Welcome!

Designing Economic Cultures is a research project that sets out to investigate the relationship between socio-economic precarity and the production of socially and politically engaged design projects.

The fundamental question the project poses is:
how can designers, who through their work want to question and challenge the prevalent economic system, gain a satisfying degree of social and economic security without having to submit themselves to the commercial pressures of the market?  Read more ›

Construction site for non-affirmative practice

Constructive Dismantling

My Castle Is Your Castle

about

Designing Economic Cultures is a research project by design duo Brave New Alps that sets out to investigate the relationship between socio-economic precarity and the production of socially and politically engaged design projects.

The fundamental question that the project poses at its outset is: how can designers, who through their work want to question and challenge the prevalent economic system, gain a satisfying degree of social and economic security without having to submit themselves to the commercial pressures of the market?

In other words, how can designers, who have a critically engaged practice, keep on developing this practice without selling themselves off or being crushed by the market?

Designing Economic Cultures is an attempt to articulate, develop and share a wide range of tactics and structures that allow designers to produce work that contributes to the development of a more autonomous, democratic and heterogeneous society.

The project is broadly structured in four parts:
Firstly, there is a whole part of theoretical research on neoliberal economy and on a selection of theories and thinkers who conceptualise the possibility of rupture with the capitalist logic. Secondly, there is a whole part dedicated to conducting interviews with designers and other practitioners who manage to carry on a sustainable critically engaged practice with the help of a variety of support structures. Thirdly, we are experimenting in first person with different kinds of alternative economic and organisational models with the idea of bringing back into praxis the theoretical research and the findings and ideas that come from the interviews and conversations we are having. Fourthly, a series of seminars and workshops for students about design and precarity at Goldsmiths College.

The theoretical, the dialogic and the practical are tightly connected in this project and one fuels and pushes the other two.

The core questions of Designing Economic Cultures are:

How can designers avoid the conventional choice between either financial stability or critically engaged work?

Which work settings may positively affect designers’ abilities to address contested social, political and environmental issues?

What alternative economic values and strategies can be adopted by designers?

What can critically engaged designers learn from the experiences of self-organised citizens and workers in other fields?

The website
This website serves as a platform to collect and publish the material and findings that accumulate through the research: interviews, seminars, workshops, economic and social experiments, resources and more. Its aim is to inform, connect and support designers and design students who want to imagine a way of practising that differs from the currently prevailing individualistic and market-driven structures.

Other
The project is based in the Design Department at Goldsmiths College in London and is made possible through a Ph.D fellowship in Design that has been awarded to Bianca Elzenbaumer for a period of three years (2011-2013).

The research project has been concluded in February 2014. We are now working on the dissemination of the research outcomes.

One of the channels for dissemination we are working on (together with Caterina Giuliani) is Precariaty Pilot, an assemblage of tools, workshops and texts that aims at involving design students, recent graduates and design institutions in taking inventive and collective action against precarisation.

Acknowledgments

The development of this thesis has been made possible by a multifaceted economy of support:

We would like to thank the Design Department and the Research Office at Goldsmiths, University of London, for the fellowship that made it possible for Bianca to focus on this research for three years.

We would also like to thank the cultural institutions whose support allowed for the development of the inhabitations that propelled this research: MUSEION in Bozen/ Bolzano for the MUSEION Art Prize that made it possible to develop My castle is your castle at A-I-R Laboratory in Warsaw; the Office for German Culture of the Autonomous Province of South Tyrol and Careof DOCVA, which supported the development of the Cantiere per pratiche non-affermative in Milan; to GAI – Associazione per il Circuito dei Giovani Artisti Italiani and Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali that supported the research on the commons within Campus in Camps in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Further sincerest thanks go to the people within the various institutions that hosted the inhabitations of this research. We would like to thank Ika Sienkiewicz-Nowacka, Marianna Dobkowska, Anna Ptak and Agnieszka Sosnowska at the A-I-R Laboratory at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, Chiara Agnello, Marta Bianchi and Mario Gorni of Careof DOCVA at the Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan and Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal at Campus in Camps. The continued efforts to push the limits of your institutions were crucial in supporting this research.

Furthermore, we would like to thank the people with whom we shared various paths of this research and together with whom exciting fields of possibility have opened up:
Thank you Caterina Giuliani, Giovanna Zanghellini, Stefano Capodieci, Riccardo Berrone, Luca Coppola, Federico Bovara, Isacco Chiaf, Elisabetta Calabritto and Francesca Coluzzi of the Cantiere per pratiche non-affermative. I value deeply the friendship and debates that have taken place in the context of our “becoming collective.” Thank you for bringing Italy back on the map of possibilities.
Thank you Paolo Plotegher, James Holland, Orsalia Dimitriou, Caterina Giuliani (again), Sharon Borthwick, Gaja Meznaric-Osole, Manuel Ramos, “Sanford” James, Rosanna Thompson, Kasparas Pocius, Alice Mchugh, Laurence Dodd and all the other New Cross Commoners. Exploring the commons and practices of commoning with you gave some rationale to living in London beyond the contract-bound necessities of this thesis.

Thank you to the many people who contributed with their knowledges and experiences to this research in conversations, seminars and workshops. Thank you for sharing your methods of organising, your difficulties, tricks and tactics, your anxieties, desires and joys. Our engagement with you gave this research a context of practice in which to exist. We especially would like to thank Conway + Young, Hervé Baron, Bridget Conor, Tomek Sikora and Kate Rich, all of whom I got to know through this research and whose generosity has, on numerous occasions, supported this research intellectually, materially and affectively.

Bianca’s deepest gratitude goes to her supervisor Jennifer Gabrys, whose support on every level during the past three years has been enormous, and whose acute comments on the work have been hugely influential. Further gratitude goes to her second supervisor Bill Gaver, who always knew to challenge the details of my collaborative practices. Bianca also would like to thank the postgraduate research group of her department – especially Alex Wilkie (who coordinates the group), Barbara Alves, Alison Thomson, Maria Portugal and Danah Abdulla, who despite all odds kept on constructing a supportive research environment.

We would also like to thank Polly Hunter for always being able to nudge at our English until it fits.