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Just Transitions/Design for Transitions: Preliminary Notes on a Design Politics for a Green New Deal

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Abstract

Mobilizations occurring around just transitions and design for transition contain many potential points of overlap. They are presently remarkably disengaged. This article seeks to rectify this situation by offering some preliminary notes on how convergences between these currents might facilitate modes of anti-racist, feminist and ecosocialist design futuring that can get us to think beyond degrowth/Left ecomodern binaries and toward a design politics that can support a Green New Deal. I proceed by mapping the evolution of labor-focused just transition discussions and indicate how feminist, climate justice and decolonial contributions have expanded and complicated understandings of the labors of transition. I then go on to suggest how such currents could productively engage further with the emerging field of design for transition. Design is not to be trusted. However, post-carbon futures are not simply going to emerge through protest and policy shifts alone. Just transitions will have to be imagined and built, fabricated and realized, coded and created. This will involve the channeling of enormous amounts of creative labor and inventive praxis. It will also involve the construction of public spaces and public institutions where new knowledge practices can meet. Bringing radical traditions of design, invention and innovation into dialogue with movements pushing for just transitions could make significant contributions to achieving this end.
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Just Transitions/Design for Transitions: Preliminary
Notes on a Design Politics for a Green New Deal
Damian White
To cite this article: Damian White (2019): Just Transitions/Design for Transitions: Preliminary
Notes on a Design Politics for a Green New Deal, Capitalism Nature Socialism, DOI:
10.1080/10455752.2019.1583762
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2019.1583762
Published online: 21 Mar 2019.
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Just Transitions/Design for Transitions: Preliminary
Notes on a Design Politics for a Green New Deal
Damian White
Division of Liberal Arts, The Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, USA
ABSTRACT
Mobilizations occurring around just transitions and design for transition contain
many potential points of overlap. They are presently remarkably disengaged.
This article seeks to rectify this situation by oering some preliminary notes
on how convergences between these currents might facilitate modes of anti-
racist, feminist and ecosocialist design futuring that can get us to think
beyond degrowth/Left ecomodern binaries and toward a design politics that
can support a Green New Deal. I proceed by mapping the evolution of labor-
focused just transition discussions and indicate how feminist, climate justice
and decolonial contributions have expanded and complicated understandings
of the labors of transition. I then go on to suggest how such currents could
productively engage further with the emerging eld of design for transition.
Design is not to be trusted. However, post-carbon futures are not simply
going to emerge through protest and policy shifts alone. Just transitions will
have to be imagined and built, fabricated and realized, coded and created.
This will involve the channeling of enormous amounts of creative labor and
inventive praxis. It will also involve the construction of public spaces and
public institutions where new knowledge practices can meet. Bringing radical
traditions of design, invention and innovation into dialogue with movements
pushing for just transitions could make signicant contributions to achieving
this end.
ARTICLE HISTORY Received 10 August 2018; Accepted 14 November 2018
KEYWORDS Just transition; green new deal; design; creative labor; redirective practice
Introduction
A problem like climate change is going to need unprecedented collaboration
between kinds of knowledge and labor. Such a challenge may well require of
us that we produce new kinds of production relations, new technologies, new
kinds of aective culture, new ways of organizing the world. (McKenzie
Wark 2013)
In a bleak context, where projections of our climate futures move from bad to
worse with each IPCC report, mobilizations occurring around just transitions
© 2019 The Center for Political Ecology
CONTACT Damian White dwhite01@risd.edu
CAPITALISM NATURE SOCIALISM
https://doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2019.1583762
running alongside a vibrant explosion of interest in design for transitions
stand as one of the few bright spots on the horizon. These projects are at
different stages of development. They come with the usual bundle of issues,
problems, controversies and setbacks. They also dene a eld of engagement
marked by a refreshing level of pragmatic concreteness and makerly ambition.
Discussions of just transitions now increasingly moving through labor,
democratic socialist, climate justice/environmental justice, feminist and deco-
lonial circles have begun to develop important political and policy imaginaries
for thinking about the complex and fraught alliances that will have to be built
to move just post-carbon transitions forward. The eld of design for tran-
sitions has equally drawn critical elds of design, architecture and planning
into an ever widening set of discussions with design activists, transition
town advocates, radical municipalists and commoners. Rather than being
focused on policy, these latter conversations are as much interested in the
modes of praxis, the design cultures and the modes of design futuring that
could be unleashed to help build post-carbon futures. Despite shared points
of departure in thinking about the pathways for egalitarian and democratic
post carbon transitions, these discourses and movements are presently
marked by relatively modest levels of engagement.
In this paper I seek to explore the ways in which an engagement between
these two elds of political practice might make a contribution to recongur-
ing some of the increasingly fraught disputes about post-carbon transitions
that have run through the contemporary Green-Left. Recent debates
between degrowthers and Left ecomodernists, ecostatists and municipalists,
ecoromantic ecosocialists and assorted fully automated luxury communists
had their moments and generated insights about the tensions and choices
that underpin post-carbon futures (see variously Phillips 2015; Frase 2017;
White, Rudy, and Gareau 2017; Foster 2017). As positions have become
increasingly polarized, it is easy to get the impression from some of these
debates that the only options on the table are to support a technocratic
high-modernist project to decarbonize the status quo or embrace a
prepare-for-the-worstsurvivalist communism. We must either accelerate
or decelerate, choose the socialor the technicalpath, wait for the tech
breakthrough or gleefully announce wehave twelve years till revolutionary
breakdown.
