Distributed Control / DIY / by Kiersten Nash

…When education becomes a venue for making a profit, delivering a product, or constructing consuming subjects, education reneges on its responsibilities for creating a democracy of citizens by shifting its focus to producing a democracy of consumers.”

Or, prosumers.* Obama's 2008 presidential campaign was fabricated to a large extent by this coveted mixed-bred of creative producer and consumer. It is not surprising then that, as Scott Thomas confided, the most valuable asset on Obama's campaign site was the 'Download' page: "I didn't want to design a T-shirt for every single organization known to man. And I didn't want to have to create fliers for every single little party that was going on. But by just simply putting all of these assets online and by being 'transparent,' what we were able to do is activate and allow people to participate in the political process."**

Or more accurately, disseminate our message. Translated in the context of The New School University Center Collab: We will afford you the opportunity to participate in the 'cultivation' of the University, but do so in such a way as to 'better align operations with intended performance.'*** Prosumers, equipped with technological prowess and free-market flexibility, can provide an ideological and material apparatus for capital accumulation. Parsons The New School for Design is a breeding ground for prosumers. In my estimation, if interventions in the University Center were to abide by a similar logic it would be possible to immerse individuals as occupants "within the building"—in the production and consumption of the University Center according to The New School's interpretation of the U.S. Green° Building Council's L.E.E.D. system in attempt to maximize the administration's potential to "yield a return on investment." It's possible. But is it sustainable°? And if so, what might it sustain? 

The architectural program of The New School University Center and the pedagogical framework of the Collab are predicated on discipline and control—two guiding principles that L.E.E.D. individuals through a complex network of interdependent actions into a collective, albeit involuntary consensus that mimics the "psychic norms geographical space, and social formations" of the U.S. Green° Building Council. The violence of this design is cloaked. Its [in]visible infrastructures masquerade as everyday practices yet fail to provide opportunities for individuals to identify, let alone interpret, or challenge, the meaning of their actions. This type of environmental illiteracy is akin to being able to recite each letter of the alphabet, but having no idea how to read a word, let alone formulate a sentence, or [de]construct a paragraph. (A Deleuzian pool in which everyone drowns.)

Argyris and Schön refer to this process as single-loop learning—developing strategies that address and work within the governing variables of a particular situation. In other words, the established "goals, values, plans, and rules are operationalized rather than questioned." Single-loop learning, or working "in the context of The New School’s newly constructed L.E.E.D.-Gold University Center" as prescribed by the Collab, precludes the possibility of innovation beyond the predominate ideology thus sustaining the status quo.


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One of our most prolific prosumers? Shepherd Fairey. Sarah Banet-Weisner and Marita Sturien refer to Fairey's capitalist fetishes as an "inside⁄outside strategies" with a "Robin Hood effect." Banet-Weiser, Sarah, and Marita Sturken. "The Politics of Commerce: Shepherd Fairey and the New Cultural Entrepreneurship." Blowing up the Brand: Critical Perspectives on Promotional Culture. Ed. Melissa Aronczyk and Devon Powers. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010: 274.

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Incidently, Thomas recently published a 360-page "full-color, hardbound, and highly crafted" compendium chronicling the evolution of the art and design from the 2008 campaign. A "return on investment" shall we say.

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Or as Kate Murphy's mama used to forewarn, "It's my way or the highway." For many of us, family—a keyword that is here defined as an assembly of individuals connected by a web of interdependent relations that may include but is not contingent upon shared chromosomes nor the presence of a woman and man as wife and husband—provides an initial framework for negotiating visible and invisible infrastructures of power. For Foucault, family is neither "a quasi-natural formation nor a bedrock of unassailable values, it is in fact a continually contested fiction that masks its own histories of becoming." Family, like the majority of institutions including The New School, is a mix of "philosophical fragments and cultural myths, images and symbols, ideas and beliefs, rituals, institutions and practices". (Gunster 2006) Taylor, Chloe. "Foucault and Familial Power." Hypatia:
A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 27.1 (2012): 201-18. Wiley Online Library. John Wiley & Sons Ince, 04 Mar. 2011. Web. <http:⁄⁄onlinelibrary.wiley.com⁄doi⁄10.1111⁄j.1527-2001.2011.01171.x⁄abstract>.