MDes Open Project: New Figures of Exodus (Histories and Philosophies of the Designed Present)

As the politics of extraction, exploitation, circulation, and adaptation cast an increasingly large shadow across the design disciplines, this project centers on an historical-philosophical study of the innumerable ways in which design is bound up with the organization and administration of what the historian of science Georges Canguilhem called “the living and its milieu.” Today, our milieu is comprised of dense entanglements of the organic and the inorganic, newly and increasingly migratory in their geographic (and geopolitical)  identity—centripetal agglomerations whose biophysical composition can often be scientifically determined, but whose cultural realities are resistant to the most basic categories of modern thought: natural or cultural (“artificial”); subject or object; human or nonhuman; universal or particular; global or local; interior or exterior; individual or collective; image or experience. All such distinctions evaporate, not only under the weight of novel or modern techniques, but more so because such categories were all too pure all along. Describing and historicizing these entanglements thus requires the development of an inventive philosophical framework, capable of encircling and articulating all those “mass phenomena” that scatter themselves, thick and mundane, across the surface of the earth. Such descriptions form the preconditions for any future politics.

Compounding this theoretical opacity is the fact that the spatial management of material processes at every scale now takes place exclusively within the domain of electronic media. Whether in the form of environmental software, logistical-supply protocols, or socialized images, the living-milieu today is thoroughly and decisively computational. These “real time” systems contain within their own technical structure a specific conception of the relationship between past, present, and future, and can only be grasped against the background of a technical theory of “mediated matter”—one which patiently and systematically dissolves any imagined divisions between representing and intervening.

What does it really mean to describe something as “anthropogenic?” Focusing broadly on the material organization and governance of space within economies, infrastructures, and political systems, this project aims to deploy a diverse set of theoretical and representational methodologies—cartographic, videographic, ethnographic— alongside more orthodox textual scholarship (theoretical and historiographic), in diverse global contexts, grounding analysis in the careful examination of concrete historical situations. In doing so, the project also aims to ask, at a more general, methodological register: what kinds of relationships might history, theory, and philosophy entertain within the design disciplines in the present, specifically within the context of emergent media practices.

Possible topics of study include (among many others): historical-theoretical analyses of specific material processes and their sociocultural realities; the historical and contemporary relationships between various forms of algorithmic management and “computational capitalism,” especially as applied to material and labor processes in design and construction; the rapid intensification of “environmental migrations,” whose socio-ecological and even biophysical specificities escape conventional political frameworks; emerging microeconomies of attention and distraction; histories and theories of environmental automation, and their effects on work and leisure; material histories of designed objects and places; mediatechnical accounts of individuation and identity; etc..