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Gemma Copeland

Beyond precarity

 —  Beyond precarity

Just read Brave New Alps’ contribution to Design Struggles. The book is available online in full. Their chapter, Design(ers) Beyond Precarity: proposals for everyday action, explores how to create the social and material conditions that make critical, transformative design practice possible.

I’ve done a handful of talks about my work with Common Knowledge and UVW Designers + Cultural Workers, and this is (unsurprisingly) the question that comes up the most from students. It’s one thing to point out all the problems in the industry and outline alternative ways of working, but how does a new graduate with very little experience carve out a critical practice? Where do you even begin?

A 19th century oil painting of an iceberg. The sky is a mix of reds, pinks, and blues, which are reflected in the water. A wooden ship sails close to the iceberg and looks diminutive in comparison.

Some of Brave New Alps’ suggestions include:

  • Starting by recognising our own interdependence and looking for ways to address not just our own precarity but also others
  • Examining our upbringing, context and privilege; working out how to extend these privileges to others
  • Understanding the relational patterns of exchange and support underpinning all economies (e.g. J. K. Gibson-Graham’s economic iceberg model)
  • Getting over one’s entitlement to unsustainable and destructive ways of living
  • Redefining what success means
  • Resisting capital’s demand for constant movement (towards city centres)
  • Opting for a voluntarily frugal lifestyle (and fighting for a universal basic income)
  • Exploring cooperative housing and other forms of common infrastructure
  • Combining these experiments in creating social and material support structures with social movement activism

But clearly common infrastructure is not just about housing. To start small and immediately with caring for more collective infrastructures, you can investigate through practice how others can be empowered through the social, intellectual, and/or material wealth you have. How can it be channeled into more collective and collaborative efforts to work ourselves away from precarious living and working conditions towards an ecologically and socially just society? Small experiments in opening up to others what you have can bring up desires and ideas for more extensive action. The frame here is about creating ecologies of support where the myth of the heroic designer as genius is undone in favor of gentle, solidary, and effective modes of cooperation that enable transformative infrastructures to emerge.