This paper is written from the sense that it may well be more productive
now to acknowledge that all conceivable programs for just transition are
going to be socio-technical in nature, multi-scalar and, by denition, con-
cerned with designing low-carbon futures. All attempts at energy transitions
will take place in circumstances not of our own choosingand, as climate
conditions deteriorate, we will increasingly confront non-optimal choices
and trade-os. All transition struggles will have to degrow and decelerate
carbon-intensive activities in sectors that contribute little to socioecological
2D. WHITE
well-being but vastly accelerate and grow the forms of public investment,
public innovation and collective agency to build the social, cultural, urban
agro-food and energy infrastructures that can bring a just zero carbon
society into being (Schwartzman 2012; Cohen 2017; Arono2018). What is
needed, then, is less endless evoking that we are at ve minutes to midnight
or that tech/automation will save us,and more hybrid, multi-scalar and pro-
grammatic accounts that can think about the modes of state-led action and
grassroots innovation, the forms of social institutionalization, democratic
design and planning and modes of radical design futuring that can ally
with protest, struggle and resistance to move a post-carbon politics forward
(see White, Rudy, and Gareau 2016; White, Rudy, and Gareau 2017). An
engagement between just transitions and design for transition might open
up some spaces here.
Conventional Genealogies of Just Transitions: From Margins to
Center
The concept of the just transition has been around for a number of decades
but has re-emerged of late in labor and trade union, climate justice, and,
more recently, indigenous environmental mobilizations as a powerful and
salient frame through which to think about the multiple challenges that con-
front the project of deep decarbonization. Labor-focused histories of the just
transitionhave traced the term to discussions occurring in the US labor
movement in the 1970s (see Newell and Mulvaney 2013; Stevis 2013; Stevis
and Felli 2015; Healy and Barry 2017; Sweeney and Treat 2018), and speci-
cally to attempts at thinking beyond the hippies-versus-hardhatstensions
that pervaded the era. To take two important gures here, by the mid
1970s both Tony Mazzochi, of the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers
Union (OCAW), and the ecologist and labor activist Barry Commoner had
reached the conclusion that labor needed to ally with environmental move-
ments if there was to be any hope of building a progressive sustainable
economy that could transcend the impasse of jobs versus environment
(Commoner 1971; Leopold 2007). Mazzochi and Commoner developed the
view that trade unionists working in industries subject to environmental regu-
lation had to move beyond purely defensive strategies that were shortsighted
at best or, at worst, unjustly ooading the externalities of one industry onto
other communities and other workers.
One of the earliest conceptualizations of the just transition emerged out of
the OCAW. This took the form of demands for support not only for a super-
fund for communitiesimpacted by toxics, but a superfund for workersthat
would compensate displaced workers impacted by environmental regulations
and oer opportunities for retraining. Commoner and Mazzochi went on to
argue that a transition to a labor-friendly and equitable vision of a sustainable
CAPITALISM NATURE SOCIALISM 3
future would, of course, require much more than this. It would need the
application of labor-friendly industrial ecologies at scale to clean up the
output of particular plants. New modes of social and design innovation
to eliminate the waste endemic to industrial capitalism would also be
required. Commoner argued, in addition, that a just transition required
the embrace of forms of democratic planning that could facilitate the
development of eco-industrial strategies for sustainable futures (see
Commoner 1990; Leopold 2007; Mazzochi 1993).
In the 1990s and 2000s labor focused discussions of just transitions in
the US and Canadian unions shifted from a singular focus on waste,
toxics and environmental health and safety issues to include broader
global environmental and climate concerns. Attempts to build labor-envir-
onmentalist alliances for green jobs and eco-industrial transitions evolved
throughout the 2000s with greater and lesser degrees of success (see TUC
2008). Within the North American trade union movement the call for just
transitions has ebbed and owed (Sweeney and Treat 2018). Advocacy
organizations and think tanks, from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy
to the Just Transition Alliance,theBlue Green Alliance to the Labor
Network for Sustainability, have added organizational, intellectual and
policy depth to such discussions. Hope that a Green New Deal might actu-
ally get traction surfaced during the nancial crisis of 2008. The full
promise of this moment was closed down by the deference of the Obama
White House (and the other members of the G7) to keep stimulus within
the frame of economic orthodoxies (see Healy and Barry 2017;Goldstein
2018). Nevertheless, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,
despite its considerable limitations, did direct over $90 billion of public
investment to low-carbon energy initiatives.
It is these public investments in the US, running alongside similar invest-
ments made in China and Germany, that underpinned the clean energy boom
of the last decade in solar PV, wind, battery storage and other developments.
Moreover, the progressive resurgence in the US since 2016, marked by the
resurgence of Democratic Socialists of America and the election of democratic
socialists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the US Congress, has demon-
strated that in the United States there will be a second act to the pursuit of just
transitions under the Green New Deal frame.
Beyond the US the concept of the just transition has increasingly helped
frame climate and environmental policy in many European green and
labor/social democratic parties (Healy and Barry 2017). It is a discourse
that has moved into the IPPC process through advocacy and lobbying of
the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International
Labour Organizations Workers Oce (ACTRAV), as well as through collab-
orations between the ITUC, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and
the UN Environment Program (UNEP) (Stevis and Felli 2015). Such
4D. WHITE
developments have led to demands by the ITUC for a just transition which is
not just concerned with reactive but proactive transformation (see Mertins-
Kirkwood 2016). Attention, it contends, must be given to retraining, rede-
ployment and secure pensionsfor fossil fuel workers impacted by decarbo-
nization but also to community renewalfor areas facing energy and other
kinds of transitions, the importance of worker involvement in the develop-
ment of green urban futures, plans for investment and nancing in adaptation
and mitigation that guarantee essential social protection and human rights
and support the most vulnerable(ITUC 2014).
