Studio 10: Critical Theory and Critical Design. Artefacts, Images, Sites, Processes in Graphics and Illustration

Studio brief

Critical theories can be said to have a powerful aim: to increase our freedoms in the circumstances of domination, and thus aim for real democracy and consensus in our societies. This dissertation studio aims to bring into lively discussion and critique the ways in which design artefacts, images, sites and processes can be seen to invent, reiterate, uphold and extend domination. You'll consider the sexism, racism, xenophobia, ableism, ageism, homophobia and transphobia in our so-called ‘globalised' everyday life of images, artefacts, sites and the reckless production, mediation and hyper-consumption of these.

This dissertation studio invites you to interrogate the problems of our social reality through a well-developed theoretical critique of the culture of design in our everyday lives: this will be done either through a full dissertation (6,000-7,500 words) or through a combined submission of academic writing (4,500-6,000 words) and a co-constitutive critical design response to the unfreedoms you wish to illuminate.

Yes, this studio offers a choice to develop and complete a dissertation+critical design outcome, where text and design will work together. However, be warned, this is not an easy option; on the contrary, this is a very demanding combination to get right and you will feel like you are doing two pieces of work.

You'll focus on carefully identified primary objects of study (artefacts, images, sites, processes); close examination of these objects of study and their complex socio-cultural, political, economic, technological and historical contexts will employ relevant critical theories to understand and explain what they contribute to and how they uphold the unfreedoms of our social reality. You will either: develop and complete a full dissertation, or a dissertation and critical design submission. You'll be closely supervised and advised, so as to ensure you can deliver on your choice of dissertation.

The question remains: through your work as rigorous academic writers and astute critical designers, can we actively participate in transforming our societies? Indeed, what do we learn about the world through our efforts to transform the world?

First seven weeks of study

The first 6 weeks of this studio will be devoted to seminars, presentations, workshops, discussions and visits aimed at familiarising us all with various critical theories, with methods of applying critical theory in analysing your primary research, and with critical design as a practice. All studio members will attend fully and are expected to engage at a high level for the principal of critical dialogue. You will also develop a coherent dissertation or dissertation+critical design proposal with supervision and through peer discussion. After this time you will progress to developing your own dissertations with supervisory advice, tutorials and peer presentations of work in progress. We will work together as a studio to develop workshops, visits and seminars and dissertations.

Reading list

  • Badminton, N. and J. Thomas, eds. (2008). The Routledge Critical and Cultural Theory Reader. London: Routledge
  • Candlin, F. and R. Guins, eds. (2009). The Object Reader. London: Routledge
  • Davis, L.J., ed. (2010). The Disability Studies Reader. New York: Routledge.
  • Dunne, A. and F. Raby, (2001). Design Noir: the Secret Life of Electronic Objects. Basel: Birkhauser Verlag
  • Hall, S. (2012), City, Street and Citizen: The Measure of the Ordinary. London: Routledge
  • Highmore, B. ed. (2009). The Design Culture Reader. London: Routledge
  • Jones, A., ed, (2010) The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. London: New York: Routledge
  • Lopez, A. J. ed. (2005). Postcolonial Whiteness: a Critical Reader on Race and Empire. Albany: State University of New York Press
  • Mirzoeff, N., ed. (2013). The Visual Culture Reader. London: Routledge
  • Stryker, S. and A.Z. Aizura, eds. (2013). The Transgender Studies Reader 2. New York; Abingdon: Routledge

Articles from key academic journals will be supplied through weblearn. Further reading will be recommended as work develops.

Photograph of graffiti, Venice, 2013.


Tutor Dr Dipti Bhagat with Christopher Emmett

Tutor biography


Dissertation Studios