Design Is Ceremony: Knowledge, Culture and Power in Indigenous Design

Nichols, Crighton (2009). "Design Is Ceremony: Knowledge, Culture and Power in Indigenous Design" Paper presented at the 6th annual conference of the HDCA, 10-12 September 2009, Lima, Peru.

The notion that different cultures will have different perceptions on what it means to ‘do’ design seems intuitive, yet to date scant attention has been paid to non-Western interpretations. This paper demonstrates the applicability of the process of re-interpreting the meaning of the interrelated dimensions of agency, culture and knowledge from an Indigenous perspective, and explores how these interpretations can inform an understanding of contemporary Indigenous design. The purpose is to help address the chronic under-representation of Indigenous Australians in the technical design professions, such as architecture, engineering and product/industrial design, by making them more relevant and accessible to Indigenous Australians. This has the potential to create meaningful employment opportunities whilst maintaining cultural integrity, leading to a greater sense of self-determination. Additionally, being capable of technical design is a necessary (though not sufficient) requirement to democratise the technology transfer process, which will inform government investments in areas such as Indigenous housing and the roll-out of high-speed internet connectivity in Australia. Finally, the decolonising process is likely to yield significant policy implications in terms of how to best empower Indigenous communities and strengthen their cultural identity. In essence, Indigenous technical design appears to be more consensual, harmonious and subtle in nature. The profit motive is less emphasised, and the context more so, allowing a deeper meaning, or story, to influence the design. The next step of future research in this area will be to critique, evaluate and refine the proposed understanding of design through detailed discussions with Indigenous Australian technical designers professionals. This work may be complimented by identify relevant case studies, possibly in the Indigenous housing design or Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) fields. Finally, the appropriate methodologies required to support an Indigenous design pedagogy also require further investigation.
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