Computing and the common. Learning from Participatory Design in the age of platform capitalism.
Digital technologies have an increasing, often debated, role in our world: in this book we are concerned with the relation between technologies and the common, the ensemble of elements connecting human beings. Our motivation lies in the observation that the common is often dispossessed by platform capitalism. Can we, as scholars, help to identify and build digital technologies that nourish the common rather than dispossessing it?
To answer this question, we look at Participatory Design (PD) as an inspiring example for other scholarship. In the light of designing viable alternatives, in this book we review and discuss the actual status of PD research taking into account a reinvigorated political perspective. Our goal is to understand, from the most recent literature in PD, how such field can contribute to socio-technical alternatives to platform capitalism. We also point to the limitations of actual PD, in terms of missing elements when looking at the political agenda on nourishing the common that we propose. More specifically, we look at PD literature trying to answer the following research question: “how could PD research contribute to a renewed political research practice in the age of platform capitalism?”.
To answer this question, we engaged in a narrative literature review of the last years of activity in the field. This literature review is grounded on the framework, developed by us as a contribution to PD itself, of a Participatory Design promoting commoning practices, or nourishing the common, the ensemble of the material and symbolic elements tying together human beings. Such framework identifies four practical strategies for scholars, professionals, and activists in the field of PD interested in building a contemporary activist agenda: 1) to identify an arena of action that is potentially socially transformative; 2) to clarify how the social groups involved in a specific technological process can connect to commoning; 3) to promote and enact an open ended design process that is facilitated but not strongly lead by the designers themselves; and 4) to discuss and evaluate how people participating in a design project see their material conditions changed by the project itself (four themes we referred to, in our review, with the four labels Transformative; Agency; Open Ended; Gains).
Starting from our four strategies framework we approached the literature review, searching for those works that adhere to one or more strategies. We complete the review with a discussion, based on the reviewed literature, on the strategies that can dialogue with other researchers engaging in an activist agenda aimed at social transformations that supports nourishing the common.