As a number of commentators have noted, the discussion of just transitions
in labor circles is marked by a certain vibrancy and increasing ideological
diversity (Stevis and Felli 2015; Sweeney and Treat 2018). Stevis and Felli
(2015) have suggested that unions have tended to follow three main
approaches to underpin their visions of the just transition:
(1) There are those unions that focus on shared solutionswith a focus on
the need of unions to have a seat at the table in social dialogue about
green economy futures. The ITUC guidelines for the just transition
capture much of this model. Calls for green growthto be socialized
and made responsiblehave also emerged out of this model.
(2) There are clusters of unions more focused on a dierentiated responsi-
bilities model,that is, one particularly concerned with vulnerable and
stranded workers, sectors and communities that could be undercut by
decarbonization. The focus here could variously be on the need for
state-led green industrial policies(Stevis and Felli 2015, 37) that will
facilitate managed transitions to other parts of the economy and job-gen-
erating green innovation.
(3) Finally, a more transformational vision can be identied amongst certain
factions of Northern and Southern trade unions that are much more
explicit about making demands for a green economy that attempts to
achieve systemic re-organization of the relations between state, capital
and labor(Stevis and Felli 2015; Satgar 2018). The need for ecosocialist
approaches to energy transition that address questions of ownership and
control and champion the possibilities of democratic planning have
obtained much great centralityeven if there is a certain level of slippage
between rhetoric and reality (see Satgar 2018).
Skeptics and Pushback
The concept of the just transition is clearly not without issues and problems.
For climate skeptics in the US labor movement that see the future of the
unions as eternally allied to fossil capitalism, the just transition is simply a
fancy name for a funeral,to cite the extraordinarily blinkered comments
CAPITALISM NATURE SOCIALISM 5
of ALF-CIO president Richard Trumpka. For apocalyptic eco-radicals, it is a
proposition that can, of course, be dismissed as too little too late. More
nuanced critics, though, have raised issues about the conceptual elasticity
of the concept and concerns about co-optation and implementation. For
example, Lauren Contorno (2018) has argued that a great deal of just tran-
sition rhetoric can gloss over how hard it is to implement just transitions in
practice. Dimitris Stevis (2013) and the Just Transition Research Collective
(2018) have noted that language of just transitionsis increasingly to be
found in all manner of discourses situated far from Leftist discussions: from
the disastrous environmental policies of Emmanuel Macron in France to
Mauricio Macris regressive right-wing administration in Argentina; from
the Vatican to corporate sector actorstalk about job retraining and
nothing more. Indeed, Stevis has noted that the expansion of the use of the
term just transition in United Nations human rights and climate documents
has occurred at a time when references to labor in the very same documents
are increasingly being left out and radical policy implications are thin on the
ground.
Within international labor circles, very dierent political cultures,
dierent national and sectorial priorities, dierent levels of unionization
and kinds of political struggles are already generating very diverse and
sometimes clashing versions of what exactly constitutes a justtransition
and how this might be implemented. Whether the justin just transitions
should prioritize the struggles of displaced fossil fuel workers and commu-
nities, interstate, interregional or intersectoral inequalities, inter-generation
justice, or give priority to colonized people against settler colonial states,
or even the ecological debt between the North and the South, is far from
settled.
As for the Southern context, South African scholars such as Eve Annecke,
Mark Swilling, Vishwar Satgar, Jacklyn Cock, and Michelle Williams (see
Swilling and Annecke 2012; Satgar 2018) have documented how the political
diculties generated by carbon and other resource dependencies in resource
export-driven countries have ensured that progressive commitments made by
Southern unions to just transitions (see COSATU 2011) can unravel quickly
when push comes to shove. Southern unions that prioritize the importance of
obtaining national sovereignty over energy supplies from private and inter-
national owners over rapid decarbonization can end up operating with very
dierent understandings of the just transition to Northern environmentalists.
A narrow Northern-workerist vision of the just transition can be used by
incumbent sectorssuch as fairly well remunerated fossil fuel workersto
simply slow down and delay the moves to deep decarbonization (Mertins-
Kirkwood 2016). Aji (2018) has reminded us that a project focused on build-
ing green social democracyin a global North that still uses the global South
as resource and sink will not do.
6D. WHITE
The Just TransitionDiversication and Radicalization Beyond
Workerist Green Social Democracy?
The just transition, then, certainly oers no magic elixir, and concerns that it
could be reduced to the status of an empty signier, or worse, are not without
substance. There are also signs, though, that diversication of what might be
implied by a just transition might not simply generate friction, fragmentation
and co-optation, but also productive insights and new alliances that can
expand our understanding of the labors of transition.
For example, socialist ecofeminists have long argued that environmentally
destructive and patriarchal capital accumulation proceeds through the contin-
ual appropriation and gendering of labor in the formal economy accompanied
by capturing the unpaid labor of women, nature and colonies(Mies 1996,
77). Gendered, racialized and classed processes of social reproduction are
central to the maintenance of the current order and will emerge as key
points of tension for all transition proposalsjust or otherwise. Such obser-
vations are now being explored productively in a number of ways by resurgent
feminist scholarship on just transitions.
Burke and Stephens (2018) have argued that within the US formal green
economy the gendered nature of pay, protection and reward in the green jobs
and renewable energy sector has not magically caused old forms of exploita-
tion to disappear. Far from it. Like much of the tech sector in the United
States, not only is gender discrimination much in evidence in pay rates and
access to the emerging renewable energy industry employment, but studies
would seem to suggest that the emerging solar industry is dominated by
many small to medium-sized contractors that are no more sympathetic to
organized labor than any other employer, and are growing mostly non-
union jobs. As Kate Arono(2018) has noted, this is one of the reasons
why a transition narrowly focused on carbon reduction alone is unlikely to
address pressing material concerns. As Yellow Vest protests in France has
demonstrated, transitions which seek to increase gasoline prices whilst
closing public transport options, will not gain popular support. A just tran-
sition must dierentiate itself from technocratic ecomodern proposals
through the advocacy of a suite of policies that ensure carbon policies have
redistributive outcomessuch as a green new deal focused on high road
and high wage jobs,a green jobs guarantee, carbon taxes with rebates policies
that have clear redistributive eects, or demands for dierent modes of public
ownership for utilities to tie low carbon outcomes to other public benets
(Arono2018).
