Below are some useful quotes about what design is and what designs are, as well as examples of what kinds of topics can be discussed with design language, and of how to think about alternative futures. We have highlighted some passages and words that we feel may help you to connect to the workshop topics.


Victor Papanek

"All men are designers. All that we do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity. The planning and patterning of any act toward a desired, foreseeable end constitutes the design process. Any attempt to separate design, to make it a thing-by-itself, works counter to the fact that design is the primary underlying matrix of life. Design is composing an epic poem, executing a mural, painting a masterpiece, writing a concerto. But design is also cleaning and reorganizing a desk drawer, pulling an impacted tooth, baking an apple pie, choosing sides for a backlot baseball game, and educating a child.

Design is the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order."

Papanek, V.J., 1971. Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change., London: Thames and Hudson.


Klaus Krippendorff

"Shifting gears, but only slightly, Simon is right in suggesting that design occurs in many professions: engineering, medicine, management, and education. Design is implicit in government, law, journalism, architecture, and library science. Terrence Love* has identified as many as 650 fields in which design is practiced. Schön (1983) and Argyris et al. (1985) see design as underlying all professions. Professionals model, compose, engineer, fabricate, program, construct, layout, draft, organize, direct, and institute practices not yet existing; and they tend to have well-established vocabularies to describe the changes they introduce in their worlds.

For Nelson and Stolterman (2002), “design is a natural human activity and everyone designs all the time.” When someone plans a vacation trip, rearranges the furniture in the living room, treats a patient, reads or writes a letter, draws a cartoon, or tends to a garden, future possibilities are envisioned, evaluated, acted upon, and exhausted. Everyday design is a way to realize not just artifacts but also their designers — “realize” in the dual sense of materializing, making known, and rendering useful, but also taking responsibilities for it, as author, originator, artist, or designer. Not everyone who acts to make the world a better place calls him or herself a designer. Design as a professional practice differs from design in everyday life by relying on publicly acknowledged competencies, the use of methods, but above all on an organized way of languaging, a design discourse, that coordinates working in teams and with clients, justifies proposals for artifacts to their stakeholders, and distinguishes professional designers from those doing it largely for themselves." p. 31

About Ecology of artifacts:

"As Kenneth Boulding (1978) has pointed out, humans know far more species of artifacts than species of living organisms: shoes, bottles, breads, books, automobiles, tools, fasteners, furniture, paintings, airplanes, buildings, coal mines, streets, and communication systems. Department stores, mail order catalogs, and the Internet display only a small part of this diversity. A dictionary lists the names of many more.

Species of artifacts also cover far greater ranges than biological species do. Skyscrapers are larger than whales. Artificial molecules are smaller than bacteria. Modern computer networks have more memory than any single living organism, although of a very different kind. Within the few years of its existence, the Internet is making far more images available than any one human being could read in a lifetime. People use the metaphor of a spider web to conceptualize the World Wide Web. A spider web is several times larger that the spider that builds it, but the World Wide Web spreads throughout the world. Its size dwarfs its builders and users. Space ships can move further and faster than birds or insects. Cities outlive their inhabitants, and archives and museums can keep artifacts alive far beyond their usefulness to users. The role of artifacts in museums is different from the role they play in everyday life. In fact, the same artifact may pass through different uses with different generations of users (Krippendorff, 2005 in press). Biological species, by contrast, change their behavior only slowly if ever, at least during human times.

Most species of artifacts are mass-produced, although it may not be clear whether the series of industrial products exceed the mass production of plants, bees, ants, or bacteria. When artifacts are assembled into transportation systems, corporations, or networks, they create systems of artifacts whose complexities far exceed the complexities of forests, ant colonies, and beehives. Ant colonies and beehives hardly cooperate and perhaps don’t even know of each other. Technological artifacts do not know of each other either but interact with each other on account of designers’ specifications and/or users’ desires to connect them. Unlike biological species, which need a minimum number to be viable, complex artifacts may well survive as unique artifacts.

This is the crucial difference between ecologies of biological species and of artifacts: Biological species interact on their own terms; artifacts interact on human terms. Whenever people arrange their furniture at home, wire pieces of computer hardware together, or install something for the benefit of their community, they display some ecological understanding of how artifacts can work together. Designers demonstrate this very understanding when claiming that their design can play particular roles relative to other artifacts. But the “human terms” that people bring to how they connect artifacts pertains to a highly localized understanding. This understanding does not embrace the whole ecology, and it is not generalizable to it. It is distributed, not shared. Whereas ecologies of biological species result from the multiplicity of local interactions between the organisms of different species, ecologies of artifacts result from enacting the multiplicity of local ecological understandings." pp. 194-195

Krippendorff, K., 2006. The Semantic Turn: A New Foundation for Design, Boca Raton: CRC/Taylor & Francis.


