Dennis Grauel ‣ Kyneton Art Grotesque
Wurundjeri Country

Kyneton Art Grotesque was drawn for the 2020 publication Force Fields, a retrospective document of the inaugural Kyneton Contemporary Art Triennial in 2018. The typeface takes cues from KCAT 2018’s reclaiming of post-industrial space. Originating from a 1964 Stellar Press type specimen, early sketches captured the inky, manufactured sturdiness of the Grotesque 150. This base was then ‘reclaimed’ with adjustments that focused on balancing contemporary agreeableness with robust functionality and understated eccentricity.

Force Fields was designed by Hope Lumsden Barry, Ryley Lawson and Dennis Grauel.

Current Version: 1.41
Started: March 2019
Last Update: February 2022

You can download and use this typeface for testing purposes, student work, or explicitly non-commercial, local-scale community organising work. For commercial applications, licenses can be arranged via email.

▤ License Pricing ⤓ Download v1.41
Variable Weight Slant
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
Mudlarks
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
Mechanic’s Institute
Beauchamp St
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
Post-Industrial Irony
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
Site-specificity
local butcherbird duet
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
RIP
RISO S-4387 RED ROUGE
injection mold
Neutrino
pencil sharpener
The Refusal of Work: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Work
Accredited for compliance with NPAAC standards and ISO 15189
HB pencils – 20pk
Light
Site-specificity
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
Beauchamp St
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
local butcherbird duet
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
Mechanic’s Institute
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
Mudlarks
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
Post-Industrial Irony
Blues in C
The Ecology of Freedom
All Cats Are Beautiful
RATING: 5VDC - 200mA
Cryptic Crossword Moral Panic Strikes Cleveland
individual oscillations are varied (modulated) to produce the signal.
Rose
$56.10 (40% off sale)
Light Italic
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
Mudlarks
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
local butcherbird duet
Post-Industrial Irony
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
Mechanic’s Institute
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
Beauchamp St
Site-specificity
dramatic/overkill
backhanded compliment
that’s vaguely plausible
Accredited for compliance with NPAAC standards and ISO 15189
freezing, icy, frigid.
Housing is a human right
variation
Last Deployed on: Sep 12, 2022 1:46:26 PM
Regular
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
Post-Industrial Irony
Site-specificity
Mudlarks
local butcherbird duet
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
Mechanic’s Institute
Beauchamp St
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
white elephant
youthful resistance
Housing is a human right
mansplained
wandering, lost in thought
Post Scarcity
Warning – to avoid danger of suffocation, keep this bag away from babies and children.
dictum
Regular Italic
Post-Industrial Irony
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
Mechanic’s Institute
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
Mudlarks
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
Beauchamp St
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
local butcherbird duet
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
Site-specificity
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
packaging supplies for online Business
freezing, icy, frigid.
501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation
ill-fated vessels
dictum
RATING: 5VDC - 200mA
Toga
RP 3100AW
DemiBold
Site-specificity
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
Mudlarks
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
Beauchamp St
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
local butcherbird duet
Mechanic’s Institute
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
Post-Industrial Irony
3. magnetic spin oscillation modes (in magnetic materials, called magnons).
A steady state amplitude remains constant during time, thus is represented by a scalar.
Muscle relaxant
Anti-school and self-learning
Post Scarcity
energetic gardens
ergo
snobbish blokes
DemiBold Italic
Beauchamp St
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
Mudlarks
Mechanic’s Institute
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
Post-Industrial Irony
local butcherbird duet
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
Site-specificity
Coburg 3056
Take that with a grain of salt.
The Atmosphere of Mistrust
The Refusal of Work: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Work
Enduring boundlessness
Toga
2PLY 224 PACK 20 x 19.5cm
LITHIUM ION BATTERY
Bold
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
Site-specificity
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
Mudlarks
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
local butcherbird duet
Post-Industrial Irony
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
Mechanic’s Institute
Beauchamp St
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
PUR bookbinding glue
Elder
Ida
Sari
Intifada
Anti-school and self-learning
tonal tendencies
packaging supplies for online Business
Bold Italic
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
local butcherbird duet
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
Mudlarks
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
Site-specificity
Post-Industrial Irony
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
Beauchamp St
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
Mechanic’s Institute
MPARNTWE – 30km
packaging supplies for online Business
Congratulations, you solved Redactle #138!
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963)
grey marle drapes
Accidents happen!
Emma Goldman, 1906, ‘The Child and its Enemies’
that’s vaguely plausible
Black
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
Mechanic’s Institute
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
Mudlarks
Site-specificity
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
Post-Industrial Irony
local butcherbird duet
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
Beauchamp St
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
Emma Goldman, 1906, ‘The Child and its Enemies’
backhanded compliment
bicycle freedom
Blues in C
orange sharpie on recycled kraft
MPARNTWE – 30km
miniature gauge railway
relevant
Black Italic
Post-Industrial Irony
local butcherbird duet
As we paint, we build a creative energy that helps draw out memories, stories and conversation. We paint and talk, drink tea and paint and talk.
Giraffe & Rhinoceros
Clever Dripper 3 minute brew
Site-specificity
Beauchamp St
Neighbourhood Arts Grot
The shit costume is an obvious disguise, I know. It’s actually me in there, beneath the brown, meandering aimlessly, self-promoting, self-effacing, both there and not there, a walking, smiling waving Artist’s shit. A mascot without obvious motive or campaign. And with what to do all day? Don’t you have a job? Oh, to be an animal!
LEFTIST SALTY IRE
Mechanic’s Institute
Active Forms – Forest (Klein Blue), 2018. Wood, acrylic paint, fixings.
The town has three main streets: Mollison Street, Piper Street and High Street.
Salt, pepper, nutritional yeast
A memorial is a statue or structure created for a particular site.
Mudlarks
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963)
Ibid.
youthful resistance
Congratulations, you solved Redactle #138!
Regista
Toga
The Atmosphere of Mistrust
Ewan
Light 16px

