Adversarial Design

By Carl DiSalvo

A multidisciplinary critical work which “examines the ways that technology design can provoke and engage the political.” Given the increasing power and transformative potential of technology, this sounds like an important perspective.

Disalvo looks at projects in art and design, engineering and computer science, even agitprop and consumer products — the book is filled with diverse and compelling examples. See: “Feral Robotic Dogs”, “Agonistics, a Language Game”, and “Million Dollar Blocks” — to take just a few from Chapter 1!

It’s a short, academic text, part of a series called “Design Thinking, Design Theory” which takes it as a larger goal to confront “ten challenges” which complicate design practice.

The thrust seems to be, basically, that all design is political and that it’s important we appreciate that fact deeply. It’s about not just political design, but the power of design to be a political practice, which seems to be a more active alignment.

One interesting thing I encountered here is the concept of “agonism”. A simple yet cryptic definition offered is that “agonism is a condition of forever looping contestation.” Another is that agonism is “a political theory that emphasizes contention as foundation to democracy.” It seems conceptually similar to the titular “adversarial” — getting at something important about the generative potential of conflict.

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