Diverging Utopias. My Presentation at USS2015

This is a presentation of my research I gave at the Utopian Studies Society conference in Newcastle (June 2015)

Abstract

The way we live is designed by the material world that we designed: a world we were born into and which is the only one we know (Fry 2008). However, it is now clear that in order to tackle unprecedented challenges, that very world and our interactions with it need to be questioned and radically redesigned, particularly in cities, where most of us now live.

Utopian thinking in a time when urgent action is needed might seem indulgent, but I argue it is an effective way to explore new optimistic possibilities for our daily life (and go beyond what we are familiar with), generate ideas, and most importantly map values and priorities. In design, this is known as a divergent step of the process, in which we create choices; it sets the scene for subsequent convergent moments, in which choices are made. A key aspect of divergence is that disagreements and contradictions are allowed and brave ideas are encouraged. As a designer, I am interested in creating platforms enabling this involvement in envisioning divergent utopias. Some of the key issues I am exploring in my research include: what are the conditions that need to be in place, and how much should we design? Who are the possible actors in this process? How best to capture the conversations in order for these utopias to become generative tools?

In this presentation I will show some examples of creative conversations in which participants reflect on the future by envisioning imaginary cities and communities. In describing each example I will unpick the processes and techniques that are used and what they can afford.

Finally, I will outline how I am applying this approach and some of the principles described in the examples to ongoing activities of design research and practice.

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