Nigel Cross

"Designing is something that all people do; something that distinguishes us from other animals, and (so far) from machines. The ability to design is a part of human intelligence, and that ability is natural and widespread amongst the human population. We human beings have a long history of design ability, as evidenced in the artefacts of previous civilisations and in the continuing traditions of vernacular design and traditional craftwork. The evidence from different cultures around the World, and from designs created by children as well as by adults, suggests that everyone is capable of designing." p. 29

Cross, N., 2006. Designerly Ways of Knowing 2006 edition., Cambridge: Springer.


Kari-Hans Kommonen

"I propose that 'design' means the set of characteristics that more or less essentially defines the structure and functioning of something. We differentiate things from one another by their design. The activity of 'designing' is to intentionally create designs.

'Designer' is an expert role in design processes - an expert person who designs. Some people design intentionally without calling it design or identifying themselves as designers. Some people identify themselves as designers, and a subset of those has been educated as designers in a design institution. In this article, I will use the word 'designer' to refer mainly to those who identify themselves as designers. But designs are created in a variety of design processes and many, if not most, designs result from processes that are not intentional and do not employ human designers. For example, evolution has produced uncountable designs that existed before humans appeared.

Design operates within an evolutionary framework

Evolution did not stop designing when humans developed the ability to design. Instead, humans have increased the speed of evolution by introducing intention and conscious evaluation into the selection process. The human mind, society and language created a platform for cultural evolution, a process that produces immaterial design artifacts, or ideas, as well as material artifacts, which embody or materialize some of these ideas.

The interaction of cultural and social evolution has led us to the world we have now, and in the process we have created an appreciation for the ability of individuals to contribute to the evolution by introducing new ideas and practices. Unfortunately, a concept of design that emphasizes individuals and their creativity and innovations often overlooks the evolutionary and societal framework and the multitude of processes that actually influence and determine the success of designs. This may give well earned respect for inventors and designers and their skills, but fails to bring forth a more comprehensive, useful and fair picture of design in society.

One source of this trouble is our reluctance to accept that complex and functional designs can emerge without the intentional designer. In spite of the fairly common acceptance of Darwin's evolution as the process that created the diversity of life on earth, we still always attempt to identify the intelligent being who masterminded the things we think exhibit design and intention.

But if evolution designs, what is the role of the designers? I propose that designers should not be seen as the individualist creative heroes that single-handedly change the world. Instead, the human mind and culture form an amplifier and extender that makes the design processes and the emergence of new designs dramatically more efficient. In this view, all people, and designers especially, act as agents of evolution - but within its constraints - when they design."

Kommonen, K.-H., 2001. Design for Society in Transformation. Special Issue of Japanese Society for the Science of Design, 9(3), pp.83–88. (pdf)

"Abstract: This paper presents a very compact view of design, design processes and practices that forms a foundation for the concept of the design ecosystem. Design ecosystems are systems of connected and interacting designs, organized by the practices of the human participants of the ecosystem. The design ecosystem forms the context for any new designs and to creative activities, thus forming also the landscape for co-creation. Practices are also designs, and the design and adaptation of practices is the most common design activity for most people. Practices have an individual and a social dimension. New design is always based on earlier available design which forms the design toolkit. The abstract space of possible designs that can be achieved with the current resources, capabilities and constraints is the design space. Design platforms are dominant components especially in digital design ecosystems. These concepts are helpful for supporting a design-oriented analysis of diverse everyday life phenomena and provide tools for discovering opportunities for design."

Kommonen, K.-H., 2013. Design Ecosystems as the Landscapes for Co-Creation. In Proceedings of the CO-CREATE 2013. Espoo, Finland: Aalto University, p. 728. (pdf)









Elinor Ostrom

"Institutions are only one of a large number of elements that affect behavior in any particular situation at a particular time and place. No single cause exists for human behavior. To live, one needs oxygen, water, and nutrition. All are key parts of the explanation of life. Life itself operates at multiple levels. Genes underlie phenotypic structures in a manner that is broadly analogous to the way that rules underlie action situations. But neither genes nor rules fully determine behavior of the phenotypes that they help to create. Selection processes on genes operate largely at the individual level, but rules—as well as other cultural “memes”—are likely to be selected at multiple levels (see Hammerstein 2003). When one steps back, however, for all of the complexity and multiple levels, there is a large amount of similarity of underlying factors. In the biological world, it is somewhat amazing that there is only a small proportion of the genes that differ between an elephant and a mouse. As we develop the logic of institutions further, we will see that many situations that have the surface appearance of being vastly different have similar underlying parts. Thus, our task is to identify the working parts, the grammar, the alphabet of the phenotype of human social behavior as well as the underlying factors of rules, biophysical laws, and community.

