Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 2 hours / session

Democratic theory needs to acknowledge the ineradicability of antagonism and the impossibility of achieving a fully inclusive erational consensus. I argue that a model of democracy in terms of "agonistic pluralism" can help us to better envisage the main challenge facing democratic politics today: how to create democratic forms of identifications that will contribute to mobilize passions towards democratic designs. [Chantal Mouffe]


In recent years, political philosopher Chantal Mouffe has initiated a call for a passionate, dissensus-based, adversarial and inclusive - in one word, "agonistic" - form of democracy. Earlier, social philosopher Michel Foucault recalled "parrhesia", an Athenian right to frank, "fearless" and open speaking, the right that, like the First Amendment, demands a "fearless speaker" who must challenge political powers with criticism and unsolicited advice.

Can designers and artists respond to such democratic calls and demands? Can they do so despite the (increasing) restrictions imposed on our liberties today? Can the designer or public artist operate as a proactive agent and contribute to the protection, development and dissemination of fearless speaking in public space? Can new radical-democratic designs provide conditions for change toward a more open, agonistic and inclusive society?

In the tightly controlled space between (national) security and (civil) liberty, student projects, guest presentations, readings and workshop discussions will attempt to develop positive answers to these questions. More specifically, the course will focus on the psychological, economical and political conditions of those who are marginalized and therefore deprived of parrhesia today: the silent victims and witnesses of any kind of social and cultural exclusions.

Some of the workshop projects may respond to the needs of survivors of today's social fear and misguided security policies: the unconstitutionally detained, those who face unjust deportation, who must report to "special registration" and who are racially "profiled". While these victims and survivors comprise some of the most important potential "fearless speakers" in our society, they are often traumatized and silent. Their ability to communicate is in need of recovery.

The workshop projects may attend to such difficult psychological conditions and needs. As the depravation of freedoms begins affecting all of us, participants may focus their designs on their own life experience and specific areas of interest.


The workshop will emphasize the need to develop "technologies of inclusion". With this general objective in mind, course participants will design and experiment with new communicative tools, equipment, networks and environments.

Innovative and playful adaptation and redesign of available equipment such as wearable, portable, movable and mobile devices, instruments, tools, toys, games, prostheses, mechanical and electronic systems will be welcome. Situational and environmental interventions, inventions, alterations and appropriations are also encouraged. Students may integrate their ongoing artistic and research projects with the course's agenda in order to produce original work.

Class Structure

Monday meetings will consist of discussions of assigned readings, guest lectures, and critical evaluations of ongoing student work. Wednesday meetings will be primarily devoted to the development of student projects. There will be a mid-term project and a final project. Projects may be developed individually or in teams.


We will maintain contact with (a necessarily limited group of) guest critics and collaborators who will present their research and review projects.

Guests: Nato Thompson (curator at Mass MoCA), N55 (artists Ion Sørvin and Ingvil Hareide Aarbakke), MITERS (MIT Electronics Research Society), Jenny Polak (NYC-based artist), Daniel Joyce and Mohammad Afreedi (Physicians for Human Rights), MALIK (National Immigration Project), Sadia Shirazi (ACLU), Azra Aksamija (Bosnian artist and MIT PhD student), Chris Csikszentmihály (head of the Computing Culture Group at the MIT Media Lab) and Richard Senett (professor of sociology at MIT and London School of Economics).