Politicising Public Engagement through Critical Design

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Loughborough University in London


Drawing on debates around performativity, this thesis examines why organisations have not yet embraced critical design as an approach to public engagement. The work is important because it responds to changing public expectations of engagement which are moving beyond communication toward the political. This thesis argues that critical design could play an important role during this transition by providing an approach to fostering greater political engagement between organisations and the public. However, while critical design research calls for performative design approaches that challenge dominant ways of being, there is a growing recognition that these attempts only perpetuate them. In response, this thesis seeks to propose a new design approach to performative critique which enables rather than limits the political potential of the public's engagement with organisations. Specifically, the study will examine how adopting the performative attribute of an ethic of care within critical design might enable genuine political engagement between organisations and the public. Participatory action research provides the methodological framework for the study, with the researcher following an iterative cycle of reflection and action to collaboratively explore how the adoption of an ethic of care within critical design might help politicise public engagement in three UK-based organisations. To ensure wider impact, a final provocation will provide an opportunity for new audiences to consider the broader implications of adopting an ethic of care within critical design. The output of the study will be a set of design principles that support the adoption of critical design within organisations, a series of case studies and artefacts that describe the application of these principles in practice, and a small festival showcasing critical design in public engagement. These outputs will be presented online, alongside a set of provocations to promote and inform future work on critical design research and practice.


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