Thus, the focus of this book reflects my sense that the concept of institutions, the diversity of institutions and their resilience, and the question of how institutions structure action situations require major attention. This volume is, thus, an effort to take an in-depth look at one major part of what is needed to develop fuller theories of social organization. In this volume, I will try to articulate in more detail than has been possible before what I think the components of institutions are and how they can be used to generate explanations of human behavior in diverse situations. The focus on institutions should not be interpreted, however, as a position that rules are always the most important factor affecting interactions and outcomes. In the midst of a hurricane, rules may diminish greatly in their importance in affecting individual behavior.

This volume should be thought of as part of a general effort to understand institutions so as to provide a better formulation for improving their performance. [...] I am writing this book from the perspective of a policy analyst. Without the careful development of a rigorous and empirically verifiable set of theories of social organization, we cannot do a very good job of fixing problems through institutional change. And, if we cannot link the theoretical results into a coherent overall approach, we cannot cumulate knowledge. All too often, major policy initiatives lead to counterintentional results. We need to understand institutions in order to improve their performance over time (North 2005).

As I demonstrate in chapter 8, however, the option of optimal design is not available to mere mortals. The number of combinations of specific rules that are used to create action situations is far larger than any set that analysts could ever analyze even with space-age computer assistance. This impossibility does not, however, leave me discouraged or hopeless. It does, however, lead me to have great respect for robust institutions that have generated substantial benefits over long periods of time (see Shepsle 1989; E. Ostrom 1990). None have been designed in one single step. Rather, accrued learning and knowledge have led those with good information about participants, strategies, ecological conditions, and changes in technology and economic relationships over time to craft sustainable institutions, even though no one will ever know if they are optimal. Thus, in chapter 9, I dig into the process of learning, adaptation, and evolution as processes that enable polycentric institutional arrangements to utilize very general design principles in the dynamic processes of trying to improve human welfare over time. It is also necessary to discuss the threats that can destroy the resilience of complex social systems." pp. 30-31

Ostrom, E., 2005. Understanding Institutional Diversity, Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Anne Larason Schneider, Helen Ingram

"Policy Design and Democracy

Designs of many different kinds are embedded in everyday experience. Much of what people encounter and think of as natural, normal, and simply the way things were meant to be is in fact "made up" or artificial, and is the consequence of human-choice including the of intentional acts by human beings (Simon 1981). Even such a seemingly "natural" phenomenon as time is actually a creation of people who invented hours and minutes, along with clocks to measure them, in order to bring more regulation and predictability into living. While most people live by the notion of time, and to a large extent are prisoners of this received idea for regulating ourselves, the design is commonly adapted to serve individual preferences. People set their clocks ahead to avoid being late or shed their watches during vacations and imagine time can stand still.

Public policies contain designs recognizable in the text and in the practices through which policies are conveyed and have consequences. Cities contain designs through which streets, buildings, parks, businesses and residential areas relate to one another and together form patterns that have instrumental and aesthetic purposes. This book has a design. The cover, layout of the chapters, the typeface, the index, and the sentences were all designed intentionally and purposefully to serve many different objectives for the reader, the authors, the editors, printers, binders, publishers, book sellers, and others involved. As with books, cities, and time, the creation of public policy is a matter of human agency, both of societies and individuals.

Designs are variously intended to fulfill educative, economic, aesthetic, personal, and other somewhat disconnected aims, some of which may be partially conflicting. A number of different designers are involved at various points in time and each may have different ideas of what constitutes success. People attribute meanings to designs-whether the designs are those of books, cities, time, public policies or any other humanly created object-and people act on their interpretations, which may be quite different than designers' intentions. Through time, the meanings of designs become socially constructed and accepted as a "natural" part of the design itself even though other constructions are possible.

Designs seldom stand in isolation, but rather are part of a larger whole and contain within themselves a multitude of submerged designs. Designs are not fixed and static but constantly evolving. Not all the various parts of designs are physically obvious in the object itself. Books, for example, are written (and read) to impart ideas, interpretations, knowledge, and meaning. Cities contain aesthetic dimensions that exist quite apart from physical features. Public policies contain ideas, assumptions, and symbolism that may not be obvious in the written text.

