| A New Design Philosophy: An Introduction to Defuturing
Book by; University of New South Wales Press, 1999
The claim of the title of this book immediately generates a question: What is a new design philosophy? Briefly, the direct answer is: a philosophy that delivers a new foundation of thought and practice. This philosophy is here to be discovered -- it is not formulated as a philosophical system, although it does draw heavily on the ontological tradition and demonstrates an ontological theory of the agency of design. The motive for doing this is not to complement existing design thinking but rather to confront and hopefully displace it. Indeed, the text is intended to touch a chord with the existing design community while also reaching people for whom design has not so far been an object of serious concern or study
What is written here is aimed at creating a new understanding and useful knowledge. It will also strive, without idealist and utopian selfdeception, to create reactions, altered perceptions, and offer a confrontation with negatives that engender a resolution to act. The book has its genesis in series of public lectures at the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, of the University of Technology in Sydney. More substantially, in common with the thinking of many to whom it owes a debt, it arrives from living with, and working on, a particular problem for a very long time. The problem it confronts always expresses itself in terms of a question that continually changes, but ever remains the same, a question that gets constantly clearer but still stays ill defined:
How is it possible to gain that ability to act to sustain what needs to be sustained in conditions that devalue and negate that with sustaining capability for the sake of short term gains and immediate gratification? Living this question has meant working in and on design and technology; studying culture and analysing cultural technologies, like television; politicising that which is not normally deemed as part of the political sphere; reading philosophy; teaching; creating organisations; writing books, and more. The journey towards the question has been long, and a good deal of baggage has been accumulated: yet one ever remains at the beginning.
The implication of accepting this challenge is that finding an answer becomes an exploration and act of labour, rather than being the product of a sudden moment of insight or protracted contemplation. The answer thus has to be made and demonstrated, rather than just reasoned and espoused. Such a task demands conceptual tools, critically reflective thought, design, construction, testing and remaking. One of the major elements of this process is being able to adequately define the problem. Explicitly, the ability to sustain cannot be gained without problems of unsustainability being defined, fully understood and appropriately dealt with. Defuturing is introduced into this critical setting to precisely provide the kind of conceptual tool needed to define the unsustainable, and identify how it takes the future away. As a sensibility, carried by a particular mode of reading, it directs our attention to how the unsustainable is historically constituted and how it functions.
Defuturing is a new naming, it is not of the mindset of conventional thought, and neither is it a fellow traveller with either environmentalism's biocentrism or ecological design's technocentricity. Defuturing delivers another agenda of thinking, making and living which recognises that the future is not a vast void, but a time and place constituted by directional forces of design, set in train in the past and the present, and which flow into the future. This reveals that the historical is as much before us as it is to our rear. As will be shown, to introduce defuturing necessitates a rethinking of 'sustainability' as the ability to sustain. The shift of understanding that this produces is to be signalled by the word 'sustain-ability'. The use of the term is not merely a gesture, for it is able to be given significantly new connotations, uses and inflections. Defuturing, as will be shown in the coming pages, is an idea of a form of negation that assists in defining, confronting and disclosing the temporality of unsustainability. Learning to think, hear and feel how the unsustainable defutures effectively installs a literacy, as a thinking, seeing and touching, that turns defuturing into a tool able to help create sustain-ability.
Involvement in the formation in 1991 and subsequent work of the Sydney based EcoDesign Foundation has been significant as a place of such learning. At its simplest, sustain-ability and defuturing are works in progress, time markers, that come out of the indivisible relations between: study; labouring to advance both material and immaterial means with the ability to sustain that which needs to be sustained; reflections on failures; and thinking in practice. They are not abstractions offered up for use but the used offered up for appropriation via abstraction...