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

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Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

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Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

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In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

DemiBold 16px

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

DemiBold Italic 16px

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

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Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

Last week, a curious exchange between a Chicago housing advocate and a local Chicago NBC reporter on Twitter caught my eye:

@cholent_lover @LisaParkerNBC For this story, we wanted to hear the POV from a small, affordable housing owner and his experience with accessing rental assistance $$. Many providers we talked to told us they no longer use “landlord” since it’s a “dated term” so we used both terms in our story.

Here’s a local reporter (who we won’t pick on here too much because he’s pretty low on the food chain) admitting he’s chosen to adopt a term preferred by landlords in the interests of fairness. And he’s not alone: Increasingly, reporters, pundits, and editors are allowing landlords to rebrand themselves “housing providers” in a troublesome and cynical trend of faux identity politics. 

But landlords do not comprise a vulnerable or protected class; they are not dispossessed, historically marginalized, or a minority group in urgent need of reclaiming their humanity. The instinct to let groups of people define themselves is a good and liberal one, but the landlord lobby isn’t an Indigenous or transgender or homeless group; it’s not an oppressed class for whom reclaiming a narrative is a step toward rectifying a social wrong. It’s a bunch of extremely rich and cynical assholes who hire other rich and cynical assholes to spin its bad image to credulous media outlets.

Take a fairly brazen example from this summer, an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined, “Opinion: 'Landlord' feudal, outdated term that help paint housing providers as villains.” It’s a useful object lesson in how PR and lobbying groups are increasingly adopting the language of liberal affect to serve the interests of the wealthy. It reads, in part:

First of its kind legislation has been proposed in Ohio to change references in state law from “landlord” and “tenant” to “housing provider” and “resident.” 
Oddly, the proposal will prove controversial. It would mean feudal terminology would be replaced in order to reflect the real relationship between people who provide and who need housing. Often, housing providers in Ohio and the United states are small family-owned businesses, not powerful land barons. Updating language is an important first step to accurately reflect this in the law, and it should lead to better policy. 

The piece is written by Roger Valdez, who is simply referred to as the “director of The Center for Housing Economics, a Seattle-based policy center researching progressive supply-side solutions to housing scarcity.” The vague disclaimer notes that “in Ohio, the center is working with the Ohio Real Estate Investors Association on a proposal to change housing terminology in state law.” 

Not mentioned: The Center for Housing Economics is really Seattle for Growth, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group (lobbying front) funded by real estate developers, whose board of directors is a who’s who of Seattle real estate moguls. Lopez, our “progressive” board president, serves alongside bold progressive voices like Morris Groberman of First Western Properties, Keith Hammer of Northwest Investment Group, Scott Shapiro of Eagle Rock Ventures, Mark Knoll of Blueprint Capital, Dan Duffus of BluePrint capital, and Erich Armbruster of Ashworth Homes.

