Speculative Dissent – Workshop

A Group Exploration

Conducted by the design collective a4 / achar in Jaipur on Feb,2020.

With the uprising of intolerance in the indian communes, on the lines of supporting or protesting against the elected right wing nationalist government, an incident happened at SHRISHTI college of design, Bangalore. The subject in question was “Graffiti” against the CAA act passed by the parliament.
This led to a question of exploring the forms of “creative dissent” in our contemporary socio-political scenario. “Memes” propagating through social networks has become one of the prominent satirical forms of rhetoric taken to display ones disagreement on a topic. This form of dissent is a phenomenon supported by the uprising of technological innovation and easy accessibility of these technology to masses.

As a point of exploration, we wanted to understand how in future can the concept of dissent take a form. To explore this concept, we conducted a workshop on “Speculative Dissent” in Jaipur. A 3hr workshop was structured to introduce the concept of speculative thinking; inquire about the meaning of dissent; and have a small team activity to envision dissent in the year 2030

The structure of the workshop:

20min : open discussion on “Dissent”
20min : open discussion on “Speculative Thinking”
15min : tea break
Division into teams of three,
10min : introduction to steps in speculative thinking.
20min : Groups speculate and choose a domain through “world building exercise” of forecasting.
20min : identifying a norm in that world, sketching/writing the scenario down.
20min : Formulating a dissent against that future norm. Sketching/Writing it down.
1hr : Sharing the outputs of each group in an open discussion format with others.

Further, we will be discussing the experience & the output of the workshop.

What is dissent for us ?

To kick start the topic of dissent, the dictionary meaning of dissent was taken up –

noun

the holding or expression of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held.

We started with examples of disagreement happening in the families, in the institutes, in the political organisations, in social conversations e.t.c. We shared experiences from our lives where we have seen dissent in action. With the open discussion, soon the inquiry into dissent moved into areas of nature’s way of dissent, to evolution being a manifestation of disagreement. Dissent as a concept was taken up to be one of the instincts to come out of the sea to land, to evolve into a newer species, a means to survival, an agent of social transformation, a process to change system e.t.c. Few of the interesting points on dissent also came up like how some systems require non-disagreement like military organs of a state and some breed upon disruption like technological innovation. Like how dissent might be connected to human ego. How human dissents with natural order to assert his/her own identity over it by means of accumulation, violence, dedicated care and protection. An interesting point was also made that  maybe “ a designers’ job is to be in a perpetual state of dissent ”. At the end, the discussion on dissent took a form of distinction between – abrupt disruption vs gradual disagreements.

How do we speculate ?

Before starting the group activity, a short summary of speculation as a tool for envisioning was introduced.
The Dunn & Ranby, cone of speculation was presented.

We introduced the design method of “world building” exercise to give an anchor point in the future.
We presented the objective of the activity for the group in the following form :

Phenomenon (Dissent) in the Domain ( groups will choose this) in Time (2030).

Output of the activity

After the activity, the output of the 6 groups were as following:

Group 1: 

Dissent in the “Touch me NOT” world in 2030.

Premise – With the frequent outbreak of deadly, infectious virus like swine flu, ebola, coronavirus, people will likely stop coming in contact with each other. Society will eliminate the sense of touch to a minimum and any type of contact will be prohibited. Since it will be a risk to touch or even feel through any body part – technology will help communicate without it. There will be devices to send your touch to other people. 

Dissent – to dissent against such a societal norm, an individual can choose 2 ways to disagree:
a) Back to Basics : People will reject the quarantine nature of interaction and move back to the primitive way of life. With no protection and risking their lives to nature’s whim.

b) Rest in Peace : These groups of people will prefer to let the virus/bacteria affect them and break the barriers of touch. They will risk their lives to relive the experience of touch.

Group 2:

Dissent in the “Extreme virtual interaction” world in 2030.

Premise – As the social media and networks will have humans enslaved into a virtual and visual means of interaction.They will be using virtual avatars and holograms to communicate with each other with comfort.People will have two types of binary in 2030 – be connected to the network or detoxify oneself from it. The challenge will be to balance the two binaries in ones day to day life.

Dissent – They left the form of dissent to come from the open discussion. Due to lack of time, we couldn’t make it feasible.

Group 3:

Dissent in the “ Solo Living “ world in 2030.

Premise – With progress in human wealth and technology and reducing natural resources, the trend of living solo takes off. The norms of spaces, furniture, decor, utility, interiors e.t.c changes to highly efficient & multi-utility forms. Small living quarters become a norm – with everything available in the small space. Nobody needs to move a lot as major communication is done through AR or VR mediums, saving greenhouse gases. Dry-cleaning through sand has become a part of life. In such micro-spaces, privacy in family has become a matter of concern – to have solved the need of privacy – pods have taken over open beds.

Dissent – This way of life in the future is the manifestation of the dissent from the present way of living in large spaces & consuming large amounts of natural resources. It presents the concept of “gradual dissent” in the evolution of a society.

Group 4:

Dissent in the “ Tailor made family “ world in 2030.

Premise – The concept of home will change due to lack of spaces. To cities have converted into ghettos with a social order where a person can tailor make his or her family based on his or her preferences. A society where dissent is taken favourably within a family space. So in case of uncomfort with the current family, one can change the family and shift to another space and call it a home.

Dissent – In this type of social order, absconding your family and going off the grid without any social relations and ownership will be manifested as dissent against the social order.

Group 5:

Dissent in the “Polarized Binary” world in 2030.

Premise – Continuing from today’s trend of feeling of security with the identity of a person on the religious front, social-media front and political beliefs. The social order will become highly polarized over those three factors. There will be groups of secured and groups of insecure people in the future.

Dissent – The envisioned future is considered a dissent from the present state of the society.

Group 6

Dissent in the “Sustainable Village Life” world of 2030.

Premise – People have adopted the sustainable form of living like we live in our organic farming based villages. They have adopted sustainable consumption habits, lean energy sources from nuclear power, learning from nature and letting nature take its form in their daily lives.

Dissent – A population control on such a society will be the form of dissent. States will not allow further propagation of humans to control the resources of the earth.

We observed a few major streams of thought taken up by the different groups. First was of a “gradual dissent” of the society to the current form of socio-technological order. They believed in the evolutionary nature of dissent rather than a disrupting force. Second was the means of “physical and virtual spaces” becoming a central theme of the future world. And then absconding those spaces being a part of dissent from the norm of the world.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we feel the exercise brought forth a fresh perspective towards method of future thinking to the participants. The space to stretch their imagination and give it a form as per a contemporary phenomenon helped them reflect on those phenomena in depth. There was a general positive feedback on the workshop that it helped them into opening up divergent means of thinking method.

We will be giving a visual interpretation to all the above results in due time.

As a collective we would be further working on speculative workshops to understand, explore & share the impact of future thinking in design and in business of indian creative culture.