3 March 2016 -

The Research Travel and Conference Grant has enabled me to actively participate at the 2015 Annual DHS Conference How We Live, and How we Might Live: Design and the Spirit of Critical Utopianism’ on September 11-13 at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. I was awarded the grand to assist me in partial covering of travel costs from Europe to the USA. The financial assistance has helped me a great deal, particularly for the time being I am not affiliated with an academic institution or receiving an income on a regular basis. The participation at the Annual DHS Conference gave me the opportunity to present my research on design history from a critical perspective for a wide professional audience consisting of design history academics, PhD students, researches and professors from design-related fields. 

My conference paper Design and the Notion of Contemporary Heterotopia presented an original, interdisciplinary research, which joined the field of design history with political theory and philosophy. My research combined the historical method and hermeneutics in order to critically challenge the understanding of how design shapes our world. With the help of selected case studies, the paper explored some challenging and persisting issues between design profession and the notion of utopianism from a more theoretical perspective with forward-looking investigations into the professional, technological and social questions facing the discipline. I have examined different concerns with design beyond the activities of designers in times of crisis and called for reflective thinking on design and the notion of heterotopia in the present time. It was in The Order of Things: Archaeology of the Human Sciences, where French philosopher Michael Foucault, for the first time introduced the term heterotopia, just to be later thoroughly examined in his writings Of Other Spaces. Foucault argued there are very special sites/places in every society, which, contrary to imaginary concepts of utopia and its sinister counterpart - dystopia, are located in reality and have a general relation to the whole society in a very particular fashion. Those particular sites, different from all the sites they reflect and speak about, which function as a mirror of utopian ideas in every certain society, Foucault named - the heterotopia. 

Combining the comparative analysis and hermeneutic method I tried to show how design helps to create the concept of contemporary heterotopia. Societies nowadays abruptly open various notions of every-day heterotopias, functioning in a very complex and diverse ways, in which design occupies more than just an episodic role. Given the current situation of Europe and the persisting issues of the staggering numbers of people who have lost their homes and became refugees, I have argued that Foucault’s notion of heterotopia explains very well many persisting social and political issues designers experience on a daily basis. In my research on refugee crisis and the notion of heterotopia in Europe I have identified and contextualised six major categories that constitute the contemporary heterotopia of deviation in times of crisis, which  unfortunately remain largely unaddressed for different reasons. Design in these cases is often the cause of those problems and not the solution as we would want to. The media, both traditional and social, are saturated with images and news coverage on myriad of examples, where we can witness how little human lives are valued and how vested interests still pervade over the humanitarian issues. On the other hand day after day people from all over the world together with the inhabitants struggle, not only for better living conditions, but for something that sound so heartbreaking and unbelievable at the beginning of the 21st century - for nothing more but their bare lives. Having this in mind, I have suggested several approaches in how designers can become active agents, not only in solving the issues of heterotopias but also in recognizing the conditions that enable their existence.

The DHS Annual Conference was an amazing event where I had the opportunity to meet with my colleagues, exchange ideas and received important informations for my future research. My paper has raised a very interesting debate on relations between design and a human condition - a topic that in my opinion should appear more often on design conference agendas. The scholarship has enabled me to present a small part of my research on design and politics to a wider audience of design historians, which is particularly important now when I am not affiliated with any research institution.

Ksenija Berk


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