These are the bleeding hearts super concerned about the “feudal, outdated term.” Lopez insists he’s advocating on behalf of “small businesses” and “people of color serving other people of color,” yet strangely is funded by generic multimillionaire white men. As we documented in a recent episode of Citations Needed, the almost entirely white and male real estate lobby is increasingly attempting to paint itself as a champion of “landlords of color” to pass laws that disproportionately benefit rich, white real estate developers. This will, invariably, result in the eviction of people who are disproportionately people of color. 

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In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

In the land where both “Corporations are People” and “All Lives Matter,” “Human Resources” may strike us as a thing we have somehow always lived with, as if measured productivity was an essential feature of human existence. But the invention of the term and its infiltration into the labor imaginary is a thoroughly modern development. The human resources project that unfolded in the twentieth century—from the marshaling of a civilian workforce in times of national crisis to the development of ever more employable individuals—is one that actively conflated the terrains of life and labor into a science. The paradigm of personnel management that emerged in prewar factory production became naturalized within late twentieth-century offices and institutions as “HR.” The acronym, a fixture of the corporate lexicon that has invaded the cultural imaginary of work, effectively collapses the objects and infrastructures of employment, such that the humanity of individual workers can be weighed against their quantifiable value to the organization that employs them, and in relation to an external pool of potential recruits that might replace them. In this frame, human resources are simultaneously reified as people and as capital—the live objects of social expenditure or personal investment, and the infinite reserves to power an ever-expanding market.

If it took the previous century for this concept to cohere, the first decades of the twenty-first would expose its precarity. The imbrication of global financial crisis, decreased social spending, and growing income inequality showed that HR wasn’t as fungible as it had seemed. Meanwhile, employment has retained its moral imperative, and it remains a measure of the health of the national economy. By this year—the long 2020—converging crises have thrown “valuable” human resources into much higher relief: who works the “front line,” who will remain at home, who qualifies for aid, who will have to assemble in the streets, who will do the work that lies ahead, and who has not been considered at all. As I write this text, friends working in architecture have been furloughed, let go, or asked to take pay cuts while their employers weather a pause in production and adapt to the economic and logistical fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. New graduates of design programs have found themselves plunged into an impossible job market, being invited in their apparent downtime to participate in ideas competitions about the new design problem of “social distancing” or an old favorite, the prison. These are the unsurprising activities of a majority-white profession that has tricked itself into thinking it can solve the world’s problems from without, while remaining beholden to a ruling class whose refusal to provide affordable housing, accessible public space, and other well-serviced public infrastructures has contributed to an untenable material reality for so many. The neoliberal drift of HR similarly divides the working world, reproducing racial disparities as it announces ever new diversity and inclusion measures to overcome them.

As the virus and rising unemployment have exacted asymmetrical burdens on Black Americans, subject to both social abandon and state-sanctioned violence, human contingencies have been reilluminated by burning buildings. From afar, talking heads debate the validity of demonstrations that engage in looting and the destruction of property, forcing a value comparison between architecture and Black lives. Up close, the proximity of masked demonstrators to one another registers as a risk willingly taken (a risk otherwise consigned to workers deemed essential)—dangerous but less so than the exposure to police forces outfitted in riot gear and decommissioned military equipment.

Activists have condemned police brutality and associated conditions of resource abandonment in explicitly architectural terms. Insufficiencies across the provision of housing, public transport, and street upkeep, among other urban improvements, are all the more obvious at the protest, when the full resources of city security are on display. In Chicago, this withholding of public infrastructure was mirrored in the raising of all but one bridge around its downtown Loop: a tactical maneuver to trap protesters just as Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a curfew during protests on May 30. Phalanxes of police, typically the primary beneficiaries of municipal expenditure, were deployed in Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Lexington, and other cities across the country to manage assemblies, deeming them unlawful at the moment they appear to endanger property. Cable news images of shattered or boarded storefronts illustrate the distinctions made between a “peaceful protest” and the implicitly unjustified riot. When the Third Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department was overtaken by protesters on May 28, a local journalist described the expropriation and destruction on Lake Street euphemistically as people “interacting with materials.” Architects scandalized by the immolation of a nearby construction site were less delicate in their appraisals of these actions (“Buildings Matter, Too”). The neighborhood where George Floyd was killed would sustain some of the greatest physical damage over the course of nationwide protests, but the events in Minneapolis would occasion the most immediate transformation of government, as the city council moved to defund its police force just weeks later.

Black 16px

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.

