If we want social conflicts to be the constitutive driving force of a new, critical, and progressive Urban Practice, this raises the question of the actors and issues involved in these conflicts—about what subjects, attitudes, and distinctions constitute the starting and reference points of these conflicts. How these positions can be organized and represented within disputes is not a trivial matter. With some certain justification, the historical response to this question has been partisan gatherings and advocacy groups such as trade unions, cooperatives, lobby groups, clubs, associations and institutions, and especially political parties. Here I would like to emphasize the partisan as a necessity of any Urban Practice and argue for partisan design.
Partisan design, however, is not design of the arena of possible dispute; it is not the design of mediating structures and participatory processes of exchange, compromise, and agreement. Partisan design does not view design as the activity of disassociated or empathetic observers or courageous and sensitive interventionists. Nor as an ultimately overarching perspective on the social play of differences. Partisan design situates design directly in the conflicts, in the things and issues dealt with there, and amongst the actors in these disputes and their attitudes. Design takes sides.
What sounds mean—to be partisan—and what can indeed also be nasty for real because it distorts fair competition and does not constitute an objective and neutral position, is, in the practice of design, always the case—even if mostly unacknowledged—and, secondly, absolutely necessary. For partisan design, it is no longer sufficient to demonstrate a humanistic view of the world, to project one’s own ideas of the good life onto others, and to honestly seek opportunities for improvement. This harmonious image must be replaced by one marked by irresolvable conflicts. Together with the actors and issues involved in these conflicts, it could actually be possible to join the political level in the dispute over the idea and practice of togetherness as a lived form of contention.
Jesko Fezer works as a designer who explores the social relevance of design practice in varying collaborations. He realizes architectural projects in cooperation with ifau (Institute for Applied Urbanism), and he is cofounder of the bookstore Pro qm in Berlin as well as a member of the exhibition design studio Kooperative für Darstellungspolitik. Fezer co-edits the Bauwelt Fundamente series and the Studienhefte für problemorientiertes Design. He is professor of experimental design at the University of Fine Arts Hamburg and, together with students, has been running the public consultancy Öffentliche Gestaltungsberatung St. Pauli since 2011.