Design, Violence and Subjectivity

By Colin Davies.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

As the 20th Century opened, design was very quickly ‘outed’ in Marxist thinking as a material world not to be trusted – mechanised and robbed of any sense of subjectivity it became a lackey to the dominant capitalist discourse. As the first decade of the new century unfurled Simmel commented, ‘What is distressing is that we are basically indifferent to those numerous objects that swarm around us, and this is for reasons specific to a money economy: their impersonal origin and easy replaceability’. And, at the twentieth century’s close, the debate on design has matured (if not necessarily moved on?) evidenced in Hal Foster’s Design and Crime; and his investigation of the ‘political economy of design’. Foster provides a scenario where contemporary design is ‘part of a greater revenge of capitalism on postmodernism’.
Design practice and discourse - product, graphic, applied arts - has difficulty in raising its voice above the dominant and accusatory critical left – the tired rhetoric of semiotics would seem to be the only legitimised language to interrogate design.
This paper will look at some key texts in communication/media studies to search for a critical language that might legitimise design as a dynamic actor in the mediation between itself and audience. To allow design a voice outside of anti-consumerist discourse. The framework for the investigation will be violence and its dialogic relationship with the materiality of the object. In particularly I will look at the work on spectatorship by French sociologist Luc Boltanski, and his thesis of the ‘aesthetic topic’ in the construction of an active mediating audience.

Keywords: Design, Violence, Mediation

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 6, pp.83-88. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.112MB).

Colin Davies

Head of MA Programmes, School of Art and Design, University of Wolverhampton, London, UK

Colin Davies is Head of MA programmes at the School of Art and Design, University of Wolverhampton, UK, and is co-founder, with Monika Parrinder, of the design blog He has lectured in the UK and Europe on design and architecture including the Design Museum, London and the ExperimentaDesign 2006 - Bienal de Lisboa, Portugal. He is published in design journals including; ID Magazine (USA), Eye, The International Review of Graphic Design and Blueprint Magazine (UK). He is currently researching for a book to be titled: Design and Violence: from the Enlightenment to 9/11. A book on the design process co-authored with Monika Parrinder is to be published by Birkhauser Verlag: Summer 2009.


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