Exploring social design in a development context: the case of a handcraft pottery community in Cambodia

  • Lina Kang

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis argues for an alternative methodology in social design to counter existing
    approaches to development work. It is based on a field study conducted in a handcraft
    pottery community in Cambodia over twenty months. From a cross-disciplinary
    perspective that combines design culture, development studies and sociology, the thesis
    discusses the ways in which an innovative approach to social design can be developed,
    practised and analysed. The thesis, informed by the actor-network theory (ANT), unfolds
    the problematic situation by revealing that in-kind donations and external support has
    caused a sense of dependency within the local community. To move away from the system
    of technocracy and diffidence and towards creative knowledge generation and ongoing
    participation, the Social Design Thinking Workshops (SDTWs), as part of the field study,
    were conducted with ten Khmer potters. Action research, participant observation, semistructured
    interviews and visual ethnography were employed to understand the situation,
    create designs for ceramic production, expand the knowledge beyond technicality and
    reflect on the overall process of the SDTWs. A mutual relationship and productive
    participation became possible by establishing an ontological and epistemological stance
    that treated the people as research participants with indigenous insights and capabilities. As
    a result, this thesis suggests three key implications for this social design thinking approach
    in the Cambodian context. Firstly, by exploring the relationship between actors
    surrounding the situation, researchers would be able to problematise and engage with
    social issues from an unconventional perspective. Social design not only transcends its
    dominant association with social responsibility, but it also becomes able to catalyse and
    rearrange the social configuration within the situation. Secondly, by unlocking and
    eliciting the tacit knowledge of the participants, the community would be better equipped
    for an increased economic competitiveness and independence. Finally, by practising a
    programmatic, iterative approach to social design, rather than seeing it as a straightforward
    problem-solving project, the outcomes and impact of the practice can continuously be
    tested, reflected, adapted and evolved. In this process, social designers are expected to act
    as a facilitator, educator and imaginative storyteller that can catalyse the social interactions
    within the problematic situation. While designerly approaches are increasingly employed
    in a development context, relatively few studies have been conducted on these types of
    practices. Overall, this thesis offers an innovative approach to social design that can be
    useful for researchers and practitioners in the development context.
    Date of AwardFeb 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorGuy Julier (Supervisor), Steve Reeve (Supervisor) & Carlos Peralta (Supervisor)

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