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The Decolonising Design Manifesto

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The Decolonising Design Manifesto
By Decolonising Design // Originally published 27 June 2016
(updated on 15.11.2017: edited and slightly re-structured for clarity; corrected spelling and grammar.)
Much of the academic and professional discourse within the design disciplines over the last century has been bereft of a critical
reflection on the politics of design practice, and on the politics of the artifacts, systems and practices that designerly activity
produces. Our premise is that notwithstanding important and valued exceptionsdesign theory, practice, and pedagogy as a
whole are not geared towards delivering the kinds of knowledge and understanding that are adequate to addressing longstanding
systemic issues of power.
These issues are products of modernity and its ideologies, regimes, and institutions reiterating, producing and exerting continued
colonial power upon the lives of oppressed, marginalized, and subaltern peoples in both the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ world.
This planet, shared and co-inhabited by a plurality of peoples, each inhabiting different worlds, each orienting themselves within
and towards their environments in different ways, and with different civilizational histories, is being undermined by a globalized
system of power that threatens to flatten and eradicate ontological and epistemological difference, rewriting histories and advance
visions of a future for a privileged few at the expense of their human and nonhuman others.
To date, mainstream design discourse has been dominated by a focus on Anglocentric/Eurocentric ways of seeing, knowing, and
acting in the world, with little attention being paid to alternative and marginalized discourses from the non Anglo-European
sphere, or the nature and consequences of design-as-politics today. This narrowness of horizons and deficiency in criticality is a
reflection of the limitations of the institutions within which design is studied and practiced, as well as of the larger socio-political
systems that design is institutionally integrated into.
We believe that a sharper lens needs to be brought to bear on non-western ways of thinking and being, and on the way that class,
gender, race, etc,. issues are designed today. We understand the highlighting of these issues through practices and acts of design,
and the (re)design of institutions, design practices and design studies (efforts that always occur under conditions of contested
political interests) to be a pivotal challenge in the process of decolonisation. We also want to move beyond academic discourse to
critique and think around the ideas and practices that circulate through the work of professional designers embedded in the
various sectors of production that stimulate and sustain the modern/colonial world economy.
Our goal is ontological rather than additive change. It is not sufficient for design institutions to simply include a greater diversity
of actors or perspectives. This only goes to serve a delaying and offsetting demands for radical systemic change. While we
support and defend measures to include marginalized subjects and our/their concerns in spaces from which we/they have been
excluded or remain precarious, we also believe there is little point to diversifying institutions, practices, and processes that
ultimately sustain colonial imperatives. Our aim is not to direct our efforts to prop up existing power structures, or to sustaining
them through ameliorative measures. Rather, our aim should be nothing less than to seek the radical transfiguration of these
structures through the critical eye of the programmatic imagination that dares to identify the possibilities and conditions that will
give us alternatives to the now.
Our objectiveas design scholars and practitionersis to transform the very terms of present day design studies and research.
Designers can put to task their skills, techniques, and mentalities to designing futures aimed at advancing ecological, social, and
technological conditions where multiple worlds and knowledges, involving both humans and nonhumans, can flourish in
mutually enhancing ways. For us, decolonisation is not simply one more option or approach among others within design
discourse. Rather, it is a fundamental imperative to which all design endeavors must be oriented.
It is with the aim of providing an outlet for voices from the fringes, the voices of the marginal and the suppressed in design
discourse, that we have opened this platform. We welcome all of those who work silently and surely on the edges and outskirts of
the discipline to join and contribute to conversations that question and critique the politics of design practice today, where we can
discuss strategies and tactics through which to engage with more mainstream discourse, and where we can collectively
experiment with alternatives and reformulations of contemporary practice.
We encourage and seek decentralized dialogues, in which different voices can coexist in their difference rather than in an
assimilated narrative. In this platform we welcome:
Contributions from designers working at the intersections of materiality and culture, postcoloniality, decoloniality,
gender studies, race studies, and other areas of human thought and action which seek to analyze, question and
challenge the relations of power in the world today;
New curatorial practices of designerly knowledge, that seek to challenge and disrupt colonial understandings in the
field and develop knowledge and understanding of how designs for decolonisation might be presented, discussed,
published, disseminated, and so on;
Reviews, interviews, debates, podcasts and other forms of discussion and debate beyond the confines of academic
language. We also invite formats that are generally devalued within academic contexts such as visual essays, audio
papers, performance works, etc.
Possibilities for the dissemination of critical thinking in design well beyond the canons of the discipline (e.g. design
studies and/as epistemic disobedience);
Critical pieces written originally in languages other than English; as well as potential translations into languages other
than English;
Critical pieces written by researchers, practitioners, independent scholars, and students in the process of completing
their degrees and/or who feel they are marginalised or poorly supported by academic institutions. In other words, we
welcome incomplete ideas, work-in-progress, and other forms of dealing with the questions above outlined, thus
amplifying discourses outside the remit of institutes, which may or may not be projects enfolded in academic work.
Moreover, we seek to connect with already existing endeavors within and beyond the design field for a decolonisation of not only
academia, but all professional practices and pedagogies, to connect and foster exchanges of knowledge that speak from, cross,
and remain in the borderlands of design and coloniality. Through this platform, and in collaboration with like minded others, we
hope that we can make a substantial commitment to contributing to the continued existence, vitality and diversity of human
presence on this planet.
Ahmed Ansari
Danah Abdulla
Ece Canli
Luiza Prado
Mahmoud Keshavarz
Matthew Kiem
Pedro Oliveira
Tristan Schultz
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