Ahmed Ansari on Decolonizing Design

“To practice decolonial design means thinking beyond design as it exists today: what can design be other than what it is now, given that its very disciplinary inception in the twentieth century went hand in hand with the development of our modern hyper-industrial complexes and their corresponding societies of discipline and control?”

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I wonder if post colonial/neoliberal design would be extremely personal, and less influenced by fads.

Imagine walking into someone’s home, for example, and knowing even more about them than we do now. If we worried less about conforming and felt free to express ourselves.

Affirming who we are at a deep level, and our environment could be beautiful.

I suppose a lot would turn on who was walking into whose house, if you know what I mean. I take Ahmed’s point to be that design as a field owes a lot even now to the persistence of colonial power relations, through which certain countries saw fit to walk into, and completely remake, the homes of others elsewhere. How does design inherit such power relations, and what would it take to put such practices on a less imperial footing?

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My hope would be that in a post colonial/neoliberal society only those invited would walk into anyone’s house, that we’d all be housed and have the autonomy and personal authority to explore design on our own terms.

I was attempting to picture what that would look like. And I see one possibility as highly personalized, relying less on experts and fashion trends and more on our unique histories, personalities, cultures, etc. Also life and nature affirming, and respectful of and interested in different ways of expressing ourselves.

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I was disappointed to miss this live and participate in the convo. It’s great that it’s archived here. A really intellgent, expansive and inspiring talk, and I liked how we got this genealogy of contemporary design justice movements. You have to love when designers are looking to anthropologists for good ideas (and vice versa).

Let me point something out that gave me pause, though:

We should aim to have many diverse forms of design practice in the world – each specific to its region and its biosphere, each rooted in the cosmologies and mythos of its culture, each concerned with defining its own aims and identifying and addressing its own problems and opportunities. We should aim to cultivate many different ways of thinking, being, and designing, derived from different artifices and worldviews, aimed at addressing many different needs and desires.

Like Anand, this really caught my eye. But I’m trying to think what the cosmology and mythos of ‘my’ culture is and I honestly have no idea. Unless maybe it’s the culture of North American academia (in which case there is plenty of cosmology and myth).

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I appreciate this vision very much. I think there may be much to gain from articulating home and habitat as fundamental rights, for humans and non-human beings alike, and to seeing what commitments and possibilities might then ensue.

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I hear you on this question and I wonder how Ahmed Ansari might respond (maybe we can catch him on the Commons channel with this specific problem in mind). I also wonder whether what you observe of academic culture (btw, yes, ha!) would be a problem for the argument. There is a bioregional heritage here, sure, and the legacies of a vision of place and culture that has deep anthropological roots, not to mention a basic ambition to work against a design imperialism. But what if cultures were far more plural and variegated as you rightly suggest? I think it’d still be important to see what design practices could arise from those disparate traditions and circumstances. That in going to South Asia, for example, one doesn’t go to a nationalist version of Indian tradition, but instead to specific and located cultural resources of many kinds.


This exchange prompted me to look up Baltimore’s ecoregion: the southeastern plains and specifically the Chesapeake Rolling Coastal Plain. Seems like a good start!