Alyssa Battistoni (2017) has observed that the hard hat focusof a great
deal of just transition discussions, preoccupied with questions of how we
can transition traditional blue collar workers to green collar jobs is important.
But it can also function to limit our political imagination if it does not link
CAPITALISM NATURE SOCIALISM 7
these concerns with the growing sectors of the working class in the US and
elsewhere to be found in what might be called pink collar work. Pink collar
here can refer to teaching, nursing, care-work, service work and so on. It is
these sectors that are the critical growing sectors of the US and other
auent world economies. Much of this pink collar work, Battistoni notes,
is exploitative and underpaid, disproportionately occupied by women, immi-
grants and people of color. But in many cases it is also labor that is central for
human ourishment. It is low carbon and demonstrating renewed labor mili-
tancy. A low carbon economy oriented towards human ourishing is invari-
ably going to see an expansion of this work (under dierent terms and
conditions, to be sure). A key labor strategy for just transitions, then,
cannot simply be focused on fossil fuel workers or green tech jobs. It must
also involve eorts to organize the nurses and teachers, care workers and
service workers who are already doing the work that will be foundational to
a low-carbon society oriented toward the ourishing of all(Battistoni
2017). It is worth noting that whilst the ALF-CIO supported the Keystone
XL Pipeline, SEIU 1199 (Service Employees International Union), two
nursing unions (National Nurses United and New York State Nurses Associ-
ation), unions representing workers in manufacturing (United Electrical
Workers) and unions representing domestic work (National Domestic
Workers Alliance) stood strong in opposition (see Sweeney and Treat 2018).
Intersectional approaches attending to the ways in which race/class/gender
and indigenous struggles around energy and food justice are invariably
enmeshed with broader struggles over environmental justice, incarceration/
criminal justice reform, public health, urban and rural land use planning
and so on have further diversied accounts of the histories of just transitions
and enriched accounts of how just transition approaches think about the
labor point of view(Wark 2015). In the North American context the pioneer-
ing work of environmental justice scholars such as Dorcetta Taylor (2009) has
long documented how fossil capitalism was built othe backs of the labor of
enslaved African-Americans and the dispossession of land and life of indigen-
ous peoples across the Americas. Beyond the labor movement, it has been pol-
itical resistance by frontline and fenceline communities of color to
environmental toxics, pollution, and health risks that has informed a good
deal of the political horizons of current just transition discussions (see
Akuno and Nangwaya 2017; Nishime and Williams 2018).
Just transitions, then, may often involve deployment of the powers of the
regulatory state to close down the pollution-industrial complex and redirect
economic activity towards local economy development and solidarity econ-
omies that can move the city forward (see Akuno and Nangwaya 2017).
That said, it is also apparent there are green jobs in recycling and waste man-
agement that can be as dirty and dangerous as old, grey economy jobs. Public/
private community renewable energy programs can generate complex and
8D. WHITE
fraught relations between communities of color and green capitalists,as Myles
Lennon (2017) has outlined. Race- and gender-blind attempts to move green
urban design and planning forward can, in certain contexts, further green
gentrication. Eco-industrial development following conventional economic
models can generate new toxic waste streams and forms of ecologically
uneven exchange where cleanup occurs in some spaces and places at the
expense of others (Newell and Mulvaney 2013). Technocratic approaches to
just transitions which present the social democratic state as the primary
and unproblematic vehicle for decarbonization could easily evolve platforms
and programs at odds with indigenous, rst nation or pastoral peoples and
communities seeking autonomy from logics of the settler colonial state. as
more pressing than embracing statist decarbonization strategies that they
have had little consultation in devising (see Whyte 2018).
These issues are not intractable. The Indigenous Environmental Network
(2018) has initiated a generous indigenous-based just transition campaign
developing indigenous principles of just transition that stands in full solidarity
with workers, communities of color and frontline/fenceline communities
ghting similar battles. The vision of the just transition issued by the New
Zealand Council of Trade Unions in 2017 begins its statement of principles
by acknowledging that in Aotearoa the just transition requires the active
involvement of iwi and hapū”—the indigenous communities. Policy, alliances
and power matters. But these examples are salutary and focus attention on the
daunting political and socio-technical complexity of the project of transition.
The just transition is an analytic and policy discourse that alerts us to the fact
that unjust transitions are far more likely than just transitions, all things
remaining equal. With some notable exceptions (Swilling and Annecke
2012), though, it is a discourse that has had less to say about the future-
oriented political imaginaries, the cultural and material aesthetics, the
modes of work/life balance and the modes of making and doing that might
inform post-carbon futures. Design for transition might expand the realm
of possible discussions here.
Design for TransitionsBringing the Inventive into Dialogue
with the Just Transition
The proposition that design and the building of dierent kinds of design
culture and modes of design futuring could play a signicant role in the
shift to sustainability is a claim to be found at the very beginnings of the
modern postwar environmental movement. For example, if we were to
sketch out the ancestors and antecedents to contemporary discussions in
design for transitions, a historical genealogy of the eld would have to
acknowledge how the convergence of the radical science and technology
movements, the sustainable architecture and design movements of the
CAPITALISM NATURE SOCIALISM 9
1960s and 1970s provide a major point of inspiration. Early touchstones of
this counterculture inuences would, of course, have to include the DIY sen-
sibilities of Stewart BrandsWhole Earth Catalogue which championed tools
that could sustain urban communities underpinned by renewable energy to
tools to sustain libertarian o-the-grid living and the wild geodesic fantasies
of Buckminster Fuller. The extent to which these two very inuential forces
have informed technocentric environmental currents that have fed into
Silicon Valley solutionistideologies and ecomodern tech-topian thinking
to this day has to be fully recognized.
