We are delighted to present this seminar series on ‘Collective Praxis as Designing Radicality’ hosted by the ‘Counter-Framing Design ‘project. 

The concepts we choose instruct how we consider, approach and conceive of the collective. The question of the multifarious ways in which individuals may or may not act in concert with others is a relevant and ongoing question in design theory concerned with processes of democratisation, self-determination and social transformation. Following Anderson, any framing of a collective, is a structural framing of agency, be it a community, public, commons, nation, or movement.  

Equally, recent work by Christopher Kelty (2018) conceives of ‘the participant’ within the collective as formed through ‘contributory autonomy’, whereby participation is a type of ephemeral, affective experience. This might be compared with Arturo Escobar’s (2017) autonomous design wherein communities (re)produce themselves, in the process creating new worlds (or recreating preserved and reimagined old worlds). This autonomy is dependent upon the interplay of communities with one another, as well as with other structures, systems, organisms and environments. Here communities as collectives aim not to change or contribute to the world, but rather to make room for many relational worlds – the design of a pluriverse.  

At the same time, there is a need to interrogate the manifold paradoxes and deficiencies of the work on this topic to-date. Illustratively, designers have been actively engaging in questions of collectives through making publics. Yet, the problematics of ‘the public’ have been interrogated by feminist theorists, amongst others, for its totalizing tendencies if not taken as the various and mutable construct that it is, subsequently proposing the ‘subaltern counterpublic’ (Fraser, 1990). Equally, critical and urgent questions of borders and nation states can be taken in contrast to the necessitation for the construction of a delimited collective, such as articulated by theorists of the commons.  

This seminar series will bring together four design theorists and practitioners who are engaging with radical thought and practice to seek to interrogate these questions and concerns within their work and their relevance for contemporary collective praxis.  

Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined Communities: Refelections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Escobar, A. (2017). Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Independence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the Public Sphere : A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy Published by : Duke University Press Stable URL : http://www.jstor.com/stable/466240 Democracy ’ Rethinking the Public Sphere : A Contr. Social Text, 26(25), 56–80.

Kelty, C. (2020). The Participant: A Century of Participation in Four Stories. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.


Seminar 1—Design (Research) as Radical Social Practice

Dr Oliver Vodeb 

25th November at 10am GMT


The realization of the importance to connect theory, research and philosophy with social movements has manifested in the streets of Paris in the 1960’ with the slogan “Mao, Marx, Marcuse” and it was clear that Situationist theory would not make much sense without its communization. But how to communize knowledge and design practice today? How can we think about what we can call “radical design” if a) design is predominantly professionalized knowledge production, if b) the academization of design faces a constant threat of the destruction of the “academic” within the neoliberal university and c) if the community, the communal seems to have the potential to generate a radical intimacy, as a particular  non–extractive relationality between people AND at the same time a special quality of closeness/proximity to the subject of designing and investigating (researching), crucial for facing key existential problems today.  These potentials will be explored through the lens of Memefest’s extradisciplinary methodology. The lecture is based on a chapter from the book Radical Intimacies, edited, written, and curated by Oliver Vodeb, forthcoming with Intellect Books and Memefest in 2022.  

Dr Oliver Vodeb is a Slovenian and Australian critical design theorist, creative practice researcher, student and educator. He mostly operates between the university, design practice and social movements and his approach is extra/intradisciplinary. He is senior lecturer at the RMIT School of Design in Melbourne, teaching in the Master of communication design. Oliver co-founded Memefest in 2002 and is the principal curator of the Memefest festival and facilitator of the Memefest international network. He has published extensively, has lectured internationally, and has designed and directed dozens of public campaigns and social interventions across the world. He’s latest book is Food Democracy, published by Intellect Books. He is currently working on a new book Radical Intimacies, also by Intellect Books. More info about Oliver can be found here

Seminar 2—Designing For/Designing Against

Dr Frederick Van Amstel

9th December at 1400pm GMT

Register for the online seminar here.

Most design theories and design methods are crafted to support the current hegemonies in society. While trying to sustain these hegemonies, designers eventually realize they are unsustainable, unfair, or dehumanizing. Among them, designers who develop a bit of critical consciousness rightly feel the need to shift from designing for to designing against hegemonies. More often than not, they immediately lose critical consciousness by countering hegemony through naiveté: by rejecting design theories and methods entirely. Unequipped, designing against stay at the safe side of speculating reactions without taking consequential measures. Guided by the Latin American tradition of critical thinking, the Laboratory of Design against Oppression (LADO) at UTFPR does not reject design theories and methods but redefines their purposes. In this lab, the decolonization of design epistemologies goes hand in hand with the hybridization of design methodologies. In this talk, selected projects from LADO and from the Design & Oppression network will be displayed to illustrate this point. Related work:
Van Amstel, Frederick; Batista e Silva, Sâmia; Serpa, Bibiana Oliveira; Mazzarotto, Marco; Carvalho, Ricardo Artur; Gonzatto; Rodrigo Freese. (in press). Insurgent design coalitions: the history of the Design & Oppression network. Proceedings of the II PIVOT 2021 Virtual Conference. Design Research Society. http://fredvanamstel.com/publications/insurgent-design-coalitions-the-history-of-the-design-oppression-network 
Van Amstel, Frederick M.C., and Rodrigo Freese Gonzatto. (2016) “Design Livre: designing locally, cannibalizing globally.” XRDS: Crossroads, The ACM Magazine for Students, 22(4), p.46-50. http://fredvanamstel.com/journal/design-livre-designing-locally-cannibalizing-globally 

