Designing Unlikely Futures? A/symmetry & A-firmative Speculation in the European Borderscape

Healy, Liam. 2020. Designing Unlikely Futures? A/symmetry & A-firmative Speculation in the European Borderscape. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Although design has previously sought to engage with migration and the borderscape, it often fails to take a critical view of the ways it is implicated in bordering practices, and of what else designers might seek to do beyond addressing immediate needs. Starting with the provocation to Design Unlikely Futures — a slogan encountered during the field work — this research develops — and by developing the concept of a/symmetry, problematises — what I call situated ‘a-firmative’ speculative design practices, that engage empirically with the European borderscape, including the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais, France and Lesvos in Greece.

The practice portions of the research have involved designing, making and deploying devices to these settings so that they may enter into new compositions, invoke new possibilities, and record what they do, and what happens to them. Devices have included a tandem bicycle equipped with audio and video recording equipment, a ‘broadcast trailer’, and films, exhibitions, zines, and publications produced as a result of these various and ongoing relations.

I draw on a wide range of scholarship and existing design practices to conduct and analyse these devices and practices. Drawing on speculative and process philosophies, I develop a framework for specific kinds of empirically engaged speculative practices. My aim in doing this is to revitalise speculative and critical design’s long-standing critiques of problem-solving rhetoric in and around design discourse. To do this I adapt the concept of a/symmetry from science and technology studies and actor-network theory to both examine and intervene in various distributions of agency, and their materialities, temporalities, and compositions. The thesis provides a critical reflection on these theories and practices, where I establish these key concepts and ultimately outline an extended manifesto to suggest ways for designers (and others) to engage speculatively with the borderscape.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


design, speculation, a/symmetry, a-firmative, borderscape, migration, cosmopolitics, participatory design, science and technology studies, speculative design, empirical speculation, DUF, design unlikely futures

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 December 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

22 Jun 2021 15:04

Last Modified:

13 Sep 2022 10:11


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