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PIT talk by Shaowen Bardzell, Indiana University’s School of Informatics , on Utopian Hermeneutics: Towards a Methodology to Support Emancipatory Design

Info about event


Monday 14 September 2015,  at 12:15 - 13:00


5335-395 Nygaard


Shaowen Bardzell

Associate Professor of Informatics at Indiana University

Visiting Associate Professor of Computer Science at Aarhus University


Can design contribute not just towards an incrementally better world, but to a radically better one? Can design alleviate suffering and increase human flourishing, rather than merely contribute to the false pleasures of consumerism? Such questions suggest the utopian nature of emancipatory design, which thereby inherits the problems of any utopianism: to construct actionable agendas, we must be able to imagine radically better social worlds and accompanying ways of life, but such imagining is difficult or even, if Frederic Jameson is right, impossible. Scholars in critical theory, feminist philosophy, and speculative sociology have been developing a notion of a utopian hermeneutic, that is, a method of interpretation that seeks to identify and reveal utopian images—however fragmentary or flawed—from social policy, philosophy, and the arts. What they have not done is engage design’s roles in such imaginings, and yet clearly design is central to reinforcing or disrupting the social status quo, contributing to sustainability (and its opposite), and supporting human flourishing.

In this presentation, I share my work developing a utopian hermeneutic methodology in the context of design, in hopes of teasing out glimpses of the utopian that could support other social design practices. I will develop this methodology through its application to the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo (TIFE), which used an international floral exhibition as a somewhat unlikely opportunity to articulate on an urban scale an aspirational vision of a new Taipei. In this aspirational vision, Taipei is presented as a global city and the capital of the world’s only democratic Chinese nation, Taiwan, rather than as a minor provincial capital in China’s shadow. Without denying its many problems, TIFE nonetheless offers glimpses of design’s ability to contribute to a good society, and I argue that these merit sustained critical attention.


Shaowen Bardzell is an Associate Professor of Informatics at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing and Visiting Associate Professor of Computer Science at Aarhus University. Bardzell’s research explores the contributions of design, feminism, and social science to support technology’s role in social change. Recent research foci have included criticality in design, care ethics and feminist utopian perspectives on interaction design, and culture and creative industries in Asia. She is the co-author of Humanistic HCI (Morgan Claypool, 2015) and co-editor of Critical Theory and Interaction Design (MIT Press, in press).