Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fashion Design and an Ethics of Making

A call for contributions was recently sent out for an upcoming publication on design and ethics. The aim of the project is to produce a book of essays from different disciplinary perspectives on the themes of creation, production and consumption. The project is supported by ici (the Institute for Creative Innovation), a collaborative and interdisciplinary research institute at QUT.

This publication is timely for me, as my own research is veering toward questions of ethics in terms of how we apprehend our relationships with the material and immaterial conditions through which we work.

With the help of my supervisors Kath Horton and Andrew McNamara, I put together the following abstract for a 5000 word paper. Writing it helped me formally 'try on' some of the ideas that had been pestering me for awhile, regarding how to best articulate my PhD project's orientation:

Traditional approaches to fashion design are largely dependent on an ontology of design as a pre-conceived system determined by its end product. The same tradition presupposes that designers are individuals who transcend the everyday in the quest to create ‘the new’. These two presumptions result in a separation, but also an opposition between plan (or pre-determined outcome) and process, in which process is relegated to a subsidiary role to the plan as well as to the designer’s intention. This paper proposes an alternative ontology of design based on an ethics of making. Through an investigation of non-professional sites of clothing production, it explores design as grounded in an experiential engagement with the world. By looking at activities where conception and creation are heavily negotiated around constraints, I consider design as an activity where plans sit within both the material and immaterial conditions of the making process. This positions plan and control as approaches embedded in pre-existing and mutable conditions. By connecting the designer with the materiality of the planned design process, this paper challenges conceptions of design that privilege both the pre-determined plan and the autonomous creativity of the designer. It elucidates an ethics of making that underpins the recent concern for environmental and social responsibility in the fashion industry—connecting the designer to the ‘everyday’ conditions through which they conceive of and undertake their practice, to reposition designers as part of larger systems of making.

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