queerying design

Doctoral Research
PhD in Design, University of Porto, FCT
2013-2017

Queerying Design: Material Re-configurations of Body Politics is a doctoral research that propounds a critical inquiry into the intersection of design practice and
queer theory, where the interrelationship between power, gender performativity,
sexuality, identity politics and material practices are unfolded. It investigates how
design, as the material [re]configuration of the world, is an active agent in privileging
and superiorising certain bodies while oppressing, inferiorising and marginalising
‘others’, by systematically reifying hetero-cis-normativity and identity-based
segregation. Scrutinising the role of the artificial in engendering inclusions and
exclusions in society, this research uncovers design’s direct contribution in reproducing
the body materially—or turning it into material body, as body-thing—under the logic
of modern/colonial/capitalist economy. In addition, it undertakes to undo this ongoing
colonial logic and offers strategies to unlearn the ontological and epistemic foundations
of design’s disciplinary—yet biased—condition. Drawing from intersectional and
decolonial queer feminist theories and deeming designing and queering as two
antidotal yet interconnected verbly concepts, it elaborates on a possible queered design
approach that would act against the current material and corporeal regimes regulated
by hegemonic power.

With the aim of ‘queerying’ (as querying and queering) design, the research operates at
the theory-practice nexus, adopting a set of critically situated methodologies.
Considering the concept of queering as undesigning, as a counter-hegemonic act to
interrupt existing oppressive materialities, it unravels designed practices both
discursively and materially. This material-discursive act of deconstruction, as a form
of de/re-configuration, enacts on three different yet interrelated foci of reading and
intervention: sartorial, discursive and spatial in which clothes (i.e. bodily artefacts,
accessories), discourses (i.e. languages, words) and spaces (i.e. bathrooms, prisons) are
examined in particular. With the body at their junction point, these three main lines of
investigation epitomise how such designed productions segregate and regulate bodies
systematically, based on binary identity categories. In a pursuit of possible forms of de/
re-configurations of them, the research then ventures on the practice of deconstruction
with a series of workshops in collaboration with non-practitioner [queer] activists who
are directly inflicted by the effects of design. Through this, the research also offers new
forms of collective un/re-making and epistemic shift for un/re-learning.