“an independently published open book exploring the visions, actions, tools and impacts of change agents, thinkers and ‘happeners’.
Excerpted from the introduction to the wonderfully edited and designed book:
* Book: Agents of Alternatives – Re-designing Our Realities. Ed. by Alastair Fuad-Luke, Anja-Lisa Hirscher and Katharina Moebus. Agents of Alternatives e.V., 2015
By Anja-Lisa Hirscher et al:
“”You hold in your hands a book which is really a manifestation of an evolving vision to link designing with everyday ‘active-ism’ which helps materialise plausible ‘alternatives’ to the global economy and neo-liberal capitalist practices. This was driven by an underlying belief that we need to ‘re-design our realities’ to better reflect and respond to our pressing contingent challenges about our social, ecological and financial condition.
Exploring ‘agents of alternatives’ demands a multidisciplinary dialogue within and between citizens, practitioners and academics who make things happen. So, you will find contributors from diverse fields: design, the arts, architecture, education, politics, economics, urban planning and city administration, social enterprise and the informal sector, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), experts on the commons, and others. We encouraged activists, researchers, educationalists, strategists and facilitators to share their views. In this book we mix the voices of well-known contributors alongside lesser-known active local agents. We look for emergent ways of learning-by-doing, of designing, of manifesting things differently and catalysing positive change, and we present these ways of thinking and practicing so that others might fruitfully experiment with, explore and generate alternatives for themselves.
Our position is that everyone and everything has agency, that is, the capacity to change what happens next. A position reinforced by certain philosophers – for example, Bruno Latour’s human and non-human ‘actants’, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s ‘social material assemblages’, and Jane Bennett’s ‘vibrant matter’.
We, and our contributors, also adopt more accepted sociological and anthropological views of agency involving the social structures, systems and rules which bind or break them. Those with agency are actors, stakeholders, shareholders, institutions, organisations, diverse communities and other social groups. We would also invoke ‘political agency’ as a healthy form of disagreement and discourse as part of our civic and human condition, not confined within formalised institutionalised practices of ‘politics’. In this sense we see the political agency of this book and its contributors as a means to re-examine and explore our social relations and our relations with the wider world so that we might, individually and collectively posit or construct alternatives.
* The agents
Who are these agents of alternatives? They exhibit some common features: they are independently minded, but share a critical awareness of our social, ecological and economic condition; they have a vision but it is adaptive to changing circumstances; they are open and transparent, showing their processes and sharing their expertise; they start their journey with the (often meagre) resources at their disposal and show perseverance; they believe their voice counts and encourage others to add their voices too; they turn rhetoric into action; and they reveal opportunities and possibilities. Most importantly, all our contributors here are ‘making things happen’, they are active not passive, caring not distant, and different not conformist. Read their voices in the essays, interviews and case studies.
Anyone, or anything, contesting the status quo, societal ‘norms’ or contemporary paradigmatic forces, is, potentially, an ‘alternativ-ist’. To be an alternativ-ist is not a new position but has an illustrious history which embraces daring individuals, collective movements, specialised groups and minorities.
Here we define our alternatives through a series of imagined worlds –Thinking, Learning, Sharing, Making, Intervening, Working, and Living – worlds which evolved as the content for the book grew (see p.18-19). We see these worlds intertwined, joined by a series of emergent practices (p.462) and expressed through an evolving lexicon (p.22-37). These alternatives are still young, yet they are potentially catalytic and, if scaled-up, can encourage a transition towards more sustainable, equable and adaptable futures. We found professionally organised alternatives that try to bridge policy-making and grassroots activism as well as small initiatives that have spread all around the world, because their underlying ideas are so simple, accessible and welcoming to a wide range of people. There are different ways of changing society, and this book tries to have a closer look at the potential of the informal and formal worlds of change makers.
Our shared vision for this book was also underpinned with a belief that the field of design is diffusing out into wider society and is no longer just the primary concern of professionally trained designers, but is actually being practiced by other professionals, professional amateurs and citizen designers. We share and update Victor Papanek’s view that ‘all people are designers’, and Joseph Beuys’ political position making all citizens ‘artists’ that shape the ‘social sculpture’ of our society. And, we believe that a sustainable way of designing is to work with what is existent in a ‘locale’ – a diverse array of human, social, public, commercial and natural capitals. In this sense ‘re-designing’ makes more sense than ‘designing’, because it involves re-configuring the potential of what already exists. This might, of course, involve bringing in new ingredients and smartly combining them to create fresh potentialities. The initiatives, projects and ideas collated in this book are representative for a growing global ‘zeitgeist’ (spirit of the time) around openness and sharing. This means making ideas accessible to everyone so that they can be adapted to diverse local conditions. Most of them are open source so individual authorship becomes less important and the positive impacts and potentialities of sharing are emphasised. They bring different communities and places around the world together in a dynamic self-organised and, often, surprising way.
To summarise, it is our hope that this book will stimulate you, the reader, to become an agent of alternatives too…”