Sustaining Intensities: Materialism, Feminism and Posthumanism Meet Sustainable Design

  • Author / Creator
    Hroch, Petra
  • This dissertation explores the concept of environmental sustainability and design by connecting posthumanist philosophies of materiality to material practices. This research complicates the idea of sustainability by posing sustainability as a problem or a question: What is sustainability? Or, indeed, what is worth sustaining? To explore these questions I engage with materialist and process-based philosophies such as the work of Deleuze and Guattari and materialist and posthumanist feminisms and connect them to theories and practices of environmentally sustainable design and design activism. My objective is to ask: How can these philosophies and practices critically and creatively inform ways of thinking and/as doing sustainable environmental relations? How can they promote building bridges, cultivating difference, and generosity toward future generations? This project contains four chapters that examine the relationship of onto-epistemologies of subjectivity to environmental ethics, the potential of design as an intensity-sustaining discipline, the ways contemporary rhetoric of sustainability serves to reinforce an unsustainable status quo, and the ways designers themselves engage with sustainability as a concept and problem. The first chapter begins by thinking differently about the relationship between subjectivity (“me”) and spatio-temporality (“milieu”) through the concept of habit, habitat, and co-habitation. I connect Deleuze and Guattari’s immanent concept of a “people-yet-to-come” to what I call the “planet-yet-to-come” and argue that the intensive difference-generating processes of the refrain or “ritournelle” present a therapeutic-ethic of co-habiting with the earth. The second chapter deterritorializes Deleuze and Guattari’s “three domains of thought” in relation to design as an interdiscipline. I interrogate their critique of majoritarian design and its complicity with “creative” capitalism and explore “minor” modes of design (such as Toronto fruit-picking organization Not Far From the Tree) that seek to sustain intensities and activate heterogenous connections and collective flourishing. The third chapter connects the concept of “social sustainability” to what I describe as its contemporary “schizoid” modes: the rhetoric of “social resilience” and “social innovation.” I draw on materialist and posthumanist theories of affect in order to complicate the kinds of social “grassroots” initiatives in which individuals today are being invited to participate and situate these within the broader context of a neoliberal ecological and economic milieu. I propose “intensive resistance” as a relational response to a diagram of power that locates agency in the “dividual.” The fourth chapter “entangles” encounters with Deleuzo-Guattarian and materialist and posthumanist feminist philosophies together with conversations with designers and case study examples of their sustainable design concepts and practices. I extend the methodological “mud mode” developed in the dissertation to experiment with making “composthumanist” (Haraway, 2014) philosophies “meet halfway” (Barad, 2007) with sustainable design practices in order to generate thought-bridges that cultivate more generous (Braidotti, 2006, p. 259) modes of mingling with our milieu.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2014
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Heyes, Cressida (Philosophy and Political Science)
    • Wallin, Jason (Secondary Education)
    • Chisholm, Dianne (English and Film Studies)
    • Antoniuk, Tim (Art & Design)
    • Parr, Adrian (Sociology and School of Architecture and Interior Design, University of Cincinnati)