Whakaaro Papa: Anthropos Design and Decolonising Metaphysics
Seemingly each week, or even every day, headlines draw attention to the incremental yet radical changes occurring as a result of cultural practices that bear witness to the Anthropocene, as a time in which human activity becomes a dominant influence on Earth. Indexes of global temperatures register warming patterns. A slow massing of synthetic toxins — plastics, synthetic oestrogens, dioxins — permeate into the geosphere. In the last few years life-lines of birds, frogs, species ‘x’ are ended, swept up in the sixth mass extinction event, a globalised radical failing in life’s vitality, now in process. Each of these lives whakapapa to an originary moment, perhaps some 3.8 billion years ago, when biological life first arose out of the geological. This emergence is a story told from within Western science, its disciplinary bindings and metaphysics. Indigenous peoples don’t segment bios and geos, earth and sentience. My Māori whakapapa does not tell the story of Western science. Though, Western science, pūtaiao, is braided into my whakapapa. My research orientates to questions of design: whakaahua. What is whakaahua/whakaahuatia — transformation — within Anthropocenic crisis? How is the Anthropocene a crisis of and in design? This design research occurs at a time when life is threatened on a planetary scale by anthropogenic climate change, habitat destruction and pollution at global and cellular scales. This research asks what it means to live in such times. In the lifetime of this text, temporalising of life here, now, in 2018 — we witness the effects of manifold crises, summarily those of life-wellbeing, mauri-ora.
Hence, the key concern of this thesis is the Anthropocene. But what can this name if it is not a universal category that subsumes a panoply of crises, of critical dangers? Is it not a universal, and for all that a concept that transcends the multiple milieus within which life is? We cannot separate these difficult questions (and hence the drift of this thesis) from the legacies of Anthropos itself, of the human as that entity considered as rational animal, animal with logos, with language, that being understood as measure. For all the supposed radicality of today’s vitalist and materialist thinking, the human remains essentially un-thought. For this reason, the Anthropocene remains, as a Western construct, transcendence at the very heart of life thought as immanent field. The task of this thesis is to dislodge the hegemony of an essentially un-thought Anthropos. But from where?
I aim at a braided composition. One strand aims to explore an earth-oriented ontological terrain particular to Aotearoa New Zealand and, from this position, to engage internationally with other geo-logical thinking. Geo-logical analytics for existence disclose sundry ways in which our cultural practices are harming mauri understood as essential life-vitality. The concept of the Anthropocene is a vital marker in this territory. The Anthropocene signals the extent, reach and diversity of ontologically-mediated human-led dislocations in the life-field. What, then, might constitute counter-practices to this temporal threshold? Such questioning is central to a second strand of this work that tests out design, through critical everyday practices that aim at design for life-wellbeing. Practice and ontology are imbricated, as river and river-banks shape one another. This is an exploration of ontology as design thinking and design process — whakapapa as whakaahua and as whakaaro of whakaahuatia. My questions become: How might we counter-current Anthropocenic practices? How might we experiment, design, and build more viable futures? How might ontological difference be instantiated in built form and in the more intangible but formative conditions of design thinking itself? How might design thinking come to be understood as and through an ethical framework? Might Indigenous-Māori ontologies, as decolonising metaphysics, design a paradigmatic shift from predominant Euro-American cultural-material frameworks? Such is the questioning of the urban material practices within this research.