Designing Debate: The Entanglement of Speculative Design and Upstream Engagement

Kerridge, Tobie. 2015. Designing Debate: The Entanglement of Speculative Design and Upstream Engagement. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis offers a critical reflection of a design practice in which a speculative approach to design became entangled with upstream engagement with biotechnology research. Given that both practices claim to enable a public discussion about emergent technology, what is the nature of their mixing, and how should an analytical account of such a design practice be made?

I start with separate reviews of the respective features of these two approaches, considering practitioner accounts and histories along with analytical literature where those practices are objects of research. Then I take the case of the public engagement project Material Beliefs to develop an empirical account of their confluence. Initially I discuss labs as sites where designers, scientists, and non-experts come together to discuss and to problematize accounts of biotechnology research. Next, I examine the process of making speculative designs, and here I emphasise the ways in which issues, materials and practices become compiled as exhibitable prototypes. Finally I consider the circulation and reception of these designs in public settings, including exhibitions, workshops, and online formats.

I argue that speculative designs’ move on upstream PEST is an imbroglio that goes beyond mixing the formal features of practice, and requires a discussion concerning the actions of the designer in relation to a broader set of accountabilities. Authorship of the processes that lead to design outcomes, the description of design outcomes, and the effects of those outcomes become distributed and negotiated by an extended set of commitments coming from researchers, policymakers, educators, curators and promoters. Ultimately, I contend that this mixing provides an opportunity to foster a reflexive and empirical account of speculative practice, to engage in analysis of the organisations and settings that support a speculative approach, and to provide a critique of upstream engagement.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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This PhD thesis is complemented by the Material Beliefs publication, a core outcome of the design project that is discussed in the thesis. See


Speculative Design, Upstream Engagement, Design Research, Empirical, Critical

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31 July 2015

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Date Deposited:

13 Aug 2015 10:15

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:33


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