Now return to our own world, cruel and turbulent by comparison — are you a designer here, or a consumer? Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor best known for her writing on infrastructure and urban planning as they relate to global politics, turns this distinction on its head. Easterling’s new book, Medium Design: Knowing How To Work on the World, begins with the assertion that everyone is a designer, including you. This is not a new concept: similar currents have run through the design world since at least the 1960s (perhaps best exemplified by architect Hans Hollein’s 1968 proclamation that “everything is architecture,” meaning that architects’ purview extends to all aspects of spatial knowledge). Within this well-trodden ground, however, Easterling finds an intriguing hook. Everyone is a designer, she says, not of buildings or typography or clothing, but of environments. We move from place to place, encountering new situations — a jug of milk near expiration, a crying child, a busy intersection — and try to alter them using whatever is available to us in the moment, whether by cooking a meal that will use up the remaining milk or bringing the child a comforting toy or pet.

From this foundation, Easterling makes a bold declaration: Through careful examination of our environments and their latent potentials, designers can find solutions to seemingly intractable political problems by working around them (in her words, “rewiring some of the abusive structures of capital”). This methodology, which she calls “medium design,” is applied throughout the book to quandaries such as land ownership and inequality, urban transportation, and global migration. In other words, design — the same theory and process that has created everything from the Swiss Army Knife to the iPhone — could also alleviate poverty and displacement, replace crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps eliminate the need for “politics” altogether.

Easterling finds medium designers throughout historical and fictional narrative alike, including among her ranks Jane Eyre, Richard III, the recaptured slaves of Kubrick’s Spartacus, and Rosa Parks. These figures are supposedly united in political temperament: Rather than engage in direct conflict with their oppressors, she claims, they redesign the dynamics of their circumstances, find power in the quieter work of subverting expectations such that persecuting them can only produce a pyrrhic victory. On the bus in Montgomery, Parks supposedly “activated an undeclared urban disposition, and she shifted this potential in the spatio-political matrix to break a loop without intensifying a dangerous binary.” Putting the needlessly impenetrable language aside (most of the book is written like this), the implication that Parks and the subsequent bus boycott didn’t very intentionally intensify the binary between segregationists and anti-segregationists — and the suggestion that this binary bred violence, rather than segregation itself — is jaw-dropping.

As galaxy-brained and jargon-laden as Easterling’s articulation may be, her worldview far from fringe: its less urbane cousin, “design thinking,” has long found eager acceptance in Silicon Valley, corporate America, and parts of academia. (You may have encountered its very basic precepts in school, in the form of a process diagram with steps labeled “empathize,” “define,” “ideate,” “prototype,” and “test.”) Lofted into the mainstream by Tim Brown and the design company IDEO in the late aughts, the ambiguously-defined technique was billed as a magic bullet with as much to offer on issues like global poverty as it did on consumer product innovation. By the time critics began pointing out that this approach simultaneously rarified common sense and oversimplified actual design expertise, teaching people to “think like designers” had become a massive industry, flush with the cash of business schools and corporations. Like medium design, design thinking seeks to identify mobile pieces in seemingly intractable situations — to “get things moving,” as Easterling puts it, with grease rather than force. The seemingly distinct problems of a poor rural community depending on time-intensive, hand-operated water pumps, and of children having nowhere to play, for example, could be ameliorated in combination by attaching the water tank to a children’s merry-go-round.

But where design thinking is primarily focused on process, Easterling appears interested in design as a kind of political theory — or rather, a theory by which “design” transcends politics, rendering it obsolete. Medium design is presented as a salve against “ideological conflict,” which seems to refer to direct struggles for power between those with different class interests or incompatible visions for the future. This type of political engagement is problematized as a fruitless endeavor with little potential beyond stalemate; throughout Medium Design, words like “ideological” and “activist” are employed with a timbre of condescension, characterizing those to whom they refer as well-intentioned, but unsophisticated. This framing allows Easterling to lay claim to sober pragmatism while also articulating a quite hopeful vision: that we can change the world simply by teaching people to think better. For any given conflict, an ingenious, catch-all solution is just waiting to be engineered.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to think of medium design and design thinking as the respective theory and process elements of one larger design-as-politics worldview — one that is willfully ignorant and fundamentally centrist. This view has been refining itself since the late 20th century: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” claiming that Western liberal democracy would mark “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” When the triumphs of neoliberalism subsequently failed to deliver on their utopian promises, the Bill Gateses of the world issued an addendum: The world’s remaining problems were technical, not political, and as such require solutions rooted in technological innovation rather than mass political action. Every convoluted technical stopgap designed in service of a fundamentally political problem, then, can be cited as evidence of the coming utopia.

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Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.

