Peter West presents a philosophical essay on design from an Indigenous perspective. He argues that universal design is a Western thought based on Western knowledge systems. Although co-design invites others in it’s still driven by Western white values.
West’s essay is an academic piece covering ideas that challenge Western notions of design. He contends that lack of indigenous sovereignty is a problem because it counters Western knowledge systems and governance.
West argues that while Design invites others in (co-design methods), it remains “politely dominant”. Asking to be included – to be “let in” – begs questions such as, What am I now being included in? And at what cost and whose larger purpose? These are questions other marginalised groups might also ask.
The book chapter by Peter West is titled, Excluding by design and is open access.
From the conclusion
Indigenous sovereignty (and sovereignties) is the foundation from which non-Indigenous people can be in sovereign relationship, therefore Indigenous sovereignty cannot be othered, marginalised or included.
I am surrounded by the pluriversality of Indigenous sovereignties not as something I can know through Western ways of knowing or that attempting to replicate is knowing, but what I need to know is how to live and Design in a sovereign relationship.
What is most likely to disrupt my relationship to Indigenous sovereignty is non-Indigeneity reorganising itself as it designs the gravitational pull of Western standards of what can be included, empathised with and what creates a palatable form of diversity.
Now, diversity and inclusion risks being an activity of designing ways of overcoming gaps in design and avoiding the admission that the knowledge base itself is the problem.
From the abstract
Western Design education and Design practice discourse is beginning to
express a need for greater diversity and inclusion. For design to be inclusive, this must also beg the questions: Who has been excluded from Design, what are these practices of exclusion and what is revealed of Designs privilege to assume the position of host and includer?
However, when approached through Designs problem, solution mindset diversity and inclusion is at risk of being an answer motivated by offering a
more broadly transactional reach and ‘usefulness’.
It is important to recognise that the shift to inclusion as a policy emphasis does not erase past exclusions. Instead, the desire for diversity and inclusion can lead to Design positioning itself as benefactor, in a state of white virtue, rather than recognising itself as dominant discipline and system which politely adapts and consumes the invited other.
In Australian design contexts, there is an enthusiastic desire to engage with and include Indigenous peoples and knowledges within Western design education institutions. However, I contend that the inability to recognise and be in relation to Indigenous sovereignty, as the basis of the Australian state, has resulted in Design being ill-equipped and perhaps incapable of practicing in relation to Indigenous knowledge systems (sovereignty).
This chapter explores contends that it is necessary to identify and disrupt (white) racialised logics within design lest it consume pluriversal thinking as a ‘value add’. I argue that the white racialised logics in design are illusive, adaptive and an exclusive disciplining practice. I draw upon critical race whiteness and indigeneity theory along with the seminal work of the Decolonising Design Group to explore a critical reset of the design episteme in relation to Indigenous sovereignty by knowing its ontological and epistemic boundedness.