On agonism and design: dialogues between theory and practice

Willis, Max (2019) On agonism and design: dialogues between theory and practice. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

PDF (An Constructive Design Research that investigates agonism and its potential for ICT and Social Design) - Doctoral Thesis
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Design has the potential to disrupt the status quo, yet disruption inevitably introduces new conflicts. One of the challenges of Social Design is to navigate the social, political and material conflicts that define contemporary lives and find new ways to transform them into creative resources. In addressing that challenge this thesis investigates agonism, a multifaceted theory that explicates conflict and grounds the need for such an investigation in design activism. The political implications, practical considerations and design potentials of agonism are examined in detail, and three core principles of agonism are defined: Identities, Dialogues and Agonistic Space. These principles are elaborated through their relation to intersubjectivity as a fundamental aspect of human experience, its interactional role in identity formation and communication, and its influence on the production and performance of space. A Constructive Design Research methodology is employed that contributes to the understanding agonism through a series of research trajectories and interventions. Design strategies to enact agonism are proposed around game, play and interaction design: Identities can be investigated through Role-Playing, Dialogues can be initiated through Storytelling, and Agonistic Space can be manifested as a Third Place. These strategies are field tested to examine various communities and the conflicts within them. A game intervention Mind the Gap confronts the endemic problem of the gender gap in academic and professional communities of ICT and STEM. A research intervention takes agonistic perspectives to elucidate conflicts of European migration and participatory urban planning in a neighbourhood community in the U.K. A digital intervention applies agonism towards engaging a platform community that has no material form, in the online project of commonfare.net. These interventions experiment with creative inquiry, game and play as design speculations, sketching and constructing playful inerventions that engage participants in agonism, to enact challenges to the status quo and illuminate potential solutions to complex societal issues. The utility and outcomes of the principles and strategies are evaluated with a focus on emergent intersubjectivity through Dialogic Syntax and Critical Discourse Analyses of gameplay, narratives and design artifacts. The main contributions of this thesis are its shift from empathic perspectives to intersubjectivity in design research, and its operationalization of the theory of agonism for Social Design. Secondary contributions include the elaboration of game and play as design speculation that includes critical reflections on their real-world practices, and the artifact Mind the Gap which has evolved from prototype to a co-created, community driven experience that continues to engage people in meaningful dialogues that challenge the status quo of the gender gap.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Information and Communication Technology
PhD Cycle:31
Subjects:Area 01 - Scienze matematiche e informatiche > INF/01 INFORMATICA
Area 14 - Scienze politiche e sociali > SPS/01 FILOSOFIA POLITICA
Uncontrolled Keywords:Agonism, Agonistic Pluralism, Social Design, Human Computer Interaction, Game and Play, Intersubjectivity
Funders:TIM Semantics and Knowledge Innovation Lab, SKIL, PIENews, Horizon 2020 ref. 687922
Repository Staff approval on:16 Sep 2019 09:42

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