Design and Traditional Indian Manufacturing
Enabling design students to understand differential issues of globalisation and its challenges in a development context
Project team leader: Chris Rose, University of Brighton
BA Student Group: Emily Hall, Tania Pillay, Marney Walker, Hayley Zierold
Post-Graduate students: Seainin Passi, David Hood
The project was set up to enable design students to understand differential issues of globalisation and its challenges in a development context. It’s purpose was to help individual students to work away from the general and towards the particular in clarifying their own specific applications of these interests in their own work as designers and makers, while benefiting from a group enterprise that was broadly thematically linked but not based upon lectures. The scheme used a distinctive method to bring introductory ideas about this challenging subject into the student’s own experience, building a longer-term dialogue and support structure into four semesters of a three year undergraduate experience, which is more than is normally possible within a segmented curriculum.
The student group was convened to promote the growth of a peer-to-peer critical awareness support network, the content of which was established by the participants and subsequently considerably developed through discussion, work in progress, and field visits in India. The process was guided but not prescribed by the project leader, and built up its own resources and references, inspired by unique shared experience on the way.
Two ex-graduates of WMCP currently studying for their Masters degree at RCA were teamed up with four current Brighton undergraduates in 3D Materials or Design programmes. Moving from the latter stages of level one studies, through level two and into the beginning of level three, the structure provided a consistent yet maturing ‘satellite’ study and research resource for all the participants who in their own individual ways had practice-based or career interests in issues connected with sustainable material culture, social justice, vernacular design and making, and creative development connected with the work of NGOs or multicultural issues in design. Partners to the scheme are the SRISHTI college of Art Design and Technology, Bangalore, who provided generous in-kind support and Faculty hours. Examples of topics chosen by students are shown in the following documents along with comments and reflections about the significance of the scheme in the context of the students self-directed research:
India is in the news for its rapidly developing economy, which at present benefits a small minority centred on the major cities and in the associated satellite business parks on the western model. Paradoxically, it is ostensibly a secular democracy yet the majority of the population employs a visual and social culture deeply rooted in complex pre-scientific philosophies and religions that reach vivid expression in the arts. More controversial is the imperiled future of the rural majority and its long history of co-operative trade and manufacture, farming and barter. Translated geographically into the UK, the picture would be that of a 21st century technological economy in, say, Oxford Circus, whereas Watford would be a thriving yet threatened Elizabethan environment. In the village environment in India, technical sophistication (generally unrecorded), compelling use of recycled and sustainable materials through necessity, and skillful manipulation of local materials are among the features of much traditionally manufactured artifacts. Paradoxically at a time when such features need to be re-envisaged and re-valued as an integral part of a future-orientated culture in contemporary design, manufacture and ownership, the localised village manufacturing culture that embodies many of these principles is most under threat from the ‘cultural displacement’ model we see at present, in which an alien business model is transplanted onto the complexities of a vernacular culture, often with disastrous effects.
The strength of the Indian diaspora in terms of mathematics, medicine and science is well known and its historical significance acknowledged by notable Western scientists (as evidenced for example in the Hunterian Collection in Glasgow). The global software design industry is dominated by Indian mathematicians and scientists; this strength in mathematics, together with early expressions of what is now known as complexity theory, is the same thread to be found in the vernacular designs and creative expression throughout the fine and applied arts in the Karnatic region in which the project is situated, embracing music and dance as well as in the construction of material goods which is the focus of this project. The unbroken connections between arts and sciences in both the contemporary and historical expressions of the cultures of India provide a significant critical reference for anyone interested in the unfolding chaos of globalization. The remarkable love of language and discourse in the history of Indian cultures, together with the adoption of English in post-independence India, makes this complex perceptual window into the frontiers of globalization uniquely accessible to UK design students.
The Project Questions
- Are there any universals in material culture?
- Can a cross-cultural design process have any meaning?
- Which direction does ‘expertise’ travel?
- What is place-based education?
- What can we learn here in our own environment from one of the frontiers of cultural displacement? (Bangalore as an example)
- What can be learnt from an older generation?
Language and Literacies
In the two design scholarship seminars held during the project there were significant discussions about the importance of developing an awareness of ‘multiple literacies’ i.e., an embodied facility in different individuals in many and varied aspects of human capability; movement, sound, performance, empathy, skill, perception, comprehension, etc. There is implied in this a ‘literacy of connectivity’ which stands in contrast to the narrower, more common usage of the word literacy in the sense of written and spoken language. A comparison of written and spoken language is included in the "Language and Literacies" document, which is available for download from the "Related files" section, above.
Further visual material and student commentary is being compiled into a booklet during Autumn 2009. An M-Level study unit developing the peer-to-peer research critique developed during this scheme is being planned.