Call for papers - Design After Planning: Examining the Shift from Epistemology to Topology

17 November 2015

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Call for papers: Centre for the Study of Democracy and Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment joint workshop: 

Design After Planning: Examining the Shift from Epistemology to Topology 

10am-5.30pm, Friday 5 February 2016, University of Westminster, London

Confirmed keynote speakers: Filip de Boeck (KU Leuven) & Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester)

The question of how different types of ‘planning’ should deal with uncertainty has taken on fresh importance. On the one hand, existential threats such as climate change, overpopulation, and new forms of global conflict expand the temporal and spatial horizons of our sense of responsibility as never before. On the other, the world is constructed increasingly as emergent, complex and non-linear; the ‘wicked’ problems it throws up are not amenable to modernist, top-down solutions. The intelligence required to tackle contemporary problems is understood to be dispersed and enacted, rather than a pre-given object to be gathered by the state. In Mol’s (2002) formulation, epistemological questions (‘how can we be sure?’) are increasingly usurped by pragmatic ones (‘how can we live with doubt?’).

In this embrace of uncertainty, concerns over the limitations of representational ‘modelling’ are being dislodged by an ideal of unmediated, dynamic problem-resolution whereby the ‘topologies’ of complex reality continually reveal themselves. In practical terms, this has entailed a shift towards iterative processes of dispersed governance; policy makers no longer attempt to impose order on a chaotic outside, but rather attempt to ‘see’ through the emergent systems themselves. Thus, goals of international developmental aid are no longer determined from the centre so much as coproduced in specific locations with the aid of the internet of things and the citizen as sensor; top-down planning of the built environment has given way to localised, discursive decision-making alongside an embrace of informality; the residual modernism of sustainable development is increasingly inflected with ‘resilience’.

If the broad project here is to work with emerging, complex systems, rather than against or in spite of them, might it then be productive to conceptualise the role of governing and city-making in terms of ‘design’ rather than planning?  If so, is there value in retheorising design so as more explicitly to capture contemporary interactive logics of emergent causality and agency?  Or, alternatively, does linear planning have a newly important role to play? Might it function as a type of normative resistance to the ‘market logic’ with which these new forms of governance are perhaps aligned?

We plan to include three panels on: • disaster and risk design – examining the rise of topological approaches to international aid and disaster relief, digital humanitarianism, crowd-sourcing and citizens as sensors • designing with emergent urban systems – exploring the potential for iterative and decentred modes of governance and urban design to overcome the shortcomings of liberal-modernist planning • resilience versus sustainability – investigating the theoretical and practical purchase of resilience and sustainability in relation to the ‘topologies’ of complex reality, and the problematic theoretical interface between the two concepts.

Submitting abstracts: We invite papers relating to any of the panels above, which contribute to a theorisation of spatial planning and urban, national, or international governance as processes of design, as well as those which question this endeavour. Speakers from all academic disciplines are welcome to participate (and there will be no registration fee).

Please send your abstract (c.350 words) to: Isis Nunez Ferrera (i.nunez-ferrera@psi.org.uk), Tudor Vilcan (tudorvilcan@gmail.com), and Rob Cowley (robert.cowley@kcl.ac.uk) by 1 December 2015.


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