Please join the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) in Winter Quarter for a 10-week seminar on current topics in the HCDE field by industry experts. Each 40-minute talk will be followed by a Q&A session. Members of the UW community and the public are welcome. More information about the series is available online at hcde.uw.edu/521.
Title: Contestational Design: Sociotechnical innovation by social movements and advocacy organizations
Date: March 9, 2012
Speaker: Tad Hirsch
When: Fridays, 12:30-1:20 PM
Where: Loew Hall, Room 206, UW Seattle campus
Recent events like the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement have again placed relationships between technology and collective action at the forefront of contemporary discourse. Although timely, the recognition that activists are early and innovative users of communications technology is not new. Social movements and advocacy organizations have long been recognized as hotbeds of innovation. The social movement scholar Alberto Melucci famously called them “laboratories” where participants experiment with social organization, representation, and democratic processes.
Less well-understood are the means through with this innovation comes about. The popular press tends to assume a sort of technological determinism in which “heroic” technologies give rise to new forms of collective action (for example, “The Twitter Revolution”). Conversely, social movement scholarship often describes a process of “appropriation” in which activists creatively repurpose technologies developed by the commercial sector for explicitly social ends.
In this talk, I present a third perspective in which social movements and advocacy organizations participate in sociotechnical innovation involving the simultaneous design of tactics, technologies, and organizational form. Drawing on over a decade’s experience working with social movements and advocacy organizations, I will describe activists as engaging in contestational design, which I describe as a unique form of design practice that responds to the particular context in which activism occurs, and is informed by an explicit recognition of the values and ideological commitments that underpin most advocacy work.
Through several case studies, I will describe the principles and activities that shape contestational design practice, and will discuss relationships between contestational design and commercial design. Finally, I will suggest ways that a contestational design perspective challenges and informs mainstream design practice.