South Designs

For Planetary Futures | 2022–2024

Laura Nkula-Wenz, Kenny Cupers

How does the South design planetary futures? What do design responses to climate change look like when they are grounded in the aspirations and struggles of those most affected? How does design grapple with radical ecological interdependence in conditions of enduring injustice, everyday uncertainty, and rapid urban change? As part of the Governing through Design research collective funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, South Designs sponsors six interdisciplinary projects that address these questions through creative, collaborative, and speculative practice.

The climate crisis is only the latest manifestation of a longstanding history of planetary injustice. While the global North has historically produced and, together with China, continues to produce the bulk of emissions that have caused climate change, its consequences are felt disproportionality by vulnerable subjects and ecologies in the Global South. Current sustainability agendas are shaped by the interests of wealthy and polluting countries, rather than the world’s human and other-than-human majority. Addressing the global ecological crisis requires overcoming planetary modes of colonial extraction and asymmetric industrialisation, and the resulting global inequities.

Fuelled by the global climate crisis, design solutions have increasingly gathered around a call to build and strengthen sustainable and resilient systems. Politicians, planners, designers, development agencies, and community organizations invest hope in design as they aim to foster environments and subjects that can effectively respond to new levels of risk and uncertainty. Critics, however, have noted that adopting resilience as an end goal may entrench rather than undo political-economic systems of violence and marginalization.

The Global South designs, obviously. It does so relentlessly and often with urgency. These majority-world projects and practices, however, are routinely overshadowed, co-opted, or suppressed by institutions that govern in the name of resilience, sustainability, or development.

South Designs starts from the premise that to carry through the promise of design against catastrophe, the South remains indispensable—not as a geographical location, but as an ethos of engagement. The project asks what resilience means when it is mobilized from the South, and how design can work for living landscapes and autonomous communities to foster global justice. Considering the colonial relations to which both “design” and the “global South” are tied, this prompt invites a fundamental questioning of design and points to a world beyond inherited spatial and epistemic divides.

Please join our 2023-2024 Online Lecture series 'South Designs for Planetary Futures" here:

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