Ramia Mazé (2013) ‘Design Practices and the Micropolitics of Sustainability’, in Proceedings of Architecture in Effect (Umeå, Sweden, Feb).

"Sustainable development involves multiple discourses and practices at multiple levels in society, in which there are competing and conflicting formulations of what constitutes ‘sustainability.’ Sustainability involves struggles around definitions and priorities, among those maintaining or gaining influence, struggles set within a pluricentric society in which interests are often in competition at a time of rapid globalization, conflicts over diminishing resources, and rising risk factors. These struggles trickle down into policies, regulations, taxes – and designs – which embody particular discourses, ideals and priorities, implying profound changes to how we live and how we live together. Sustainable development, on a variety of levels, is and essentially, a matter of the political.

Design is increasingly taking on roles in sustainable development – and, thus, in its politics. At the macropolitical level, design may be commissioned for the UN Environment Program, a Green Party, or grassroots political action; by companies implementing corporate social responsibility, product developers applying environmental certification standards, or cities implementing Rio Local Agenda programs. Micropolitical roles of design, the focus here, involve instituting discourses and practices of sustainability deeply in the everyday life of consumers and citizens. Embedded in the intimate spaces and embodied routines of everyday life, design mediates access to and control over resources, and it shapes how people identify and comply with particular ideals and ways of living.

Here, I evoke two general areas in which the design role is growing – ‘sustainable consumption’ and ‘sustainable communities’. In these roles, design is engaged in mediating how and by whom resources are accessed and controlled, and which or whose interests are made visible in sustainable development. In reducing domestic energy consumption and steering sustainable processes in communities, profound changes to the social organization of everyday life are at stake. Just as sustainable development is a political matter, so is design." (abstract)

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/ Projects / Forms of Sustainability