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Adversarial Design

Adversarial Design

Carl DiSalvo
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Adversarial Design
    Book Description:

    In Adversarial Design, Carl DiSalvo examines the ways that technology design can provoke and engage the political. He describes a practice, which he terms "adversarial design," that uses the means and forms of design to challenge beliefs, values, and what is taken to be fact. It is not simply applying design to politics--attempting to improve governance, for example, by redesigning ballots and polling places; it is implicitly contestational and strives to question conventional approaches to political issues. DiSalvo explores the political qualities and potentials of design by examining a series of projects that span design and art, engineering and computer science, agitprop and consumer products. He views these projects-- which include computational visualizations of networks of power and influence, therapy robots that shape sociability, and everyday objects embedded with microchips that enable users to circumvent surveillance--through the lens of agonism, a political theory that emphasizes contention as foundational to democracy. Each of these projects engages one of three categories as a medium--information, robots, and ubiquitous computing--and in each of them certain distinctive qualities of computation are used for political ends or to bring forth political issues. DiSalvo's illuminating analysis aims to provide design criticism with a new approach for thinking about the relationship between forms of political expression, computation as a medium, and the processes and products of design.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30135-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Ken Friedman and Erik Stolterman

    As professions go, design is relatively young. But the practice of design predates professions. In fact, the practice of design—making things to serve a useful goal, making tools—predates the human race. Making tools is one of the attributes that made us human in the first place.

    Design, in the most generic sense of the word, began over 2.5 million years ago whenHomo habilismanufactured the first tools. Human beings were designing well before we began to walk upright. Four hundred thousand years ago, we began to manufacture spears. By forty thousand years ago, we had moved on...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. 1 Design and Agonism
    (pp. 1-26)

    On a spring day in 2002, a half dozen or so toy robot dogs ambled awkwardly across an overgrown lot, the site of a former glass manufacturing plant in the Bronx, New York. Their translucent plastic bodies rolled back and forth on wheels that were attached in the sockets that once held their translucent plastic legs (figure 1.1). Several young people stood watching. These robot dogs had a purpose, and their movements were meaningful. They were on the hunt, released in a pack to sniff out toxic residue in the environment (figure 1.2).

    When one thinks of using robots or...

  6. 2 Revealing Hegemony: Agonistic Information Design
    (pp. 27-56)

    Money and politics have always gone together, and wealth has wielded influence since the beginnings of democracy. So it is not surprising that elected representatives are influenced by the individuals, corporations, and interest groups that fund their campaigns. With improved access to data and new ways of expressing information, novel computational forms illuminate in greater detail and with new cleverness this age-old entanglement of money and politics. For instance, the computational visualizationState-Machine: Agency(Carlson and Cerveny 2005)¹ depicts the relationship between United States senators and their campaign contributors (figure 2.1). In the digital project, senators are represented as either...

  7. 3 Reconfiguring the Remainder: Agonistic Encounters with Social Robots
    (pp. 57-86)

    Whether they are used for personal care or welding cars, robots epitomize complex engineered systems. They weave together software and hardware; interface, interaction, and industrial design; and mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science. They employ advanced technologies, appear as and work in diverse forms and contexts, and play a role in popular and scientific histories and trajectories. Robots are, therefore, another notable category of computational objects through which to explore what it means to do design with computation.

    However, the technical answer to the question “What is a robot?” is a matter of considerable debate. In computer science and...

  8. 4 Devices of Articulation: Ubiquitous Computing and Agonistic Collectives
    (pp. 87-114)

    At first glance, theSpore 1.1project appears to be an ungainly and puzzling assortment of stuff collected together—a small rubber tree that is surrounded by computer circuitry, wires, and tubing, set atop a reservoir of water, and encased within a transparent plastic cube (Easterly and Kenyon 2004) (figure 4.1).¹ What is this all for? The simplest answer is an automated system for tending a plant. But it is also something more. The design of the system includes a wry twist that shifts it from just an automated system for tending a plant to a system or assemblage that...

  9. 5 Adversarial Design as Inquiry and Practice
    (pp. 115-126)

    Throughout this book, I have presented examples of adversarial design, including software that reveals the entanglement of military and university research programs, social robots that curse at one another, and umbrellas that counteract surveillance systems. Each of these illustrates how design can do the work of agonism. These artifacts and systems are adversarial because they represent and enact the political conditions of contemporary society and function as contestational objects that challenge and offer alternatives to dominant practices and agendas. They exemplify a series of tactics that can be used to do the work of agonism—revealing hegemony, reconfiguring the remainder,...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 127-132)
  11. References
    (pp. 133-140)
  12. Index
    (pp. 141-146)