Arturo Escobar


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

Cover Interview of April 23, 2018

A close-up

I would recommend that readers potentially interested in the book start by looking at the Preface. Why? Because besides giving a straightforward idea about the book’s main argument, it also does so intuitively by situating the book within my own intellectual genealogy and social context; very importantly, the Preface also gives a good idea about the book’s stakes. There, I introduce the idea of “civilizational transitions” as the most capacious concept to convey the multi-headed crisis facing the world at present. As one of my close colleagues in Chapel Hill (Dorothy Holland) likes to say (just upon hearing me speak about the book – she hasn’t read it yet), the book sounds as if it is about redesigning the entire world. And in a way it is! Needless to say, these are not just my inflated claims, but also those of some of the design theorists on whom I lean; some of them talk even about “redesigning the human,” or, as I mentioned above, see their task as contributing to bringing about a new civilization altogether. Bold claims indeed. More importantly, as I make it abundantly clear in the book, similar arguments are being made by many social movement activists in the Global South (particularly, but not only, indigenous peoples and peasants), and increasingly in the North as well.

The more analytical readers might jump to pp. 19-20, where I summarize the book’s argument and contents in four short propositions. Those most interested in the emerging field of transition studies may do well to skim Chapter 5, which presents a range of transition frameworks that have been emerging with clarity and force in recent years, in both the Global North (e.g., degrowth, commoning, the Great Transition Initiative, transition to the Ecozoic Era, and Transition Towns) and the Global South (Buen Vivir, postdevelopment, and transitions to post-extractivism). It also provides a detailed analysis of two transition design frameworks: the Transition Design doctoral program at Carnegie Mellon University, and Ezio Manzini’s elaborate conceptualization of “design for social innovation.” This chapter argues for the significance of transition thinking for design studies. Finally, those interested in Latin America and in territorial struggles may glance at Chapter 6, which lays down the rudiments of an autonomous design framework, largely based on intellectual-activist debates taking place in Latin America at present. Autonomy is conceptualized by relying on Maturana and Varela’s notion of autopoiesis and on current Latin American debates on autonomy and the communal. The proposal is illustrated with two experiences involving autonomous and transition design exercises in Colombia’s southwest. I highlight these two chapters because they are possibly the two most original contributions of the book to design debates.