Imagine for a moment that you are a person who rides the subway to work on a daily basis. Imagine also having to walk to that subway in the morning and return home from it at night. Imagine this is a trip you have taken many times, and because this route is so familiar to you, you are aware of potential encounters that may take place along the way. So when you get up in the morning, there are decisions to make. Perhaps you will wear exactly what you want to wear, and this outfit reveals something of your body; your chest, your legs, your socially debated body hair. Perhaps this outfit — a short skirt, a collar, 4-inch heels — models your body in a light deemed by others (ads, tv, gossip, etc.) as sexual or deviant. Or, maybe, the outfit reveals an affiliation considered non-standard, such as a hijab, a kippah, or a mustache over a lipsticked mouth. Do you wear the selected outfit, the one you want to wear, or do you modify it? Neither of these options is a question of character but rather of strategy. Is your strategy invisibility, hypervigilance, or both? Do you anticipate protection?

The project of keeping women and queer people safe in public space is a complicated one, owing not least of all to the complex question of why we, as a society, believe that they need protection. When women and queer people report instances of abuse in public space, do the responses address the conditions of their vulnerability or merely characterize their identities as inherently vulnerable? When a person says ‘a man on the street followed me’, or ‘a teenager spat on me as I was waiting on a train platform’, or ‘he tried to put a hand up my skirt’, what does the redress for these experiences look like? Traditionally, it has been preventative surveillance, or if the perpetrator is found and the assailed party is believed, it might be incarceration. But these measures don’t necessarily make a space safer, nor are they capable of addressing all the threats of a public environment. However, the paternal approaches of surveillance and incarceration are the culturally normative response to insecurity. They offer the possibility of intimidation and vengeance.

‘Paternal protection assumes that, like a child, a woman or a queer person out in the world is naturally incapable of looking after themselves or that, no matter the context, they are a lure for predation. This assumption leads the paternal protector to both exact vengeance upon the perpetrator (if the report is believed) and to scold the assailed party: ‘do not go out too late’, ‘do not go out alone or in that outfit’, ‘do not go out in that part of town’, etc. This is how to stay safe, even if these precautions ensure women and queer people are barred from the full experience of public space. But, this list of precautions is often already the constant companion of any person who has experienced gendered violence. And vengeance does not prevent future violence or ensure safety in public space.’

For those demographics that experience high rates of gendered violence, it is important and even liberating to talk about what makes them feel unsafe, what strategies they developed to keep themselves safe, and where they look for protection and support. Through a series of interviews examining people’s experiences in public space, Here There Be Dragons podcast has revealed the many little adjustments and maneuvers that residents use to keep themselves safe. They wear turbans instead of hijabs, they place their keys in easily accessible pockets, they do not hold their partners’ hand, they shout at catcallers, they avoid bright colours, or they put their heels on at work. In other words, they take precautions and are careful readers of their environments. However, in the cities where the hosts conducted the interviews (New York, Paris, and Stockholm), the built environment is not always seen as an asset in the legislative response to public safety. Designed protections in the built environment are usually aimed at control and containment. Cities are quick to deploy anti-car barriers, fencing, security cameras, anti-homeless spikes, and other blunt technologies directed more at curtailing individual behaviors than making the space itself feel more welcoming or easeful. Furthermore, policing and surveillance of individual behavior often fall back on cultural stereotypes. Those who are culturally perceived as most vulnerable, people who present in a stereotypically feminine way, for example, are seen as most deserving of and subjected to paternal protection.

Sociologist Sara Farris and theorist Jasbir K. Puar’s concepts of femonationalism and homonatonalism are useful litmus tests for paternalistic safety measures that claim to fortify the rights of women and queer people. Initially framed to conceptualize certain national institutions’ use of queer and feminist movements to justify anti-muslim rhetoric, femo- and homo- nationalism, according to Sara Farris, “address the political economy of the discursive formation that brings together the heterogeneous anti-Islam and anti-(male) immigrant concerns of nationalist parties, some feminists, and neoliberal governments under the idea of gender equality.” Tying feminist and queer visions of safety to nationalism immediately creates a cultural hierarchy of behavior. It is a paternalistic surveillance approach that insidiously deputizes women and queer people of the most privileged classes (white, having the full benefits of citizenship, etc.) to further stigmatize marginalized members of their own communities. This approach severs the relationship between marginalized groups and the mainstream collective of feminist and queer movements, uses individual behavior as a greater threat than systemic oppression, and insists on using tools (e.g. state violence) that have long been wielded against women and the queer community.