Rights through Making – Skills for pervasive ethics

Ambra Trotto's Ph.D., 15th May 2012

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This thesis starts with a Manifesto, bold, passionate and ambitious. Goals are set high, as to commit to a major endeavour: how can design contribute to a new civilisation. The first version was written in 2006 in Bertinoro, Italy, where Caroline Hummels, Kees Overbeeke and I were giving a workshop on Aesthetics of Interaction for the University of Bologna. In this Manifesto, we declared our belief and proposed a vision, concerning how design can change Western thinking towards pervasive ethics. By pervasive ethics I mean a social praxis aimed at justice and freedom, which pervades society in a capillary way, becoming a Universal attitude that makes people aware of their own rights, able and willing to contribute to seeing their own rights and those of all people fulfilled. I called this approach Rights though Making. The manifesto stated a mission1, which was later applied and validated. The main lines of thoughts of the manifesto have been respected and enforced through several actions. This thesis will describe these actions, the underlying theory and the related reflection both on the approach and on the outcomes. The Manifesto integrated the points of view of the writers, united by a common drive, in a world riddled with all sorts of social uncertainties. In the Manifesto we declared our intention of preparing and doing workshops with students of different nationalities, stimulating the integration of skilful points of view among future designers. When the Manifesto was written, there was not yet a concrete strategy on how to empower people towards pervasive ethics. The only anchor point was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We wanted the values contained in this document materialised, embodied in (intelligent) products or systems. Both the outcome of what we were envisioning (intelligent products or systems empowering towards the realisation of human rights) and the process of realising it (workshop) had to work towards ethics. This was all I knew at that point. Later I designed the way to do it, based on this solid and enthusiastic shared vision.

Throughout the years, the underlying theoretical framework started to acquire its own body. Only after the realisation of the first 5 workshops (out of 7 in total), was I able to explicitly structure and describe the platform of theory that was supporting my endeavour. These actions (the workshops), contributed to the formation of a body of knowledge, of which the potential strength and soundness until then had exclusively been perceived through intuition. This tacit knowledge was dredged out, reflected upon and refined, through iterations of reflection-on-action, in which the “active” parts were the individual workshops.

Thus the forming of this theoretical platform, the refinement of the research quest or design challenge and giving the workshops were overlapping in time and closely intertwined. For clarity, in this thesis I chose to position them in the following order:

  • Part 1: defining the design challenge / research quest and the Rights through Making Approach;
  • Part 2: illustrating the theoretical framework underlying the whole work. This theoretical framework is formed by three elements: (1) Ethics (2) Making and (3) their integration, i.e. how Making empowers towards Ethics: the core of the RtM approach.
  • Part 3: describing how this theory is applied in design workshops and how the Rights through Making (RtM) approach evolved;
  • Part 4: reflecting on the overall research experience and the underlying personal motivations.

Before this central body I placed and introductory part, containing acknowledgments, rights of the readers, synopsis (this chapter) and tables of contents. After the fourth part, I positioned a part called “Annexes”, which is composed of two main sections:

  • In the first section I present the RtM workshops in detail, in regard to both the process of each RtM workshop and their evolution;
  • In the second section, I illustrate the direction in which I envision the diffusion of RtM in the future, through the realisation of an Internet platform.