What comes after the ruin? Designing for the arrival of preferable futures.
From Claire Sowton
Professor Rikke Toft Nørgård, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University
This event took place on 8th December 2022
In The University in Ruins (1996) Bill Readings argues that the university has outlived its purpose. In recent decades, the rise of rankings, managerialism and the neoliberal university determined by market criteria, the university is, if not a ruined institution, then at least a somewhat unkempt or broken-down institution. The present university today is governed by administrative and accounting strategies and techniques which has transformed it into a globalizing, bureaucratically-administered, transnationally corporate university (LaCapra, 1998). Perhaps, a university in ruins is more akin to a modern-day glistering glass-monolith corporation than a withered gentle ruin in the woods. However, even though Readings pinpoint ‘Thought’ and ‘Dissensus’ as potential ways forward (Readings, 1996), he has less to offer when it comes to methods and practices for designing and materialising a future university beyond the ruins. Reading’s central question: ‘How are we to reimagine the University, once its guiding idea of culture has ceased to have an essential function?’ (Readings, 1996, p. 119), both acknowledges the current ruined state of the university, and poses the question of how to work positively and productively among those ruins. But the imperative question of how to actually do this through designing for the arrival of more preferable and ‘unruined’ futures for the university is left somewhat unanswered. There are no blueprints or building instructions for an envisaged future university to be found amongst the ruins. And no concrete methods or processes for how to materialise such unknown mythical beings.
As a response to Readings’ ruinous university, and the widespread lamenting of the present state of the contemporary university, this talk presents a possible framework for imagining and manifesting more preferable future institutions, systems or forms of governance in the form of materialised ‘feasible utopias’ (Barnett, 2018). This is done in three steps. Firstly, atmospheric and speculative design is introduced as a way of working with the deliberate materialisation of imagination and university cultures that can help us design for the university after the ruin. Secondly, collective visioning and future-making are presented as methods for widening the field of possible futures for the university and for visioning preferable university cultures. Thirdly, the concepts of hopepunk and future-scaping are introduced as an opening framework for daring to hope for more preferable futures through materialising mini-unitopias.
Rikke Toft Nørgård is Associate Professor in Educational Design & Technology at The Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, where she is also Steering group member of Centre for Higher Education Futures (CHEF). She is elected board member of the international Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) and elected board member of the national Danish Network for Educational Development in Higher Education (DUN) where she is also Co-leader of the DUN-SIG on Digital Pedagogy & Learning in Higher Education. Dr. Nørgård’s research focuses on the complexities, challenges and potentials of education, design, technology and philosophy in relation to the future of higher education and the university.
The talk builds upon Nørgård’s book chapter “What comes after the ruin? Designing for the arrival of preferable futures for the university” in the book “Transformation of the University: Hopeful futures for higher education” (2022) by Routledge
As well as her chapter’s “Placeful Cultures and Cultural Places”, “The Atmospheric University and Cultural Atmospheres”, “Cultures for Collective Visioning and Future-Making” and “Future-Scaping Alternative Universities” (chapter 6-9) in the recent published book Culture and the University – Education, Ecology, Design (2022) by Bloomsbury: https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/culture-and-the-university-9781350193000/
Questions from the event
What is meant by ‘designerly’ approaches? What are they/ not?
Do you have any thoughts on how the future(s) of the university sit(s) within the context of recent events related to academic freedom?
Do you have any thoughts about the idea of Institutional Isomorphy by Di Maggio and Powell and the tendency for big organizations (and universities) to tend towards homogeneity?
What do you think about the value of doing this kind of futuring within a ‘traditional’ university vs starting fresh?
What do you think the role of technology could be in prototyping possible outcomes and expanding possible choices, more quickly.
Bengsten, S. and Gildersleeve, R. (2022) Transformation of the University: Hopeful Futures for Higher Education. Routledge
Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2013) Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. MIT Press
Lutz, D. (2021) Future Scouting: How to design future inventions to change today by combining speculative design, design fiction, design thinking, life-centred design, and science fiction. The Future Scouting® Approach – Future Scouting
Mitrović, I., Auger, J., Hanna, J., Helgason, I. (eds) (2021) Beyond Speculative Design: Past - Present - Futures. Imaginarium Available at: SpeculativeEdu
Staley, D. (2019) Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education. Johns Hopkins University Press
Tharp, B., and Tharp, S. (2019) Discursive Design: Critical, Speculative and Alternative Things. MIT Press
Wahl, D. (2016) Designing Regenerative Cultures. Triarchy Press Ltd
Wright, E. (2010) Envisioning Real Utopias. Verso.