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06 DECEMBER 2011

Design for enabling sustainable livelihoods in communities

"This paper focuses on how designers can contribute to enabling sustainable livelihoods in communities, especially communities of people with physical disabilities. This is a new area of design research and practice. The paper draws on a case study of the role and contribution of designers in one of the most disadvantaged communities in a semi–urban area of Thailand between 2007 and 2010. This was a collaborative project with nineteen community members with physical impairment in the Samutprakran province. This community had a long history of developing crafts for income generation. The aim was to explore and test new approaches that would result in a model leading to alternative livelihoods, including transforming their capabilities and using available resources in their community to achieve positive outcomes. Participatory Action Research (PAR), Human–Centered Design (HCD) and Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) were employed as research strategies and approaches. The project was structured around three workshops targeting three successive stages: 1) recruiting participants for a case study and facilitating the gathering of their own data and doing the necessary analysis; 2) enabling them to create and make their own choices to improve their situation; and 3) monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the implementation. There were four key findings. Firstly, the community participants stated that they had achieved the livelihood goals that they desired. They also devised a complementary income–generating activity which enabled them to continue to improve their capabilities, earn income and reinforce their value in their community, and to reduce their vulnerability. From the researcher's perspective, PAR integrated with HCD and combined with SLA were shown to be effective strategies and approaches because they facilitate the transfer of knowledge to the participants, giving them both incentive and ownership in their ideas and actions, enabling them to create and pursue their own solutions. Finally, this study demonstrated the benefits of reorientation of the designer's role from that of a solution provider to that of an agent of sustainable change."

(Siriporn Peters, 4 May 2011)

2). Siriporn Peters (2011). "Design for enabling sustainable livelihoods in communities", Iridescent: Icograda Journal of Design Research ISSN 1923–5003.



academic journal • alternative livelihoods • capabilities • case studycommunity • community participants • community-generated content • complementary income-generating activity • craftdata gatheringdesign research • design research and practice • disabilitydisadvantaged communitiesHCDhuman-centred design • income generation • livelihood • livelihood goals • ownershipPARParticipatory Action Research • people with physical disabilities • physical disabilities • physical impairmentresearch and practiceresearch approachesresearch strategies • semi-urban • SLA • sustainability • sustainable change • sustainable livelihoods • sustainable livelihoods approach • Thailandtransfer of knowledgetransformationvulnerabilityworkshops


Simon Perkins
08 NOVEMBER 2009

Art as action or art as object? the embodiment of knowledge in practice as research

"Philosophical hermeneutics suggests a possible basis for an alternative philosophical view. Hans–Georg Gadamer's (1989) discussion of the epistemological basis of the humanities, includes a discussion of art which emphasises its profound import and value in developing understanding. His concern is to reassert the distinctiveness of humanistic and artistic insight, via a forceful argument that 'art is knowledge and experiencing an artwork means sharing in that knowledge' (97). A key element in Gadamer's argument is the early chapters' painstaking archaeology of post–Enlightenment thought. This aims to show how deep–rooted concepts in the history of ideas in the modern West, such as the idea of a sensus communis, have become forgotten or distorted, thereby undermining the basis of the humanities' claim to truth. In the case of art, Gadamer argues that post–Kantian philosophical treatments have subjectivised the domain, to the point where artworks became mere objects of aesthetic experience or vehicles of communication for the artist as genius – their particular mode of being and its cognitive import dissolving in their reconfiguration as aspects of the individual subject's experience or activity. One consequence has been art's relegation to the status of an epistemologically suspect domain, a soft relation of 'hard' scientific enquiry. Within this tradition of thought, art's contribution to knowledge (along with that of other humanities disciplines) can increasingly only be characterised in negative or derivative terms

What is especially interesting about Gadamer's writings from the point of view of the argument here, is the way he links the cognitive value of art practice to an ontology of the artwork which highlights the latter's autonomy. For Gadamer, art is essentially play: but, even though it has implications for the nature of the spectator's engagement, 5 this characterisation is meant to emphasise 'neither the orientation nor even the state of mind of the creator or of those enjoying the work of art, nor the freedom of a subjectivity engaged in play, but the mode of being of the work of art itself' (1987, 101). The process of art making effects what Gadamer terms a 'transformation into structure' (ibid., 110) which detaches the work from the activity of the creative artist, to foreground the meaningfulness of the content that the artwork conveys. 6 That content consists essentially in the work's re–presentation of aspects of the world and of experience. In recognising the import of a work, the agents involved do not simply register its reference to something familiar; in understanding art, '[t]he joy of recognition is rather the joy of knowing more than is already familiar' (ibid., 114). From Gadamer's perspective, then, an artwork itself embodies new insight. That insight may be variously applied and integrated into the experiential horizons of different viewers and audiences, but this variability in interpretation is tempered by a common sense of the work's transformative power. As autonomous structures, artworks move us beyond a subjective reflection on themes by artist and viewer, and towards a common participation in the work's play–structure, which in itself has the potential to reconfigure perception and the world.

This cursory overview of Gadamer's account of art scarcely does justice to the depth and scope of his analysis, and probably raises more questions about the epistemological status of PAR [practice as research] than it resolves. For example, how can one distinguish PAR from art not governed by research–imperatives if all art has the kind of cognitive import that Gadamer suggests? The hermeneutic view would also need much more detailed elaboration to clarify its implications for the conduct, presentation and assessment of PAR. In particular, perhaps, the question looms of how an artwork might be judged to fail to embody knowledge, given that Gadamer's philosophy seems to indicate that it should by definition make new insight available. And yet without being able to question critically, or even deny, the epistemological value of some works, it is unclear whether one can positively identify the claim to knowledge of any. 7 Gadamer's work may suggest that an artwork stands or falls on its transformative power within the audience's experience, but how exactly can one tell whether a work has this power? The responses of individual viewers–including those responsible for assessing PAR projects–might give us some indication: but, as Gadamer himself points out, the subjectivisation of aesthetics has weakened our trust in the commonality of artistic experience to the extent that we doubt the wider resonance of individual response. The philosophical argument for the intersubjectivity of art experience would thus need fleshing out in much more detail to counter the weight of tradition and of the received views attendant upon it."

(Anna Pakes, 2004. Roehampton University of Surrey, England)

Pakes, A. (2004). "Art as action or art as object? the embodiment of knowledge in practice as research", Working Papers in Art and Design Vol 3 Retrieved from URL ISSN 1466–4917


2004 • Anna Pakes • artist • artistic insight • artworkembodiment of knowledgeepistemologyEuropean EnlightenmentHans-Georg Gadamerhermeneuticshistory of ideas • humanistic insight • humanitiesImmanuel KantknowledgeobjectPARpractice as research • scientific enquiry • sensus communis • UKWorking Papers in Art and Design


Simon Perkins

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