A partial reading of the history of sustainable design that only lingers on
the technocentric liberal traditions can obscure the continual attempt of far
more politicized design currents to open up very dierent understandings
of possible post-capitalist design futures. Science for the People and the
Radical Technology Movement (see Boyle and Harper 1976) explicitly drew
inspiration from anarchist, socialist and civic republican transitions in their
attempts to envisage publically accountable platforms for science, technology,
design and democratic forms of urban and rural planning. Much of this work
was developed in dialogue with Ivan Illichs hugely inuential call to dis-
tinguish tools of dominationfrom tools for convivialityand Victor Pape-
neks visceral critiques of the brutal uselessness of a great deal of commercially
focused graphic and industrial design and his militant demand for socially
useful design and production. The socialist feminist architectural critique of
the heteropatriarchal assumptions informing suburbia and the spur these cri-
tiques gave to the emergence of self-build and partial build housing, commu-
nity design, architecture and participatory planning also oer critical
moments in this discussion have been largely ignored (see Hayden 1980).
At broader scales, Bookchin called for an ecological urbanism and a new
municipalism that would be sustained by post-scarcity labor-saving modes
of automation and cultures of pleasure and leisure running alongside libera-
tory ecotechnologies that could reawaken mans sense of dependence on the
environmentbut also restore selfhood and competence to a client citi-
zenry’” (Bookchin 1971). It is notable here for the extent to which Bookchins
design enfused political imageries cut across many contemporary degrowthers
and Left ecomodernists debates.
If we move beyond the often US-centric stories told of sustainable design,
we can see that there are vitally important socialist and labor friendly design
histories that oer vital antecedents for contemporary transition discussions.
William Morris essay A Factory as it might be(1884) oers a remarkable
account of an ecosocialist industrial ecology. The far sighted attempts by
British Trade Unionists involved in the Lucas Plan to instigate forms of
worker-centered design around socially useful and environmentally respon-
sible production has much to oer current discussions of green production
(see Cooley 1980). It is often forgotten that the participatory design
10 D. WHITE
movement has its origins in attempts by the Scandinavian trade union move-
ment to implement labor-friendly modes of design and innovation that would
be capable of resisting Taylorism and deskilling (see Ehn 1990).
Recent scholarship by Dorcetta Taylor (2009), Gordon Nembhard (2014)
and Ted Jojola and his colleagues (see Walker, Jojola, and Natcher 2013)
has drawn attention to the hidden historiesof Indigenous, African Ameri-
can and Latinx experiments with building spaces of freedom beyond settler
colonialism through seven generation visioning, designing food cultivation
systems, systems of co-operative gardening, systems of mutual aid and exper-
iments with co-operative ownership and intentional communities. Such work
has highlighted the signicant debt of countercultural sustainable design to
indigenous traditions and practices as well as to the contemporary relevance
of such currents for informing design strategies to build post-carbon solidarity
economies (see Walker, Jojola, and Natcher 2013; Akuno and Nangwaya
2017).
It is also important to acknowledge Latin American/Andean tradition of
buen vivir/sumak kawsay/suma qamaña (see Escobar 2017), diverse indigen-
ous traditions of ecological knowledge, maintenance and repair, frugal inno-
vation, jugaad and gambiarra (Scholz 2016), and attempts to combine radical
design strategies with African traditions of ubuntu (Satgar 2018). All these
currents have further mingled with, intersect, reject and/or hybridize with
equally diverse global modernist design traditions in quite varied ways, and
help us think beyond US-centered narratives.
Ecological/sustainable/green design was mainstreamed, disciplined, largely
depoliticized and radically reshaped from the 1990s onwards by all manner of
US- and EU-supported research programs and further technological inno-
vations emerging out of industry, academia, social movements and local prac-
tice. Key denitional moments here, such as the publication of Natural
Capitalism (1999) and The Drawdown (2016), provide popularizations of
more technical and technocratic research programs occurring in industrial
ecology, smart materials and new sustainable building technologies, agro-
ecology, green chemistry, renewable energy, energy eciency and battery
storage systems (now increasingly aggregated through circular economy dis-
cussions). Much of this research intersects with the rise of product system
service design, theories of socio-technical systems innovation (such as tran-
sition management and the multi-level perspective), social practice research
and the evolution of research programs focused on design for social inno-
vation. The information technology/coding revolution transformed all these
elds, giving rise to multiple further regressive and progressive proposals to
think about digital design futuring and its dystopian otherfrom the inter-
net of things,smart cities and neoliberal sharing economies, through peer-to-
peer lending and solidarity economies, to platform co-operatives (Scholz
2016; Gaziulusoy and Öztekin 2018).
