Political Economies of Design Activism and the Public Sector

Guy Julier


In recent years design activism has emerged in alliance with a number of global political issues including responses to Peak Oil, climate change, food shortages, social justice, the digital divide, demographic change, military conflict, sexual equality and orientation, financialisation and global economic recession.


What, then, is the notion of ‘value’ for the activist designer in such circumstances? How does the designer actually make a living? What other forms of value is the designer conspiring with? How do the economics of design activism lead to a different kind of practice in the context of a reducing public sector?


This article considers such questions through two lenses. One is the macro political economy shifts in public sector processes. The other draws on the micro experience of having been involved in an experimental inner-city, urban regeneration project as a design practitioner. Rather than make this latter practical and empirical work a core case study, around which general principles are generated, I draw from it as an example in a more speculative and suggestive way.


design activism; big society; public sector; political economy

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