Entretien avec Domus Magazine

Here is the French version of my interview with Valentina Croci of Domus Magazine, When Value Arises From Relationships, Not From Things /
Translation by Annelies Hollewand.

Q1 : Le modèle consumériste et nos ressources fossiles ont atteint leurs limites. Quel modèle de production alternatif pourrions-nous imaginer ?

JT : J’en suis venu à une conclusion gênante : la production n’est pas un objectif de vie. Je dis gênante, car nous sommes nombreux à dépendre de la production industrielle et ses énergies fossiles pour assurer nos besoins du quotidien. L’économie mondiale doit croître pour survivre : sa faim d’énergie et de matériaux est donc insatiable. Ce besoin de ressources est également dû à une complexité croissante du système et de ses chaînes d’approvisionnement mondiales interconnectées.

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How AI might be used to enhance local knowledge

[Indigenous peoples have a closer relationship with the ecologies of their land than those who practice ‘production agriculture’. But their intimate, fine-grained knowledge can always be enhanced. Sarah Kaushik (above) describes a system in which biodata collected from plants could be ‘heard’ by the farmer as music]

I wrote the Foreword (below) to a new book called Decentralising Digital. The project explores the possible roles that mesh networks, the Internet of Things, voice enabled Internet, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, might play in enhancing ecological agriculture. The design brief: how to enhance the farmers’ ability to understand the health of their soil, and their care for biodiversity. The project is a joint venture between Quicksand Design Studio in India, and the University of Dundee in Scotland.

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The Anthroponaut’s Wordbook, by Karin Fink. A prologue

The following is my prologue to The Anthroponaut’s Wordbook, by Karin Fink, which has just been published by Postmedia Books.

The scale of the societal and environmental challenges we face can be debilitating. Feeling powerless to change the course of events, the inclination to switch off can feel like self-defence. Karin Fink’s response is both nimble and wise. Rather than confront the enormity of unfolding events head-on, she sets out to start conversations and foster relationships – one at a time. Rather than re-draw the whole picture at a stroke, her focus in this book is on small connections, and how to enhance them. This approach to connections and relationships echoes the words of Ilya Prigogene, a founder of systems thinking: “When a system is far from equilibrium”, he wrote, “small islands of coherence have the capacity to shift the entire system”. Small islands of coherence, for Karin Fink, are discrete concepts and thoughts that, when articulated, can trigger new conversations among individuals and groups that might have been at loggerheads, or worse, before. The power of this approach is evident from the first entry in this book, on Affluence. Rather than denounce a fallen world for its greed and avarice, we are given a novel interpretation of the word itself – the idea that unmediated contact with nature might be a better measure of wealth than money, or possessions. An innocuous invitation to think ecologically, rather than economically, transforms the meaning and purpose of growth – but by indirect means. Rather than measure progress against abstract measures such as money, or GDP, ecological growth means observable improvements to the health and carrying capacity of the land, and the resilience of communities. Value is created by the stewardship of living systems, rather than the extraction of ‘natural resources’. We are not commanded to change our behaviour. Rather, a subtle tweak of language takes us down a conversational path – away from a world of abstraction, and into a world in which we are part of the web of life. This work is not neither symbolic, nor utopian. We are invited here to experience new connections, not just think about them – to connect with all of life, not just with human life. As Martin Buber counseled, “all living is meeting” , and reflecting on new meanings for that one word – affluence – is an invitation to explore relationships to other living beings, to seek out ways to be part of nature, rather than separate from it. The beauty of this approach is its subtlety. Rather than command us to stop killing the planet, conversations can start in this book that lead us, like a meandering river, to respect soils, waters, plants, and animals as co-equals, with us, of the places we inhabit. This transition is not a dreamy cruise to look at the view – it entails new work. Connecting with place brings with it the duty to care for place – but the pages that follow can show us how – step by step, island by island.
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Re-wilding the Bauhaus: what its foundation course should be like today

To mark its centenary year, the Bauhaus published Design Rehearsals: Conversations About Bauhaus Lessons. My contribution was a response to images from Oskar Schlemmer’s class on ‘The Human’. I’m re-posting it now on the occasion of the @BauhausSeas launch event on 20 May.

No textbook for the new foundation course exists – which is probably just as well. The course is better thought of as a journey, than as a body of knowledge.

The journey is neither short, nor easy. Its destination cannot be known in advance. No pathway has been laid to ease our way. And the autonomous individual is no longer the focus of the story.

“Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks” writes Gloria E. Anzaldúa for whom life-centered design could as well be thought of as weaving, as walking. “We humans need to be nepantleras – bridge builders and reweavers of relationality”.

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Cities as Lifeworlds

Ahead of a talk in Milan at the Politecnico di Milano, I was interviewed about relational ecology and design

Q: Sometimes “sustainable” ways of living are often more expensive. They are more elite, how can we make them more accessible?

A: Good question. Food is an obvious example, but many ‘green’ products and services seem to be more expensive than other products with similar performance. The near future means:
a) focus on local and direct relationships between producers and users; and
b) eliminate most marketing, branding and packaging. They add cost to the transaction but don’t add value to the product itself!

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john chris jones and ‘designing designing’

Its publisher, Bloomsbury, describes designing designing as “one of the most extraordinary books on design ever written”. It’s therefore welcome news that – after a period out of print – this classic book has now been reissued. (That’s my copy in the photograph above; it just arrived). The following text is included as an afterword. It was written by me to celebrate jones’s The Internet and Everyone in 2000, and was then republished on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

I’ve been rereading The Internet and Everyone by john chris jones.

I’ve been astonished once again by the sensibility of an artist-writer- designer whose philosophy – indeed his whole life – first inspired me when I was a young magazine editor more than thirty years ago.

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The relationship of my texts to a dead fish

The following is a conversation with John Wood, professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, and joint editor (with Julia Lockheart) of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice. Please cite: Thackara, John (2021), ‘The relationship of texts to dead fish’, Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, 14:1, pp. 5–11, doi: doi.org

Keywords: relational ecology; theory of change; stories; embodied experience; biodiversity; ecosystem; civic ecology; bioregion; design; social fermentation


Abstract John Thackara’s theory of change is borrowed from Ilya Prigogene: ‘when a system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence have the capacity to shift the entire system’. As a writer, he explains, his work therefore involves a search for small islands of coherence – that he can later describe – in which social and ecological relationships thrive together. His aim as a curator is similar: he strives to enable embodied encounters with situations (or ‘islands’) in which we feel ourselves to be part of nature, rather than separate from it. This work is therefore not symbolic, like ‘systems thinking’. It is more field work than head work. ‘I want people to experience relational ecologies, not just think about them’, Thackara states. He cites the artist Eva Bakkeslett as describing this process – the cultivation of ecological and social connectivity – as social fermentation.

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Sensory Orders

Image: Ania Zoltkowski

For an exhibition called Sensory Orders at Laznia Centre for Contemporary Arts, in Gdansk, 32 artists, designers and writers were asked: “What sensory conditions are you are working with under present conditions? What sensory orders do you see emerging in the social-political environment around us?”

My theory of change is borrowed from Ilya Prigogene: “When a system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence have the capacity to shift the entire system”. As a writer, my work therefore involves a search for small islands of coherence – that I can later describe – in which social and ecological relationships thrive together. My aim as a curator is similar: I strive to enable embodied encounters with situations (or ‘islands’) in which we feel ourselves to be part of nature, rather than separate from it. This work is therefore not symbolic, like ‘systems thinking’. It’s more field work, than head work. I want people to experience relational ecologies, not just think about them. The artist Eva Bakkeslett describes this process – the cultivation of ecological and social connectivity – as social fermentation.

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Bottom-Up biodiversity

Whether connecting schools to farms in France, daylighting rivers in Mexico, or rewilding grasslands in Patagonia, we’re learning how to ‘do’ biodiversity well. Fifteen minute read.

This text was commissioned by the Swiss Ministry of the Environment, FOEN Illustration © BAFU | Pierre Dubois, collectif Marie-Louise The text is also available online in these other languages:
German Biodiversität nach dem Bottom-up-Prinzip
Italian Biodiversità dal basso verso l’alt
French Biodiversité : une politique de terrain https://umwelt-schweiz.ch/fr/innovations/john-thackara
Chinese (available as pdf)

“The world has failed to arrest the steep decline of nature. The world must act fast to avert catastrophe”.

These recent headlines have been dispiriting – but they are also misleading.

High Level Meetings and international summits may indeed be an imperfect model of change – but at ground level, a million positive projects tell a different story.

Whether connecting schools to farms in France, daylighting rivers in Mexico, or rewilding grasslands in Patagonia, we’re learning how to ‘do’ biodiversity well.

Ecological Restoration Camps are a notable example. More than 26,000

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