CAPITALISM NATURE SOCIALISM 11
In the contemporary context I will use the term design for transition to refer
to a cluster of contemporary approaches to radical, sustainable and labor-
focused design. Such currents are diverse and still at dierent stages of devel-
opment. But they are unied by a common understanding that the elds of
design, social practice and design for social innovation must explicitly push
back against neoliberal design and managerial and corporate visions of
design thinking,and be comprehensive, restructured, politicized and mobi-
lized to augment all manner of interventions concerned with transition to
post-carbon societies. Whilst there are now many modes of critical, speculat-
ive and adversarial design that, much like the politicized end of the ne arts,
are primarily interested in interventions that create cultural reection and dia-
logue, I am more interested here in currents that have sought to think about
ways in which we might not simply encourage design interventions for tran-
sition but those that seek to envisage and instantiate a broader material
culture for transition. For example, the recent work of Ezio Manzini and
the DESIS lab network, Carnegie Mellons Transition Design research
group, the Decolonising Design group (Abdulla et al. 2019), the NODUS Sus-
tainable Design Research Group at Aalto University and the Digital Bauhaus
project at Malmo (see Ehn, Nilsson, and Topgaard 2014; Kosso, Tonkinwise,
and Irwin 2015; Manzini 2015; Tonkinwise 2015; Gaziulusoy and Öztekin
2018) have all sought to model ways in which modes of grassroots communi-
tarian design innovations could contribute to cosmopolitan-local transition
paths for low-carbon futures. The methods deployed here generally use the
tools of design (such as design-led participatory processes, workshops, scen-
ario visualizations, building digital platforms and interfaces etc.) that could
connect and hopefully aggregate forms of grassroots best practicefrom
neighborhood gardens to care centers, maker-spaces, fab-labs and sharing
systems; from co-operative housing to new modes of cultural production.
The aspiration of many of these research programs is captured by Manzi-
nisDesign Where Everyone Designs (2015). The central theme of the text is
that a design politics can be envisaged where expert design (design performed
by those who have been trained as designers) is brought into alliance with
diuse design (which refers to the design skills of lay publics). Manzini
argues that nurturing these alliances can give rise to creative communities
that allow for the emergence of new institutions engaged in co-design for
low-carbon transition. Beyond this, Tony Fry, Anne Marie Willis and
Cameron Tonkinwise have oered important theoretical interventions from
rather more militant Heideggerian-Marxist and decolonial perspectives to
the more project-based worldview of Manzini and his colleagues (Fry 2009;
Wilson 2018). The core argument here is that design is not simply a eld
owned by professional designers but a generalizable human practice. Post-
carbon transitions must be thought of as requiring a wave of explicitly politi-
cized, sociotechnical design processes or redirective practices. Fry (2009)
12 D. WHITE
argues that these redirective practices must function and be deployed by
design professionals and design-literate publics at multiple scales and
spheres of operation if we are to have any hope of unraveling coloniality,
resisting capital and surviving climate destabilization. Redirective practices,
then, must move swiftly from care of the self to modes of design strategizing
that attempt to build new sustainable workplaces out of the old (platforming).
Design as politics must intervene in the broader ecological restructuring of the
economy through engagement with design for closed loop production to elim-
inative design (designing destructive goods and services out of use). More
generally, Fry claims we need a design politics that can operate at multiple
scales of action, from community-facilitated urban planning to comprehen-
sive climate retrotting and ruggedization of the urban landscape. The infra-
structural turn in design could provide further impetus for developing this
concept of redirective practice, whether we consider the kinds of proposals
by Hillary Brown (2014) for resilient multi-modal, multi-purpose, low-
carbon public infrastructures or the focus of Trebor Scholz (2016) on
hacking and repurposing digital platforms and infrastructures to facilitate
new, labor-friendly, networked platforms or worker-owned platform co-
operatives.
Designs for Ecosocialism?
To be clear, design will not save us, and design for transition as currently
congured has its limitations. Transition discussions across the many elds
of design are still disconnected from each other and unevenly engaged with
broader discussions in political economy or political ecology (see White
2015). There is much coalition building work to be done to connect the
diverse insights of dierent critical design traditions and consider the most
useful ways in which design for transition can build more eective institutions
forms. Nevertheless, if the project of the just transition is to gain serious trac-
tion, it will have to grapple with the experimental and makerly knowledges
produced by design. As the eld of design has become less object-centered
over the last four decades, its remit has expanded to strategy, services, inter-
faces, logistics and platforms, urban, regional and landscape planning, com-
munity development, social innovation, and prototyping and running
democratic experiments. This ever-expanding ubiquity of design across our
sociotechnical and socioecological worlds (see Escobar 2017) must be under-
stood and engaged with in sophisticated ways by ecosocialists if we are to
embark on rapid and just redesigns of this material culture, because design
has altered and radically expanded the socio-technical eld of political
struggle. As Scholz (2016) observes, platform capitalism will have to be sys-
tematically hackedand repurposed, with designers working with social
movements, if we are to move from it to platform co-operativism. Transition
CAPITALISM NATURE SOCIALISM 13
design is further important because it brings into view the fact that paths to
just transitions may well have more entry points than technological determi-
nist accounts of energy transition allow. Just transitions need to think care-
fully about energy supply and demand, but they require that we also ask
additional questions here, such as energy for what?,and to sustain what
kinds of modes of life?They need to explore the forms of urban design
and culture, consumption, work and leisure, aesthetics and pleasure that
maintain a high-energy planet and consider the many elements of this
picture that need to change to facilitate low-carbon/high-quality futures.
