On craft and being crafty

Singleton, Benedict (2014) On craft and being crafty. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Abstract

This thesis explores how designers might approach human behaviour as a material to be worked on. Unlike politicians, economists, lawyers, philosophers, psychiatrists and many others, designers have few
disciplinary resources to draw on in this space. Indeed, it is barely discussed at all. Contemporary designers are, we are told, supposed to treat people and things differently, and ensure that the latter are subservient to the agendas of the former - calls that become all the more insistent when designers are looking for ways to incorporate the design of services and organisations into their practice, a project that summons the prospect of breaking this taboo.

But what would a form of design that took human behaviour as its object actually be like? This thesis takes up this question as an issue in the philosophy of design, through investigating a long and rich history of suspicions about designers - namely, suspicions that they might extend their material palette from dead materials to living human beings. This exploration uncovers the emergence in the Industrial Revolution of today’s fears that designers might ‘treat people like things’; but it also uncovers an older, almost lost history of ideas about design, which understood its applicability to human beings in a way
that, today, is strikingly unfamiliar. Here we find the almost forgotten but still-lingering link between
craft and being crafty, encapsulated well by the lost ancient Greek concept of mêtis, 'cunning intelligence'. Mêtis isolates that aspect of design at work when extraordinary effects are elicited from unpromising materials, connecting design to political intrigues, daring military stratagems, the operations of impresarios and salesmen, and other instances wherein, through ingenious means, the weak prevail over the strong.

By uncovering and developing these ideas, the thesis provides a view of design that connects it to human
behaviour not through domination but through clever manipulation, a morally complex but undoubtedly potent approach that informs an alternative conception of how human behaviour might be understood as the object of design. The principle contribution of this thesis is, therefore, to provide a novel examination of human behaviour as the object of design; its main achievement is to provide the design disciplines with, on the one hand, an exposition of the implicit associations this project has at present; and on the other, the disinterment of mêtis and related ideas as a promising counter-perspective.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: design history, service design, philosophy of design, cunning, mêtis
Subjects: W200 Design studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Media & Communication Design
University Services > Research and Business Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Ellen Cole
Date Deposited: 19 Feb 2015 16:59
Last Modified: 08 May 2017 12:11
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/21414

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