The political economy of late-capitalist design can be described as a ‘commodity-machine’; it produces market goods and thereby reproduces exchange relations. A wide range of ecology, economics and design literature argues that this model constitutes an unsustainable configuration inseparable from financial, ecological and social crises. As a deliberate or implicit response to these critiques, emergent design practices are situated at a distance from capitalism, exchange relations and market mediation. A comprehensive theorisation of ‘postcapitalist’ design cultures needs to be developed, following insights from the social-ecological critique of André Gorz, as well as more recent debates on postcapitalism (Bauwens, Mason, Rifkin, Srnicek & Williams). An analytical framework to study such practices is proposed here, by distinguishing three instances of value creation: a) the labour of designing subjects, b) the circulation of design projects and c) the making of designed objects. While this threefold model is applicable to a diverse range of design practices, the focus of this study is confined to the design of physical products.
A number of exemplary and currently active design projects in the categories of everyday tools, building systems and industrial machines are studied in detail, blending each case with methods of discourse analysis, visual analysis and design analysis. These help demonstrate at varying degrees of success three commoning strategies for postcapitalist design cultures. OpenStructures extensively relies on 'peer designing', where design activities are collectivised and governed by means of collaboration, participation and amateurism. WikiHouse and OpenDesk illustrate the role of 'open blueprints', where the design knowledge and documentation are distributed with commons-based licenses. Open Source Ecology and Precious Plastic are prime examples of 'maker machines' which enable makers to self-produce the means of production — tools put in service of a community. All case studies manifest a productive tension between speculative discourses and prefigurative practices, synthesising creative work and political action.
Considered together, these projects express a common desire to develop a counter-industrial model of post-scarcity that provides 'everything for everyone'. Commoning is seldom practiced in isolation; it rather engenders and reinforces the other commoning practices further. However, the sustainability of commoning practices depends on the constitution of a broader postcapitalist political project. In order to enable the widespread adoption and disruptive potential of postcapitalist design cultures, commoning of design needs to be concurrent with the commoning of natural and cultural wealth. Understanding the pathways which disentangle design from its commodity form is key to prefiguring a viable, desirable and equitable basis for the production and distribution of material artifacts, and by extension, a sustainable civilisation beyond the commodity-machine.
Born in Ankara and studied in Strasbourg, I am a designer, researcher and activist. I am currently a PhD Fellow at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, researching the sustainability of postcapitalist design cultures that practice commoning. My main interests are the intersections between creative production, radical politics and ecological thinking. I am also involved in culture jamming, intentional communities, and climate justice campaigns.