SELF & SYSTEMS
Designing Systems for Solidarity & Mutuality
MDes Thesis 2022
Thesis Advisors: Molly Steenson, Dan Lockton
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that many of society’s systems are broken and deeply unequal. When systems fail, people need to rely on themselves and their communities to support each other’s survival and care needs. This method of community reliance and collective care is called mutual aid. All around the world, mutual aid networks leveraged the internet to build infrastructure for organizing and mobilizing community power. Two years since the pandemic started, many mutual aid groups have sustained themselves, continuing to provide a safety net for their vulnerable neighbors, while other groups have experienced the challenges of diminishing volunteer participation and burnout while still needing to address ongoing community needs.
This research aims to increase our understanding of how to design more self-sustainable mutual aid systems. Through literature reviews, exemplar reviews, interviews, and observational analysis of current-day mutual aid groups in the United States, I investigate two aspects — the factors that contribute to self-sustainability and the role of design in the complex systems of mutual aid. My research offers broad insights into the design of self-sustainable systems, new models that reframes design within complex systems, and a mechanism for capturing design knowledge through stories and patterns.
Fundamental Relational Properties
Solidarity Systems Designer
Viewing mutual aid organizers as designers helps articulate the practices, values, and roles they embody in relation to the alternative systems they design and are embedded in.