This panel explores the role of collective design experiments in today's crisis-prone urban politics. From local mobilizations to state/citizen collaborations, how do and how might anthropologists navigate this new terrain of 'co-creation'? What theoretical tools might help grasp its implications?
Cities are important sites of new political mobilizations, which have recently attracted anthropological interest (Susser and Tonnelat 2013). Based around types of 'commons', these activities offer 'a glimpse of a city built on the social needs of a population'. They are often about designing futures based not on centralized control, but rather on collaboration, experimentation, probing and responsiveness. In many cities, self-organization and co-creation are seen as preferable to the elitism of more modernist practices, challenging the organization and validation of expertise. Many governments and corporations also support experimentation, particularly in relation to global issues like climate change. As state, citizen and corporation all increasingly champion experimental co-creation, it can become hard to see where low-budget self-help seeps into anarchist-inspired DIY-cultures and in turn into corporate-sponsored product or service design. Indeed, are these ways of coping with an uncertain future related to each other? Are they really glimpses of 'common' rather than 'private' or 'public' control? In their potential for radical social transformation, collective design experiments undoubtedly push against modern political theory and established knowledge practices. How might anthropology navigate this domain? What theoretical tools would grasp its unfoldings? How do design experiments seek to configure people and things, how do they affect expertise? We invite ethnographic descriptions and analyses of collective experiments that carry promises, however implicit, of making the world a better place. Aware that these practices are susceptible to hype, we are particularly interested in careful description as well as in explorations of potentially useful theories.