Sculpting reality from our dreams: Prefigurative design for civic engagement

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Asad, Mariam
Le Dantec, Christopher A.
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At their core, organizing and activist work are about envisioning and working towards an alternative, more just political future. Various digital tools are used to support activist work, however these tools engage with values that are at odds with activist practices: where many activists do work in the service of social justice and equity, the digital tools they use are often corporate made, and thus support the status quo, i.e. profit generation, cis-heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, oppression. The ideals underlying activists’ equitable visions—of a more accessible and just future—drive their practices. This intentional alignment falls under the purview of prefigurative politics, where political work “express[es] the political ‘ends’ of their actions through their ‘means.’” [53] If activists envision a more democratic future, they adopt more equitable practices in the present in anticipation of building a more equitable future. This dissertation explores the role of digital tools to contribute to—to prefigure—alternative, more radical political values. My work uses design research and anarchist literature to explore the opportunities that ICTs offer in support of radically progressive political organizing. This work offers prefigurative design as an approach for designers and practitioners who work with communities in service of progressive political change. Prefigurative design is an orientation within HCI design and research that encourages critical reflection of research and design practices to better align design artifacts and processes with anarchist goals of anti-oppression and collective liberation, ultimately building counter-structures to replace existing institutions complicit in violence and oppression.
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