For and Against Change


For and Against Change: Temporalities of Disruption in the Expanded Field of Design

Small Group Project 2022-23

Originally a key handmaiden of capitalist growth (Papanek, 2006; Julier, 2017), the field of design has long sought to expand its remit beyond that of commerce. Indeed, designers have increasingly been claiming more ambitious roles in imagining and enacting social arrangements alternative to those that design traditionally helped to materialise (Manzini, 2015; Escobar, 2018; Resnick, 2019; Elzembaumer, 2021). Yet, the drive for design-led change risks becoming overly homogenised, as if the range of different approaches were all gesturing in a similar direction. That direction is a conveniently vague or perhaps too capacious a notion of designing for change.
However, at a moment when radical action seems increasingly necessary in the face of ecological and social collapse, tinkering with the carcass of an inherently unsustainable global system is proving disastrous. It is of utmost importance to lift this veil of ambiguity and reflect on what exactly is the nature and temporality of the change being pursued by these socially- and politically-engaged design practices. Moreover, when capitalism has itself thrived on constant innovation and creative disruption, does insisting on an agenda of change not produce a self-defeating fetishisation of change for the sake of change? In other words, could it be that the most radical move for designers is actually preventing change, when this is all too often injuriously imposed?
Thinking critically through these tensions, this project seeks to interrogate, from a designerly angle, a constellation of tactics and strategies that are animated by a sense of urgency. We wish to illuminate the part that design could or already does play in direct action practices such as targeted sabotage and socio-ecological prefiguration. The project will do so by combining desk-based research, interviews with key actors and scholars, and collaborative workshops.

Contacting Fellows

If you would like to contact any of our Fellows to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at