2 September 2012

Designing Culture

Great piece via Mike on design and culture in Jacobin magazine. Some choice cuts:

“Design is one of the linchpins of capitalism, because it makes alienated labor possible.

[W]hen it comes to design’s influence on social structures, the focus on consumerism distracts from something more significant and interesting. Design’s real power is that it makes relationships and divisions between people concrete. Without physical stuff to remind us of how we supposedly differ from one another, our hierarchies would be awfully ramshackle; stripped of our possessions, categories like “class” start to look like just a bunch of learned behaviors and confused ideas. Whether prohibitively priced cars, gendered garments, or separate schools for blacks and whites, social hierarchies are always maintained with the help of physical objects and spaces designed to reflect those hierarchies. Otherwise everyone’s claims of superiority and difference would be quite literally immaterial.

Once you realize that all designed objects carry this sort of encrypted information about the organization of society, something amazing happens: you suddenly stop feeling bored in home furnishings stores. Washing machines and cooking implements have a lot to say about norms surrounding domestic labor; office trash cans embody the values of a middle class that can’t deal with its own waste; alarm systems and porch lights offer a crash course in the popular phenomenology of crime. But these objects are not just passive representations of ideas about how society should run. They actively promote those ideas, validating certain prejudices and chastising us when our behavior deviates from certain norms.”

Read the rest.

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