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Workshop: Power, politics and praxis: reimagining design education (co-presented with Patricio Davila)

  • School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design 4100 Keele St Toronto, ON, M3J 1P1 Canada (map)


Design can have good intentions, but the process of designing can be harmful itself. For instance, viewing an issue as a design problem, thinking about communities as stakeholders or clients, or desiring an aesthetic output often clashes with the needs and realities of non-designers or the people with whom we create. Design education can and often works in similar ways. As educators, we are faced with the task of unpacking what design education can and should do—are we meant to teach our students how to work under capitalism? Or, to criticality re-imagine it? In other words—to survive within a harmful system, or to demolish it all together?

As we lead these conversations, we often forget to situate ourselves from within, or look critically at the role our institutions play in the formation of design. We are having to work within schools-as-businesses, often as precarious workers (or, conversely, as comfortable tenured staff!). We are meant to assign marks within bell curves that are informed by capitalism, and we are meant to pick winners and losers for future success (as we define it). 


If critical design is meant to turn a critical eye on the practice of design itself, how can we apply this kind of thinking to design education? How can we challenge a system that benefits us from within it?

This workshop will ask the following questions:

Overcoming Barriers

What are some of the systemic barriers implicit in the academic industrial complex and how do they play out in the makeup of our faculties and departments? How does this limit our capacity for criticality and encourage complacency? This leads to us ask: how can we support one another as educators?

Reworking Power in the Classroom

How are these same barriers reinforced and replicated in the classroom both through school policies and through interpersonal dynamics? And therefore, how can we undermine school policies and create safer spaces in the classroom? How can we contribute to a culture of transparency and accountability and re-imagine power in the classroom?

Addressing Conditions of Work

How does the political economy of academic labour impact our capacity to deliver the kind of education we want? In order to address this we need to ask, how can we build solidarity and advocate for labour practices that allow us to do our jobs? How can we work and organize with students to do this?