Angelon, Rafaela and Van Amstel, Frederick M.C. (2021) Monster aesthetics as an expression of decolonizing the design body. Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education, 20(1), pp. 83-102(20). 

Dr. Frederick (Fred) van Amstel (he/him/his) is Assistant Professor of Service Design and Experience Design at the Industrial Design Academic Department (DADIN), Federal University of Technology – Paraná (UTFPR), Brazil. His PhD thesis, accepted by the University of Twente, maps the contradictions faced by architectural design and service design in contemporary practice. Instead of eliminating them, expansive design harnesses contradictions as a source of change. His most recent research deals with the contradiction of oppression and the possibility of designing for liberation. Among the many projects he developed to explore this very possibility, Corais Platform stands out as the best example so far. Created in 2011, it hosts more than 700 collaborative projects run by social movements, indigenous communities, art collectives, and popular educators associated with the Brazilian digital culture movement. In 2020, Frederick co-founded the Design & Oppression network and, in 2021, the Laboratory of Design against Oppression (LADO). 

Seminar 3—Prefigurative Politics as Events of Radical Materiality: Three Acts of Embodied Infrastructures

Dr Jilly Traganou

16th December at 1500pm GMT

Registration for the online seminar here.


In this talk, I will discuss research for my next book that looks at the role of space, design and materiality in prefigurative politics. I define prefigurative politics as a repertoire of sociotechnical action that presents a distinct modality of resistance: dissenting through making. Participants in occupied spaces, protest camps, and self-organized communities prefigure new politics through their collective and horizontally-structured creation of material forms, spaces and infrastructures that enact desired futures in the present (Boggs 1977; Breines 1981). The processes of materiality, in which participants in these movements are involved, include collective acts of maintenance and affective labor, in which both humans and things are deployed in precarious but dynamic relations. Central in these environments is a feminist materialist action, both because of women’s leading role in movements of prefiguration, and the anti-patriarchal principles embedded in their overall practices. During my talk, I will focus on the notion of “embodied infrastructures,” as sociotechnical assemblages of humans and things that support prefiguration.

Dr Jilly Traganou (Dipl. Arch. Eng., PhD) is an architect, Professor of Architecture and Urbanism at Parsons School of Design, The New School, in New York, and co-editor-in-chief of the journal Design and Culture. She is author of Designing the Olympics: Representation, Participation, Contestation (Routledge, 2016) and The Tokaido Road: Traveling and Representation in Edo and Meiji Japan (RoutledgeCurzon, 2004)—and editor of Design and Political Dissent (Routledge, 2020); and Travel, Space, Architecture, co-edited with Miodrag Mitrašinovic (Ashgate, 2009). Her current work focuses on the role of space, maintenance, and materiality in prefigurative politics. 

Seminar 4—Dissensus within Organisational Structures: Negotiating Radical Horizontalism

Dr Anaïs Parada

27th January at 1000am GMT

Registration for the online seminar here


To negotiate tensions between organisational discourses and practices on the ground, we are constructing design interventions that challenge binary understandings of horizontalism and verticalism. We instead rearticulate organizational structures as continuously reproduced and co-constructed processes, which do not fit neatly into hierarchical or peer to peer models. In so doing, we also discover an ebb and flow of alignment and dissensus between and within organisations, communities, and social justice fields. These ‘frontiers’, the spaces where people and institutions meet and/or conflict, are sites of potential radical change. As such, we employ participatory design to uncover where these frontiers are and how to make dissensus at these frontiers productive for substantial shifts in radical practice.

Dr Anaïs Parada is trained as a cultural anthropologist with an interdisciplinary focus on aesthetics as social justice, material culture- particularly fashion, boundaries of belonging and systems of value across economies at various scales. She completed a PhD at the University of South Carolina, looking at the significance of dress as a semiotic process that supported autonomy for the Puruhá community in Ecuador. She has since moved towards critique of her previous work, including the academic de-fanging of decolonization, and asks how the intersection of design and anthropology can constitute co-conspiratorial work for emerging social justice movements. She is a research associate on the AHRC funded project, Counter-Framing Design, invested in developing new ways of forming communities by experimenting with creative organising principles, while coming to grips with necessary and productive dissensus that exists across communities through frames.