Social Design as a Creative Device in Developing Countries: The Case of a Handcraft Pottery Community in Cambodia
Lina Kang


This article presents social design as an alternative to designerly approaches in developing countries, based on a field study conducted to improve the ceramic production and trade of a handcraft community in Cambodia. The study points out that existing interventions tend to impose modernist approaches with technological fixes and have attitudes which reflect cultural imperialism, often resulting in weak continuity and the production of inequalities. Instead, the study demonstrates the ways in which social design practice can respond to the challenges of complex social problems, and to the discontinuity and cultural barriers that are often faced in the development context. Based on Latour’s notion of the social (2005), social design and social designers might be used to reconfigure and create better social-cultural-technical relations, thereby constructing sustainable social infrastructures grounded in local participation and indigenous knowledge. The fieldwork reported in this paper illustrates the narrative process of a participatory action research based Social Design Workshop, which highlights the significance of the problematisation process that revealed kilns as troubling actors, and devised inventive approaches for capacity building. The research suggests that successful social design practices are based on the notion of situatedness and the agency of designers as catalysts, which results in the creation of mutual relationships between the people, the community, the sociocultural context, technology, and artefacts, which together encourage sustainable development.

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