Design is also of signicance for thinking about post-carbon futures
because it is one of the few remaining spaces in the academy that takes futur-
ing seriously. Prototyping, preguring, speculative thinking, scenario-build-
ing, doing things dierently, failing, and then starting all over again are all
core components of design education. This interest in speculating about
mid- to long-term possible sociotechnical futures is not well developed in
the largely policy focused literatures on just transitions. There are good
reasons for believing that speculative thought about just low-carbon futures
is going to be much needed in the years ahead. Simply at the level of the pol-
itical imaginary, design futuring provides useful tools to help generate public
dialogues at varying scales to think about the options open to us in negotiating
life on a warming planet that can push back against climate catastrophism and
fatalism (See Escobar 2017; White, Rudy, and Gareau 2017). Design futuring
is important for its capacity to challenge outdated, homeostatic visions of a
sustainable future that involve settler-colonial myths of return to the stable
nature we have lost. It forces recognition that the just transition is going to
be ongoing and iterative, requiring that we constantly and persistently
make and remake climate-adaptive socioecological worldsagain and again
and again (see Fry 2009; Kosso, Tonkinwise, and Irwin 2015). More gener-
ally, design futuring underscores that a just transition cannot simply seek to
globalize Euro-American futures (as ecomodernism imaginaries largely main-
tain). Rather design futuring for the pluriverse (Escobar 2017) is going to
involve requiring thinking modernist traditions with and against diverse sub-
altern and marginalized speculative traditions from Afro-futurists, Chicano
and Latinx futures, to sino-futures, queer futures, indigenous futures and
beyond, all in order to make other worlds possible.
Finally, design for transition has increasingly demonstrated that design is a
eld of socio-material strategizing and praxis that involves much more than
just validating the work of professional eco-designers. Design has always
understood that users matter, and it is itself an excellent aggregator of the
inventive praxis of diverse users. But beyond this critical design seeks to
develop tools that can enroll many more agents, objects and entities into its
schemes. This comes with all kinds of problems, of course, and we are all
more than familiar with the ways in which neoliberal design cultures
14 D. WHITE
continually to enroll us through consumption, advertising, data-mining,
proling and so forth. In many parts of the world the just transition will
have to involve a reinvention of both the state as active public actor, new
public institutions and modes of public ownership, democratic planning
and vast amounts of climate-smart public investment to build new social-
technical infrastructures. And this will inevitably entail designing new ways
of enrolling the creative labor of expert and diuse designers in new insti-
tutional forms.
Design Futuring for Just Transitions
Let us conclude here with some examples of converging possibilities that
might allow us to open up future research agendas.
Growing attention is now being given to the land use impacts of industrial
wind and utility-scale solar energy, their spatial intensityand the ways in
which such technologies not only demand spacebut substantively
remakeit (see Huber and McCarthy 2017). As James McCarthy and Matt
Huber have compellingly outlined, the scale of the reorganization of space
involved in the expected global expansion of renewable technologies in the
next two decades will have dramatic implications on land use, particularly
in rural areas where land values are low, and where rural people in developing
world contexts have precarious land rights. All things remaining equal, a
renewable energy transition could lead to an intensication of land displace-
ment and new rounds of green-grabbing. But why should critique stop at an
all things remain equalpremise? What would it mean to build planning
institutions for just energy transitions that sought to prevent land grabbing
by taking participatory design and social planning for the energy transition
seriously (Walker, Jojola, and Natcher 2013; Miller and Richter 2014)?
Could the full range of techniques that draw from participatory design in
urban planning over multiple decades of development allied with political
organizing provide the beginnings of a political design response to the
environmental and social justice challenges posed by energy transitions?
Could the design of multi-modal and multi-purpose low-carbon public infra-
structures that combine energy production with public space and regenerative
ecology and public ecologies alleviate some of these tensions (cf. Brown
2014)? Could this be supplemented with policies that ensured that rural com-
munities owned their renewable resources and received compensation for the
stewardship of these energy resources?
Just transition advocates argue we need to see massive public investment
directed towards high-quality, sustainable public housing and climate-smart
infrastructure to meet pressing needs, ensure swift decarbonization and maxi-
mize urban resilience to future climate challenges. This is important work, but
a critical design imaginary might add that the history of public housing and
CAPITALISM NATURE SOCIALISM 15
infrastructure development in the US was often blighted not just by lack of
investment but also by paternalist, gendered and racialized modes of high
modernism architecture and public administration which often designed
public housing as mechanisms for social control, segregation, and governance
of the urban working classes. Some of the best examples of successful social
democratic public housing schemes in the postwar era in Northern Europe
often ran alongside the enforcement of a range of moralistic codes, petty ordi-
nances, rules and regulations which could often shame and disempower
working people, disaggregated communal relations and gave little scope for
deploying the skills and contributions that usersmight bring to the
design, redesign and retrotting of urban space. But what would it mean
for such projects to attend additionally to the modes of life and solidarity
that design forms can facilitate or impede? How can we design new public
institutions and new forms of public ownership to expand the range of parti-
cipatory design directed toward urban and infrastructure transition? What are
the opportunities for bringing the creative labor of publics into the process of
co-creating and redesigning climate-smart systems, services and built
environments that meet pressing needs in more sustainable ways?
If we turn to democratic decarbonized economies, what would it mean for
a post-carbon design politics to aspire not only to dematerialize material ows
but to democratize, decarbonize and ecologizethe workplace? Labor-
focused just transition movements are currently pushing hard to obtain
national commitments to move us to eco-industrial strategies (as they
should). However, unless eco-industrial policy is complimented with
further design strategies and cultural and political economic interventions
that challenge exploitative supply chains, the treadmill of consumption, and
a quantity-over-quality consumer culture, eco-industrial policy will continu-
ally be undercut by rebound eects. How could we combine (and improve)
the largely technocratic literature on the circular economy, with the critical
design focus on emotionally durable design (Chapman 2005), or what Fry
(2009) has called eliminative design (where we build systems and services
that design out of existence wasteful and carbon intensive forms of material
culture that contribute little to human well-being)? How can we add to this
the call from decolonial designers to pluralize our knowledge base and con-
struction design-cultures for disassemblage, repair, maintenance and reuse
(cf. Abdulla et al. 2019)? To what extent could this agenda be taken further
by integrating calls for work and leisure shifts towards what Daniel Aldana
Cohen (2014) has referred to as low-carbon pleasures? Could such moves
allow us to think in more comprehensive ways about policy agendas that
achieve not only low-carbon production and consumption but also a sustain-
able material culture? What would a circular economy look like that was
reshaped by worker-oriented designs that took the knowledge and insights
16 D. WHITE
of workers seriously and provided tools for them to communicate and
organize across supply chains?
