Arturo Escobar


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

Cover Interview of April 23, 2018


My wishes with the regards to the book’s potential impact are both very modest and ambitious. They are ambitious in terms of the argument; as I stated above, the book’s goal – in tandem with related arguments by other design theorists – is to contribute to redesigning design. This task has two sides to it: the first is addressed to designers, in the hope that some of them will reexamine and reorient their practice, placing it at the service of transitions to the pluriverse. The second concerns scholars, activists and policy-makers in non-design fields; at this level, my hope is that this diverse group will take design seriously as a fundamental space of intervention that indelibly shapes – moreover, makes – the contemporary world, including creating us as particular kinds of human. Design is ubiquitous; anywhere we look, we see design busy at work, from our hand-held devices to cities, and from education and health to food and agriculture. Social theorists have not taken design seriously at this level; conversely, designers have gone about their task without sufficient critical awareness of the fundamental fact that what they do indelibly shapes the kinds of subjects we become, the ecologies we inhabit, what we enable or destroy – in other words, as design critic Anne-Marie Willies puts it, that design designs: we design the world and the world designs us back.

I am perfectly aware that the design profession, and the academy for that matter, will largely continue to be what they have been for the past century if not more: central political technologies of patriarchal capitalist modernity. It is in this sense that my goal is quite humble. To put it in the starkest possible terms, I believe that design and the academy are part of the forces of ontological occupation of people’s lives, experiences, and territories. I say this because of their cultural proximity and commitment to capitalist modernity. None of this will change radically overnight. That said, my hope is that with the emergence of critical design studies we might be able to convey persuasively the notion that design is a critical domain for thinking about life itself, and for constructing the world otherwise than it is, in an Earth-wise manner. In design we find a great potential for re-localizing the economy and many other daily activities; for re-communalizing social life, as a counter to the profoundly isolating individualism that is wreaking havoc on the planet and impoverishing ever more our cultural and social lives; and for engaging with others on the Liberation of Mother Earth, a concept proposed by the Nasa indigenous people from the Northern Cauca region in Colombia’s southwest as a principle for all progressive political strategies on Earth’s behalf. As I say somewhere towards the end of the book, what emerges out of these reflections is a notion of design as an open invitation for us all to become mindful and effective weavers of the mesh of life.