Miscommunicating and design: Researching miscommunication as a proposition for designing political scenes

Neves Alves, Barbara. 2016. Miscommunicating and design: Researching miscommunication as a proposition for designing political scenes. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

No full text available

Abstract or Description

‘Good communication’ is often the assumed objective for the field and practice of communication design. But in attempting to facilitate ‘good communication,’ designers may potentially overlook the qualities of participation in communicative arenas that shape normative constructs of the publics of communication. At the same time, they might not attend to the particular political formations that emerge from and mobilise communication. I propose and develop the concept of miscommunication and the practice of miscommunication design as a way to query these assumptions from within communication design. Because communication design has become more centrally involved with socially and politically engaged design practices, approaches to communication are critical for taking account of how political engagements unfold. In this study, I explore that which diverts from ‘good communication,’ by exploring miscommunication as a powerful and transformative part of communication that could generate new modes of practice and recast the field of communication design as a diverse activity open to eco-political modalities of practice. I develop this research by analysing a set of creative practice projects that work through and trouble communicative actors and settings. I further support these analyses through the development of a set of exploratory practices that explore sites of political encounters and political possibilities.

Drawing from the work of Michel Serres and Isabelle Stengers, I work through three figures of miscommunication, including the parasite, the idiot and the diplomat. With these figures, I expand on distinct possibilities for a practice in miscommunication design by investigating forms of noise that interfere with good communication, by working with impasses to communication through apparent moments of nonsense, and by setting up translational encounters shaped by miscommunication. On the basis of working through these three figures of miscommunication, I propose a set of inventive practices that seek to multiply modes of encounter and political formations within the field of communication design. These inventive practices are structured as ‘political scenes,’ a concept and term that draws on the work of Stengers and that refers to a practical grounding of the political. Political scenes can challenge common communication design practices by working with miscommunication that emerges from specific situations. Moreover, political scenes reposition the designer as a participant in communication who is informed by the affective, performative and material dimensions of communication, and is also seen as an interfering part of communication. In this way, political scenes can foster and explore a new set of connections and communicative formations that matter to the field of communication design because they create the possibility for new qualities of participation in communicative arenas, which may in turn give rise to new political ideas and questions, along with new possibilities for collective formations.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Additional Information:

An indefinite embargo applies due to third-party copyright on the images in this thesis. Print copy available for reference in Goldsmiths library.


Design, communication, miscommunication, participation, ecology of practice, social, political, feminist, Michel Serres, Isabelle Stengers, parasite, idiot, diplomat, political scene, publics, faithful communication, inventive methods, critical, speculative

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 November 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

04 Jan 2017 14:36

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:12



Edit Record Edit Record (login required)