Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Swipe: Humanitarian Design or Neocolonialism?

Here is a great article from Fast Company about Western Designers trying to provide humanitarian design and ideals to other parts of the world.

An excerpt:

Young designers want to do humanitarian design globally. But now that the movement is gathering speed, we should take a moment to ask whether American and European designers are collaborating with the right partners, learning from the best local people, and being as sensitive as they might to the colonial legacies of these countries. Might Indian, Brazilian, and African designers have important design lessons to teach Western designers?

And finally, why are we doing humanitarian design only in Asia and Africa and not on Native American reservations or in rural areas of the U.S., where standards of education, water, and health match the very worst overseas?


So is it imperialism? The answer is yes, whether we like it or not. It is imperialism because there is a not-so-subtle imposition of an ideological stance that "design can save the world," a claim that really isn't all that robust in the first place. If design really wants to change the world, then design must figure out how to give these people real political power. Until then, it's some very expensive Band-Aids. These are not hammer-and-nail problems. They are political-influence problems. Ignore these questions at your peril. They persist, whether your recycled-materials playground is a success or not.

A pretty great article. I think the issue here of trying to provide your own design ideals and beliefs to others not only apply to humanitarian relief efforts but to everyday planning efforts as well. Whenever a planner from outside a community is trying to enforce new standards from a community they are not apart of they are going to face some push back no matter how well they know the neighborhood. The bottom line is you are affecting other people's money and property and will not have to deal with consequences of your actions even if your efforts prove to be a success.

Most importantly the definition of success is what also scares people in communities on the receiving end of new design, aid or planning. A planner's design maybe successful but successful to whom?

1 comment:

Kirk Mantay said...

The bottom line is that we are at about 6.5 billion people on earth. Our current food production and infrastructure will tap out at around 9 billion, which we will hit in the next 100 years - unless vast improvements in efficiency are made.

This means that some imperialism is going to happen. The world's inhabitants, from Americans to Sudanese, cannot expect to keep living the same type of life they are living. To encourage this change, designers and other folks are going to start implementing ideas.

Some are not going to work, others are not going to be popular. But if there are 11 billion people on earth and we start running out of food, the whole issue is superfluous.

And I haven't even touched on the pending Zombiepocalypse!