Critical Design Mediation


The Very Last Design Conference:
Gendering Intersections – Towards an actionable criticality

Lisa Baumgarten and Imad Gebrayel

Across Europe, design conferences place gender as a contextual key player in their discourse to promote a progressive stance towards inclusion; but a deeper analysis reveals complex systems of tokenist gendering. A PR rhetoric presenting design conferences as central to a critical discourse, often conceals their reality1: while public efforts ensure gender diversity, many conferences fail to address its correlated intersections, contributing instead to a counter-discourse.
A lived inclusion effectively champions the main agents affected by the political agendas proposed by most design conferences in the face of rising populism and hate-speech. These conferences become “privileged design sites”2 when excluding people of color, individuals who are differently-abled and/or come from migration and displacement. Such sites claim to address urgent socio-political matters but hesitate to actively adopt a stance on curation, funding and programming. Such contradictions reproduce the paradigms that conferences pretend to critique.
Reflecting on this paradoxical “clash” between the critical claim and the unjust practices we argue that the matrix of domination3 and its intersecting inequalities should be addressed to create actionable fair structures. Intersectionality, first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw4, allows the overlap between identities and i.a. race, sex, class and sexuality to be fully incorporated in topical and structural foundations, time allocations, funding, safety, representation and outreach.
Building on an ethnographic analysis of conference structures and drawing from our experiences as participants, we propose alternative intersectional strategies to avoid reproducing precarity, exclusion and unjust power relations justified by gender as an autonomous criterion.


1 Eye on Design, notamuse (2019): We Surveyed Gender Equality at the World’s Biggest Design Conferences—and the Numbers Are In. AIGA Eye on Design Magazine [online]. https://eyeondesign.aiga.org/gender-equality-at-design-conferences-by-the-numbers/.
2 Sasha Constanza-Chock (2018): Design Justice: Towards an Intersectional Feminist Framework for Design Theory and Practice. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Harvard University. [online] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3189696.
3 Patricia Hill Collins (2002): Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.
4 Kimberlé Crenshaw (1994): „Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color“. In: Martha Albertson Fineman, Rixanne Mykitiuk (Eds.): The Public Nature of Private Violence. New York: Routledge, p. 93–118.
The abstract was accepted to the 2nd international, interdisciplinary conference Creative Bodies—Creative Minds held at University of Graz (Austria), Department of Sociology and will be presented virtually between 27th – 29th May 2021.