Designs for the Pluriverse

Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds

Designs for the Pluriverse

New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century

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Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: Published: March 2018

Author: Arturo Escobar

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Geography, Sociology > Social Theory

In Designs for the Pluriverse Arturo Escobar presents a new vision of design theory and practice aimed at channeling design's world-making capacity toward ways of being and doing that are deeply attuned to justice and the Earth. Noting that most design—from consumer goods and digital technologies to built environments—currently serves capitalist ends, Escobar argues for the development of an “autonomous design” that eschews commercial and modernizing aims in favor of more collaborative and placed-based approaches. Such design attends to questions of environment, experience, and politics while focusing on the production of human experience based on the radical interdependence of all beings. Mapping autonomous design’s principles to the history of decolonial efforts of indigenous and Afro-descended people in Latin America, Escobar shows how refiguring current design practices could lead to the creation of more just and sustainable social orders.


"Escobar’s literature review and theoretical discussion stand out. Some of the ground he covers includes critical design studies, ethnographic approaches to design, participatory design, and decolonized design. Anthropology has a lot to offer design, Escobar argues, because we study the interplay of materiality, meaning, and practice. . . . Escobar’s discussion is built on a foundation of work emanating from a panopoly of Latin American scholars, all of whom appear to be fascinating in their own rights. . . . Through Escobar I felt like I was glimpsing the depth and breadth of that body of literature for the first time." — Matt Thompson, Anthrodendum

"Designs for the Pluriverse is a heavy-hitting theoretical framework with potential to inform the practice of the design scholar or professional in any field, from planning or architecture to product design, engineering, and beyond. The work makes sense of generations of decolonial scholarship, pushing the reader towards understanding their design work as more relational, long-term-oriented, and transformative than previously assumed." — Darien Williams, Carolina Planning Journal

“I can emphatically state that Designs for the Pluriverse is a superb and welcome addition both to the expanding literature on design in anthropology, and to design theory more broadly. . . .  Indeed, there are so many ways to read this book that almost anyone who picks it up will find something to think with.”

— Keith M. Murphy, Anthropological Quarterly

“[Escobar] has woven together a timely book that lends insight from situated, present experience as opposed to abstract, universal prescriptions.”

— Hanna E. Morris, InVisible Culture

"Questioning the Western concept of modernity, Escobar wants to build bridges between transition design visions in the Global North and the Global South."

— Gert Hasenhütl, Sehepunkte

Designs for the Pluriverse is an excellent text for design studies scholars who are interested in exploring methodologies and theories of collective existence and creation, intertwining a series of case studies that support autonomous design with the theories to challenge modernist anthropocentrism. Together, they provide a strong foundation for readers to continue pursuing how to decolonize the world by redesigning the human being and designing the pluriverse, a world in which many worlds fit.”

— Juan Carlos Rodríguez Rivera, Design and Culture

"The greatest strength of the book is its marvellous journey through hundreds of projects, ideas and practitioners that are rethinking the very foundations of design and implementation. Ultimately, this has inherent value to the pluriverse of different ideas and initiatives that are encountering the powerful developmental machine. Challenging the status quo, both theoretically and otherwise, can feel like such a solitary and exhausting battle. Designs for the Pluriverse addresses this by highlighting the community that exists and is growing." — Ritodhi Chakraborty, Lincoln Planning Review

“In this impassioned call for design for the pluriverse, Arturo Escobar asks how we might translate insights of a relational ontology into politics of transformative change. He turns to the prospects of ‘transition,’ led by autonomous communities and social movements in Latin America and the global South. This remarkable book is a way forward for all who are yearning for the radical remaking of design, as a contribution to decolonizing and remaking worlds.” — Lucy Suchman, author of Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions

“For so long, design researchers have been waiting for social researchers to take heed of the ontological politics of designing. Arturo Escobar does so but precisely to clear a space in global consumerist modernism for urgently needed alternatives. A by-product of this thorough and clear book will be the project of decolonizing the discipline and practice of design." — Cameron Tonkinwise, Professor of Design, University of New South Wales Art and Design

"In this exciting work Arturo Escobar steps out of the familiar territory we associate him with to engage with the cultural study of design. Significantly advancing thinking about societal transition in the context of climate change, Latin American politics, and the ongoing challenges of decoloniality, Designs for the Pluriverse makes a timely and important intervention." — J. K. Gibson-Graham, coeditor of Manifesto for Living in the Anthropocene


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Arturo Escobar is Kenan Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface and Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
I. Design for the Real World: But Which "World"? What "Design"? What "Real"?
1. Out of the Studio and into the Flow of Socionatural Life  25
2. Elements for a Cultural Studies of Design  49
II. The Ontological Reorientation of Design
3. In the Background of Our Culture: Rationalism, Ontological Dualism, and Relationality  79
4. An Outline of Ontological Design  105
III. Designs for the Pluriverse
5. Design for Transitions  137
6. Autonomous Design and the Politics of Relationality and the Communal  165
Conclusion  202
Notes  229
References  259
Index  281
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7105-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7090-1
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