About the Conference

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Design After Planning: Examining the Shift from Epistemology to Topology

10.00 – 18:15, Friday 5 February 2016

University of Westminster, London

Confirmed keynote speakers:  Filip de Boeck (KU Leuven), Nathaniel Tkacz (University of Warwick) & Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester)

Design After Planning - Poster - low res

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This one-day interdisciplinary conference will explore the possibility of going beyond the limitations of liberal-modernist policy-making and urban planning, and the implications of doing so, if we start thinking of governance at different scales as a process of design.

The question of how different types of ‘planning’ should deal with uncertainty has taken on fresh importance. On the one hand, existential threats such as climate change, overpopulation, and new forms of global conflict expand the temporal and spatial horizons of our sense of responsibility as never before. On the other, the world is constructed increasingly as emergent, complex and non-linear; the ‘wicked’ problems it throws up are not amenable to modernist, top-down solutions. The intelligence required to tackle contemporary problems is understood to be dispersed and enacted, rather than a pre-given object to be gathered by the state. In Mol’s (2002) formulation, epistemological questions (‘how can we be sure?’) are increasingly usurped by pragmatic ones (‘how can we live with doubt?’).

In this embrace of uncertainty, concerns over the limitations of representational ‘modelling’ are being dislodged by an ideal of unmediated, dynamic problem-resolution whereby the ‘topologies’ of complex reality continually reveal themselves. In practical terms, this has entailed a shift towards iterative processes of dispersed governance; policy makers no longer attempt to impose order on a chaotic outside, but rather attempt to ‘see’ through the emergent systems themselves. Thus, goals are no longer determined from the centre so much as coproduced in specific locations with the aid of the internet of things and the citizen as sensor; top-down planning of the built environment has given way to localised, discursive decision-making alongside an embrace of informality; the residual modernism of sustainable development is increasingly inflected with ‘resilience’.

If the broad project here is to work with emerging, complex systems, rather than against or in spite of them, might it then be productive to conceptualise the role of governing and city-making in terms of ‘design’ rather than planning?  If so, is there value in retheorising design so as more explicitly to capture contemporary interactive logics of emergent causality and agency?  Or, alternatively, does linear planning have a newly important role to play? Might it function as a type of normative resistance to the ‘market logic’ with which these new forms of governance are perhaps aligned?

As well as three keynote speakers, we have three panels on:

  • embracing uncertainty
  • algorithmic governance
  • new topologies of ‘planning’

The event is free of charge and open to all.  Please book tickets via Eventbrite.

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