Affect and emotions in activist work: grassroots communities, art and design

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Master's Programme in International Design Business Management
137 + 24
This master thesis investigates the role of affective politics in grassroots activist communities that could impact their collaboration with artists and designers. Based on this impact, it also provides recommendations for the work of practitioners in these fields. This work approaches the topic through the lens of a collaboration between a visual artist and an industrial designer by applying design methods in the contexts of Finland and Mexico. This was achieved by studying two organizations, Ruskeat Tytöt (Brown Girls) and Granja Apampilco (Apampilco Farm). The concept of affective politics within grassroots has been addressed in the humanities and the social sciences. This area of study aims to understand actorhood and decision making by integrating affect and reason. It analyses the role of affect for the formation and maintenance of activist groups. In a similar manner, the fields of arts and design recognize emotions as a source of knowledge and inspiration that is accessed by developing empathy and engaging with people. Therefore, considering that the creative process of art and design is grounded in emotions, we acknowledge that community’s affective dynamics permeate the actions, interactions, and decision-making processes of a collaborative project. This topic has received little attention in the fields of arts and design. The research was conducted using a human-centered approach and artistic/designerly tools to provide insight into the topic. First, a series of interviews with art and design experts collaborating with grassroots communities in Finland and Mexico was conducted. Second, a visual diary was designed for the members of Ruskeat Tytöt, to facilitate their individual reflection. Third, three workshops were facilitated for Granja Apampilco to profoundly explore affective politics in their everyday interactions. However, rather than strictly following a preconceived plan, we selected and applied these tools flexibly as contingencies emerged during the development of this work, shaping its structure and goal. This thesis provides eleven practical insights into how artists and designers could be more equipped to collaborate with grassroots activist communities. This is achieved by providing a series of eleven corresponding recommendations that artists and designers should anticipate when working with these groups, which are equally relevant for both disciplines. In summary, these recommendations for art/design work are: 1) To consider the depth of a community's emotions according to the impact intended for an art/design project; 2) to understand the connection between past and present affective experiences and to acquire tools to adequately address complex emotions in the context of an art/design project; 3) to develop strategies that address positive and negative emotions and thus provide affective stability during the development of an art/design work; 4) to develop strategies that communicate the benefits of affective discussion within grassroots communities for the development of an art/design work; 5) to create strategies that address collective and individual emotions and thus provide a diversity of knowledge for the development of an art/design work; 6) to recognize official and unofficial decision-making practices within a community to guarantee the success of an art/design work; 7) to identify the distinct practices of expressing emotions particular to a community and to design tools accordingly; 8) to acknowledge the influence of emotions in the everyday actions and decisions of grassroots communities that intrinsically impact the outcome of a collaborative art/design project; 9) to open communication channels between members of a community as a way to access emotional knowledge for an art/design project; 10) to create an engaging experience through the design of research material that encourages participants’ commitment on an art/design project; 11) to adopt roles to filter emotions and provoke discussion of sensitive topics to access knowledge according to an art/design project goals. Through this work, we argue that practitioners in the art and design activist fields could achieve better project results by addressing the emotions and affective dynamics within a community as a key success factor
McGrory, Peter
Thesis advisor
Julier, Guy
Garduño, Claudia
Hodson, Elise
affective politics, grassroots communities, art, design, activism, empathy, horizontalism
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