Precarious objects is a book about activism and design. The context is the changes in work and employment from permanent to precarious arrangements in the twenty-first century in Italy. The book presents design interventions that address precarity as a defuturing force affecting political, social and material conditions. Precarious objects shows how design objects, called here ‘orientation devices’, recode political communication and reorient how things are imagined, produced and circulated. It also shows how design as a practice can reconfigure material conditions and prefigure ways to repair some of the effects of precarity on everyday life. Three microhistories illustrate activist repertoires that bring into play design, and design practices that are grounded in activism. While the vitality, experimental nature and traffic between theory and praxis of social movements in Italy have consistently attracted the interest of activists, students and researchers in diverse fields, there exists little in the area of design research. This is a study of design activism at the intersection of design theory and cultural research for researchers and students interested in design studies, cultural studies, social movements and Italian studies.
/Slow University of Warsaw . Despite its somewhat ironic resonance, the term informs a materialist, critical and dialectic effort at understanding the labourconditions of the highly mobile artistic workforce. It is not specific to the global networks of contemporary art but is more generally referenced in critical management studies and analysis of international NGOs, wherever people work on a project-to-project basis (Baker 2014 ; Greer, Samaluk and Umney 2018 ; Jałocha 2016 ). Projects are adopted not only in the world of contemporary art, but also dominate sectors such as
, press all the right environmental buttons. 18
9.3 In 2015 Prince Charles visited the mill as part of his ongoing work with The Campaign for Wool. Courtesy of Abraham Moon and Sons.
Besides ecological matters, concerns over labourconditions in Asian factories have furthered the wool renaissance. Consumer awareness of third-world sweatshops increased after the widespread press coverage of two tragedies in the Bangladeshi garment industry—the fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory in November 2012 and the collapse of the Rana Plaza
life’ associated with liberal ideals of individual autonomy, lifestyle choice and even deviance or freedom from institutions. Such imaginary self-relating and self-discipline masks the fact that the mass precarisation of labour is ‘forced on people who fall out of normal labourconditions.’ 8 In the age of post-Fordist capitalism, and with an increasingly educated population, control is managed through the productivity of sociality itself. The point of contention here is whether it is the productivity of the immaterial worker that is valorised in excess of capital
to contribute to the economic sustainability of their communities.
In the fine arts, these depictions could exacerbate or ameliorate
political tensions surrounding the fraught labourconditions in
American society at the time. 10
While working within the high art tradition,
Sargent’s painting appeared to complicate the conventions of
the picturesque, adding a taint of danger to
flexibility in labourconditions that is post-Fordist
without ever having been properly Fordist. The participants could not
be easily lumped together as belonging to the same ‘community’, for
the differences in caste, religious, economic and educational background, not to speak of political affiliations, were enormous, despite
their sharing certain common features as rural or semi-rural women
from the same region.
The workshop was conceptualized and conducted by Radha
Ramaswamy, a community theatre facilitator and founder of the
Bangalore-based NGO Centre for Community
the market to lower prices, as well as fierce competition among garment makers, resulted in low wages and difficult labourconditions, especially in workshops that produced goods for the lower end of the market. In the early twentieth century, some eighty per cent of garments produced in the United States were manufactured in New York City, and the rest were made in industrial cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and Rochester, New York. 30 Garment makers could start a workshop with a small amount of capital, often benefiting from extensive kinship networks in the
have become moral on behalf of their owners. Just by displaying one’s ownership of an ethical commercial object, people can display their morality and even delegate their morality to the object, and at the same time become relieved from the moral pressures and insecurities they may face in everyday life. 13 In particular, the ‘ethical sell’ is designed to make people feel good about themselves by publicly displaying their concerns for the environment or fair labourconditions, thus showing to the world not only their cultural capital but also their morality and
contexts in Western capitalist nations; a transition that has been well
documented in sociology and social histories of technology.2 The introduction of computerised and automated technologies profoundly transformed the labourconditions and industrial politics in factory and office
workplaces. In some cases, automation and computerisation made tasks
less dangerous or physically taxing, but in many others, new technologies made employees’ hard-won trade skills redundant.3 Computerisation
often reduced the number of employees required and it often degraded
labourconditions. What is significant for Roberts is that exhibitions such as this one display a keen sense that we are beyond both modernism and postmodernism and that the stakes of writing on art and politics are far higher than the art world typically recognises. The strength of this book, therefore, is that it helps to bring the dark matter of the activist art world to a new level of class consciousness.
According to Roberts, the devalorisation of capital will lead either to radicalisation or to a cleansing of the system through