Written by Ezio Manzini, DESIS Network president

Are there, or are there potentially, social innovations motivated by environmental concerns (or which integrate traditional social motivations with clear and explicit environmental motivations)? If so, what does design do, or what could design do, to promote and support the search for these eco-social innovations? And, to do so, should it change its culture?

To start a reflection on these issues, a first step taken by DESIS was to start a conversation on them. And, since September 2019, a series of interventions called DESIS Conversation 2020 has been proposed on the DESIS website.

A second step in this same direction is the launch of a new Philosophy Talk thread named: “Designing as politics of nature”, the meaning of which is to give these reflections a deeper cultural and philosophical background. The kick-off of this new series will take place on February 21, 2020 in Milan, as part of the activities of the PhD program in Design of the Milan Polytechnic.

The goal of this Philosophy Talk, and of those that will follow, is to create a bridge between the practical experiences of design for eco-social innovation observed so far and a dynamic interweaving of on-going discussions, whose main keywords are “Anthropocene”, “Post-anthropocentrism”, “Terrestrial” and, precisely, “Design”.

The Anthropocene is the geological era of the Earth in which human activities produce transformations on a planetary scale. And it is also the one in which the terrestrial ecosystem reacts to human action by changing itself in an evident way. That is, such as to create the ecological (and therefore climatic and social) state of emergency in which we find ourselves today. Therefore, in the Anthropocene, the future of the Earth, and with it that of us human beings, is also a matter of design choices. And behind them, of design culture.

To tackle these issues, Bruno Latour’s recent reflection is proposed as a starting point (B. Latour, Down to Earth. Politics in the New Climate Regime, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2018). In particular, the focus is on the need to abandon the idea of progress intended as a shift on the axis of modernization, which goes from the Local to the Global. And to recognize the emergence of a third pole to move towards. An attractor that Latour describes as the “Terrestrial”, intended as a planetary living system. The discovery of the Terrestrial therefore introduces another axis with respect to which to evaluate our design choices: that which goes from the Local-Global polarization to the Terrestrial.

Design was born as an agent of modernization and has evolved by placing itself on the Local-Global axis. The work hypothesis indicated above modifies this picture and proposes to consider its potential as an agent in the new direction towards the Terrestrial.