Structuring future social relations: the politics of care in participatory practice

Ann Light, Yoko Akama


This paper explores the political shifts that take place in participatory design (PD) when the focus is upon co-designing ongoing future societal relations, beyond the immediacy of designing objects or services during project-time. Reflecting on connectedness, it looks at the politics of participation through the lens of people's interdependence, using feminist concepts of 'care' to explore the ethical commitments of designing. In particular, it speaks to Greenbaum's claim, 20 years ago, that 'we have the obligation to provide people with the opportunity to influence their own lives' (1993:47). We explore the questions this raises now, as we design in an increasingly distributed and heterogeneous socio-technical context, to give a contemporary take on long-term commitments to political and ethical outcomes in participatory design. Three contrasting case studies are interrogated to discuss how structuring of social relations was enabled, offering insights into what the politics of care might mean.

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