Rachel Clarke

Design Researcher - Northumbria School of Design

Decolonising in, by and through design

Theories and practices of decolonisation within interaction design are increasingly gaining traction in response to troubling histories of oppression, violence and inequity. This interest indicates a desire for social change in our contemporary and historical frames of reference and a reorientation towards an ethics of design practice. In this presentation I reflect on early collaborative design work with Bedouin activists in Palestine challenging settler colonialism. Through this I propose potential variables that decolonisation practices take ‘in’, ‘by’ and ‘through’ design. Decolonisation in design focuses on changing the limited Eurocentric frames of reference available for design researchers and practitioners often perpetuated by higher education academies. Decolonisation by design repurposes practices of creative collaboration as a catalyst for changing organisations and disciplines through bringing to the fore alternative ontologies and systems of knowledge. Decolonisation through design attempts to negotiate between both, questioning the hegemonic and colonial histories of design while also attempting to catalyse change beyond research. While consciously navigating these orientations could prove fruitful in highlighting what designers are seeking to change through decolonising theories and practices, I also build on prior discourse within indigenous education to highlight the discomfort of this political practice through a commitment to the ‘ethics of incommensurability’. I argue that this is valuable to clearly delineate from decolonisation as metaphor (Tuck and Yang 2012) or appropriated neo-liberal token gesture and term (Schultz et al. 2018) and what this could mean for HCI.

About the speaker:

Rachel is an interdisciplinary design researcher in the School of Design and Centre for International Development at Northumbria University, UK. She focuses on the politics of participatory and co-design practice for cross-cultural development of digital technology. She completed her PhD at Culture Lab, Newcastle University on long-term interaction design with international women’s organisations in the UK. As a post-doctoral researcher she has managed cross-disciplinary teams designing for alternative grass-roots approaches for envisioning future ‘Smart Cities’, including the creation of critical kits for immigrant women’s textile heritage, women’s urban cycling and mobility, and resources to support community action on poverty and trust with the Poverty Truth Commission and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. She is currently a Global Challenges Research Fellow and Co-investigator on the British Academy funded project ‘ISSRAR: Youth Agency for Sustainable Development’ and EPSRC funded ‘Cities of Roots: Indigenous knowledge and digital preservation network’ collaborating with geographers, development practitioners and young people documenting cultural heritage in response to occupation in Palestine and marginalised indigenous communities in Egypt.

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