Arturo Escobar


On his book Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds

Cover Interview of April 22, 2018

In a nutshell

Designs for the Pluriverse is, succinctly stated, about the potential for redesigning design and, in so doing, contribute to redesigning the world. Why? To me, the answer is simple: because we are literally destroying the world at an alarming rate, and I am not just talking about the disappearance of species and the manifold and increasingly destructive effects of climate change. I am also talking about the disruption of basic human sociality, the breakdown of social relations, the proliferation of wars and violence, massive displacement of peoples and nonhumans, abhorrent inequality, and the difficulty many young people face today in crafting lives of meaning for themselves. So much suffering and devastation is becoming unbearable for those who are genuinely attentive to the Earth and to the fate of their fellow humans. The book argues that design is central to the current crisis and that it may be a crucial factor in confronting such a crisis imaginatively and effectively. The book is a plea for us all to look deeply into the world around us so that we perceive anew the devastation that surrounds us, near and far, reaching out to our innermost selves for the strength to face it with utmost care, courage, and hope. This is why the book is dedicated to exemplary figures of struggle for a better, and different, world.

Let me now present a more analytical description of the book. Designs for the Pluriverse offers a novel design vision, based on a reorientation of design from its largely functionalist and commercially-driven applications within globalized capitalist societies towards a view of design in tune with the radical interdependence of all life. The book’s approach is ontological, which simply means that, in designing tools, objects, and institutions, we are designing ways of being. The argument stems from two sources: trends in critical design studies emphasizing participatory, collaborative, situated, and socially and ecologically responsible design; and cultural-political mobilizations by social movements, particularly but not only in the Global South, which are responding to the crisis on the basis of deeply relational conceptions of life, such as those found among Latin American Afrodescendant, peasant, and indigenous groups engaged in the defense of their territories against extractive operations conducted in the name of so-called development. Designs for the Pluriverse brings to the fore the ecological, social, and cultural – in the last instance, civilizational – transitions called forth in order to address the interrelated crises of climate, energy, poverty, inequality, and meaning. It adumbrates a post-patriarchal and post-capitalist pluriverse (defined as a world where many worlds fit, contrary to the current model of a single, market-driven globalized civilization), beyond the supremacy of the modern patriarchal capitalist ontologies of separation, domination, and control. The book provides an in-depth analysis of the most farsighted proposals within the design profession, such as design for social innovation and transition design, and develops a framework for a design praxis intended to strengthen the communal basis of life from the perspective of territorial struggles for autonomy.