any form of engineering — involve science or mathematics, the only reason one would describe engineering as “non-anthropocentric” would be a fashionable but problematic claim based on a minor subset of the activities involved. 
 
I read Laura Devendorf’s 2016 doctoral thesis with great interest, Strange and Unstable Fabrication. It is well written and well argued. At the same time, it seems to me mistaken to argue for “the creative capacity of nonhumans.” To create, to generate requires some form of intentionality. This requires a distinction between principal power and the delegated agency that a principal bestows upon an agent. Those things that human beings create behave according to their inbuilt capacities, the capacities with which we design them. These designed capacities sometimes involve surprising consequences. We’ve often been surprised by the consequences of our actions and we have frequently been surprised by the results of the things that we create. During the great horse manure crisis of 1894, no one could have imagined that one result of solving the crisis would be global climate change. Nevertheless, this is our doing. Our tools play a role — oil and gas fields, oil wells, automobiles. Nevertheless, no one can place ethical blame for this on 65,000 or so oil and gas fields, several million wells, and over a billion motor vehicles. As Klaus notes, human beings are accountable. It is not the creative capacity of our tools, but our inability to properly account for the systemic effects of our actions. 
 
It’s possible for an artist to interact with artefacts and to accept intriguing or unpredictable effects in an effort to allow the emergence of new creative possibilities. It’s another thing entirely to attribute to these artefacts creative power rather than he surprising or unpredictable effects of delegated agency. Laura points to the work of John Cage and other artists who used “chance as a means to limit their control over the artworks they produced.” True enough. But John relied on an approach influenced by Zen, and it seems to me that he generally preferred parsimony in explaining what happened. I don’t know what he would have made of actor-network theory. 
 
Klaus Krippendorff summarises the issues in a succinct way: 
 
“Whether you cite Bruno Latour’s ANT, talk of designing the pistons of an engine, or express concerns for animals, it is utterly naïve to say that these are non-human phenomena. Technology is designed, produced, used by, and affects humans. Without engineers and drivers we wouldn’t have piston engines although drivers may not have a clue of how they depend an them. Animals do not articulate their concerns. Human may love some and kill others. The ecology in which we live and our environment whose natural resources we carelessly consume does not speak to anyone. People speak for it, adopt a position of caring for it, improving it for our own benefit, or carelessly running it to the ground. 
 
“We cannot talk of anything outside of our human conceptions. 
 
“The world we know is a human construction. 
 
“Living in our world inevitably changes it to the better or worse, but always in our human terms. 
 
“The claim to engage in non-anthropocentric design either assumes the ability to play God or manifests a total lack of awareness of speaking a language that enables us, humans, to create worlds we can understand and live with. 
 
“I suggest that non-anthropocentric design is an utterly naïve abstraction. If you want to make a useful contribution to design, you may want to write about non-user-centered design to distinguish it from what (some) engineers do, from what zoo-keepers think of, and environmentalists fight for. These are important issues for designers to know, but designers should not be so naïve to exclude themselves from being held accountable for what they do.” 
 
I want to thank everyone who has posted to the thread on non-anthropocentric design and non-anthropocentric design that Erik Sandelin started. Perhaps other people have different views on these issues than I do. I’ve read this material carefully now, and I’m certainly interested to see if — or how — one can reach a different conclusion. 
 
For my part, I find that Occam’s Razor suggests that we must accept responsibility for what we design, while taking proper care for those creatures that do have principal status in the world we have built around them.  
 
For anyone who has listened to the speeches given today by the Nobel Peace Prize laureates —  Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege — it is worth noting that we are not yet taking care of many human beings with whom we share this world.  
 
Yours,    
 
Ken 
 
-- 
 
Ken Friedman, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/she-ji-the-journal-of-design-economics-and-innovation/ <http://www.journals.elsevier.com/she-ji-the-journal-of-design-economics-and-innovation/> 
 
Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| Email [log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]> | Academia http://swinburne.academia.edu/KenFriedman <http://swinburne.academia.edu/KenFriedman> | D&I http://tjdi.tongji.edu.cn <http://tjdi.tongji.edu.cn/>  
 
 
 
 
-- 
 
Ken Friedman, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | URL: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/she-ji-the-journal-of-design-economics-and-innovation/ 
 
Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| Email [log in to unmask] | Academia http://swinburne.academia.edu/KenFriedman | D&I http://tjdi.tongji.edu.cn  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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