New Grounds for the Humanities and Design

New Grounds for the Humanities and Design

There has been a growing awareness that in many domains of design and the human sciences—geography, politics, ethics, the visual, the social—not only the conceptualizations of the domains but our practical, passionate doings in the domains are distorted and cramped by the dominant frames received either through the colonial past or contemporary disciplinary lenses. The distortions are all the more acutely felt in domains where there were alternative frames, where the very structuring of the lived domain was different. We see the effect of such distortions in our social world where the fine-grained practices that sustained the social and ethical world have been distorted and rendered invisible by disciplines that had no resources to understand them.

But such dissonances are common whether we take eco-cultural spheres, the built environment,  political and educational institutions.  In domains as far apart as geography and ethics, but also in many other domains we encounter a problem that is both cognitive and practical. How to understand this dissonance in different domains and to practically and creatively deal with it is a question that we can no longer evade. Implicitly or explicitly the models have come from elsewhere (colonial inheritance in the case of education, politics and administration, but more generally western frames in other domains) and the implicit frame has had to assert itself obliquely, often only in the way we have had to cope with the inhospitable structures. The result often enough has been distortion, of both the imposed structures and the resistance. The task is to understand both the distortions and the superimpositions that have rendered invisible different ways of conceptualizing the domains, which may be geographical, ethical or aesthetic.

We present here the beginnings of such an attempt both from the humanities and design.  Using the maidan as a resource and an opening for investigating how the city can be reimagined and with it how a cluster of concepts and distinctions—rural/urban– that constrain our imagination of the city can be overturned, Dilip da Cuhna and Anuradha Mathur outline a veritable manifesto of design inquiry: “This is design beyond the facts and critique of empirical and critical research; it is design as imaginative inquiry. It assumes that people do not just see things differently; they see different things.” The conception of design inquiry that they set out here is in some sense a distillation of the learning they have extracted from their ground breaking design work on water and the rigorous and inventive studios they have been conducting both in the US and in India.

There is little doubt that in their design projects and their writing, they have been demonstrating the richness of design conceived as an expression of practical knowledge. There is then a dialogue between their conception of design as imaginative inquiry and Dhareshwar’s conception a practional matrix with which he proposes to reconceptualize the practical form of life underlying Indian sociality. In order to begin such a reconceptualization, he suggests that we will have to choose between the past and history, between adhyatma and philosophy, between tradition and religion, and finally between the caste-system and the practional matrix.  Those of us familiar with da Cuhna and Mathur’s audacious attempt to oppose the imagination of rain-terrain to the

Vivek Dhareshwar