Conclusion: Transition as an Act of Creative Labor
Just transitionswhether understood in terms of the green new deal, buen
vivir, the great transformation, or just low-carbon futures, are not going to
emerge without social protest and revolt, labor stoppages and mobilized
class forces seeking to take power at every level to undercut and ultimately
shut down fossil capitalism. The day after the demonstration, a just post-
carbon world that actively improves peoples lives still has to be imagine
and built, fabricated and realized, institutionalized and sustained by public
support and ongoing engagement. Decarbonizing, decolonizing, democratiz-
ing and de-commodifying our carbon-intensive material world is going to
require programmatic thinking. It is also going to necessitate the unleashing
of enormous amounts of creative labor and inventive praxis to build public
institutions, a public ecology and a public culture to allow us to survive and
ourish on a warming planet. This will require spaces where very dierent
kinds technical, cultural, political and economic knowledge, labor and prac-
tice can meet and develop new modes of collaboration (see Wark 2015;
Goldstein 2018). A politicized mode of design for transition brought into
deeper engagement with social movements mobilized around just transitions
could provide important spaces where this dialogue takes place.
Disclosure Statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
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Editorial The RSD10 symposium was held at the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology, 2nd-6th November 2021. After a successful (yet unforeseen) online version of the RSD 9 symposium, RSD10 was designed as a hybrid conference. How can we facilitate the physical encounters that inspire our work, yet ensure a global easy access for joining the conference, while dealing well with the ongoing uncertainties of the global COVID pandemic at the same time? In hindsight, the theme of RSD10 could not have been a better fit with the conditions in which it had to be organized: “Playing with Tensions: Embracing new complexity, collaboration and contexts in systemic design”. Playing with Tensions Complex systems do not lend themselves for simplification. Systemic designers have no choice but to embrace complexity, and in doing so, embrace opposing concepts and the resulting paradoxes. It is at the interplay of these ideas that they find the most fruitful regions of exploration. The main conference theme explored design and systems thinking practices as mediators to deal fruitfully with tensions. Our human tendency is to relieve the tensions, and in design, to resolve the so-called “pain points.” But tensions reveal paradoxes, the sites of connection, breaks in scale, emergence of complexity. Can we embrace the tension and paradoxes as valuable social feedback in our path to just and sustainable futures? The symposium took off with two days of well-attended workshops on campus and online. One could sense tensions through embodied experiences in one of the workshops, while reframing systemic paradoxes as fruitful design starting points in another. In the tradition of RSD, a Gigamap Exhibition was organized. The exhibition showcased mind-blowing visuals that reveal the tension between our own desire for order and structure and our desire to capture real-life dynamics and contradicting perspectives. Many of us enjoyed the high quality and diversity in the keynotes throughout the symposium. As chair of the SDA, Dr. Silvia Barbero opened in her keynote with a reflection on the start and impressive evolution of the Relating Systems thinking and Design symposia. Prof.Dr. Derk Loorbach showed us how transition research conceptualizes shifts in societal systems and gave us a glimpse into their efforts to foster desired ones. Prof.Dr. Elisa Giaccardi took us along a journey of technologically mediated agency. She advocated for a radical shift in design to deal with this complex web of relationships between things and humans. Indy Johar talked about the need to reimagine our relationship with the world as one based on fundamental interdependence. And finally, Prof.Dr. Klaus Krippendorf systematically unpacked the systemic consequences of design decisions. Together these keynote speakers provided important insights into the role of design in embracing systemic complexity, from the micro-scale of our material contexts to the macro-scale of globally connected societies. And of course, RSD10 would not be an RSD symposium if it did not offer a place to connect around practical case examples and discuss how knowledge could improve practice and how practice could inform and guide research. Proceedings RSD10 has been the first symposium in which contributors were asked to submit a full paper: either a short one that presented work-in-progress, or a long one presenting finished work. With the help of an excellent list of reviewers, this set-up allowed us to shape a symposium that offered stage for high-quality research, providing a platform for critical and fruitful conversations. Short papers were combined around a research approach or methodology, aiming for peer-learning on how to increase the rigour and relevance of our studies. Long papers were combined around commonalities in the phenomena under study, offering state-of-the-art research. The moderation of engaged and knowledgeable chairs and audience lifted the quality of our discussions. In total, these proceedings cover 33 short papers and 19 long papers from all over the world. From India to the United States, and Australia to Italy. In the table of contents, each paper is represented under its RSD 10 symposium track as well as a list of authors ordered alphabetically. The RSD10 proceedings capture the great variety of high-quality papers yet is limited to only textual contributions. We invite any reader to visit the rsdsymposium.org website to browse through slide-decks, video recordings, drawing notes and the exhibition to get the full experience of RSD10 and witness how great minds and insights have been beautifully captured! Word of thanks Let us close off with a word of thanks to our dean and colleagues for supporting us in hosting this conference, the SDA for their trust and guidance, Dr. Peter Jones and Dr. Silvia Barbero for being part of the RSD10 scientific committee, but especially everyone who contributed to the content of the symposium: workshop moderators, presenters, and anyone who participated in the RSD 10 conversation. It is only in this complex web of (friction-full) relationships that we can further our knowledge on systemic design: thanks for being part of it! Dr. JC Diehl, Dr. Nynke Tromp, and Dr. Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer Editors RSD10
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