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Design, Ecology, Politics

Design, Ecology, Politics: Towards the Ecocene

by Joanna Boehnert

Joanna Boehnert is the founder of EcoLabs and a Research Fellow in Design at CREAM (Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media) at the University of Westminster. Her research focuses on how design communicates complex ecological and socio-economic issues and facilitates transitions to sustainable ways of living. She established EcoLabs in 2006 to work at the interface of social movements and design practice. She is a Canadian who works in London and lives by the sea in Margate. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2018
  • DOI:
    10.5040/9781474293860
  • ISBN:
    978-1-4725-8861-6 (paperback)

    978-1-4725-8860-9 (hardback)

    978-1-4725-8863-0 (epdf)

    978-1-4725-8862-3 (epub)

    978-1-4742-9386-0 (online)
  • Edition:
    First edition
  • Place of Publication:
    London
  • Published Online:
    2018
Design, Ecology, Politics
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Design, Ecology, Politics links social and ecological theory to design theory and practice, critiquing the ways in which the design industry perpetuates unsustainable development.

Boehnert argues that when design does engage with issues of sustainability, this engagement remains shallow, due to the narrow basis of analysis in design education and theory. The situation is made more severe by design cultures which claim to be apolitical. Where design education fails to recognise the historical roots of unsustainable practice, it reproduces old errors. New ecologically informed design methods and tools hold promise only when incorporated into a larger project of political change. Design, Ecology, Politics describes how ecological literacy challenges many central assumptions in design theory and practice.

By bringing design, ecology and socio-political theory together, Boehnert describes how power is constructed, reproduced and obfuscated by design in ways which often cause environmental harms. She uses case studies to illustrate how communication design functions to either conceal or reveal the ecological and social impacts of current modes of production. The transformative potential of design is dependent on deep-reaching analysis of the problems design attempts to address. Ecologically literate and critically engaged design is a practice primed to facilitate the creation of viable, sustainable and just futures. With this approach, designers can make sustainability not only possible, but attractive.

In response to the converging crises of the Anthropocene, where economic ‘growth’ has broken planetary boundaries, the author proposes an age where people and design practices identify ecological frames of reference. An emergent Ecocene depends on creative transformations in all domains and on all levels, from human subjectivities to political economies. Joanna Boehnert’s cogent and illuminating study integrates ecological and critical positions into design theory, to put forward a theoretical foundation for critical and ecologically informed design.