A design is quite separate from the process of designing and once completed must stand by itself on its own merits. Books may be perceived as logical or illogical; well or poorly researched and written; useful and informative or confusing and irrelevant; an addition to the literature or derivative and redundant. Readers evaluate the success of book designs, not designing. Evaluation and improvement, whether of books or public policies, focus most intently on the product and from an analysis of the product draw lessons about the designing process. Learning simply through examination of the process without due attention to the product itself is impossible. Trial and error learning can hardly make progress if one never exarnines the results.


Public policies are the mechanisms through which values are authoritatively allocated for the society (Easton 1965). Policies are revealed through texts, practices, symbols, and discourses that define and deliver values including goods and services as well as regulations, income, status, and other positively or negatively valued attributes. Policy design refers to the content or substance of public policy-e blueprints, architecture, discourses, and aesthetics of policy in both its instrumental and symbolic forms. Policy designs are observable phenomena found in statutes, administrative guidelines, court decrees, programs, and even the practices and procedures of street level case workers as they interact with policy recipients. The texts (provisions) of policy are part of the design as are the practices that reveal who does what, when, with whom, with what resources, for what reasons, and with what kinds of motivating devices.

From an empirical perspective, policy designs contain specific observable elements such as target populations (the recipients of pplicy benefits or burdens);- goals or problems to be solved (the values to be distributed), rules (that guide or ! constrain action), rationales (that explain or legitimate the policy), and assumptions (logical connections that tie the other elements together). Designs are not simply instrumental means directed at goals, however, but contain symbolic and interpretive dimensions that are as important as the instrumental aspects. Policy designs are produced through a design process that usually involves many different people at different points in time, often with different or conflicting aims.

Policy design is inherently a purposeful and normative enterprise through which the elements of policy are arranged to serve particular values, purposes, and interests. We contend that policies are not simply the random and chaotic product & a political process, as some other perspectives assume. Instead, public policies have underlying patterns and logic, and the ideas included in policies have real consequences. Policies usually serve several different purposes and interests simultaneously and therefore have consequences on several levels. Many of the consequences depend mainly on the meanings and interpretations that constitute the social construction of the policy in value dimensions.

Policy designs are dynamic. It is a mistake to think of public policy as a fixed and unchanging feature of the political landscape. Even though a specific statute or program may be "fixed" in terms of its language and description at one point in time, policy is constantly evolving through the addition of new statutes, amendments to old ones, agency guidelines and programs, as well as through the changing and multitudinous interpretations given to the policy.

Policies fit into contexts. What may be an excellent design in one context, may well serve poorly in another. Abstract judgments of public policy are likely to be off the mark, and the analysis of designs requires acute sensitivity to context. Designs are nested inside one another and can be analyzed at many different levels. In literature, a reviewer can critique a particular book, or a particular body of literature of which a book is one small part, or even the literature of an entire society during a particular period of time, or over a long period of time. Policy analysts can study a specific policy design, even as small as one local program or one statute, or an entire policy area, or the policy design(s) of an entire society in one or more historical periods.

Policies contain meanings and ideas that are discernible from knowledge of the language, discourse, and personal experiences with the policy. The values and discourses within policy designs are central to their analysis. And, as with books, cities, or any other human creation, policy designs should be evaluated separately and independently from the processes that produced them. Policy formulation processes that appear to meet some standard of fairness or openness, but that do not produce public policy conducive to democracy, cannot forever be considered fair or open.”

Schneider, A.L. & Ingram, H., 1997. Policy Design for Democracy, Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press.


Roberto Mangabeira Unger

"The conflict over the basic terms of social life, having fled from the ancient arenas of politics and philosophy, lives under disguise and under constraint in the narrower and more arcane debates of the specialized professions. There we must find this conflict, and bring it back, transformed, to the larger life of society.

To gain the freedom to make alternative futures for society with clarity and deliberation, we must be able to imagine them and to talk about them. To imagine them and to talk about them effectively, we must enter specialized areas of thought and practice. We must transform these specialties from within, changing their relation to the public conversation in a democracy. We must bring the specialists to renounce some of the higher authority they never properly possessed, exchanging this false authority for a new style of collaboration between technical experts and ordinary people.

This book offers an example of the effort to penetrate, and reshape from within, one such technical domain law and legal analysis. It asks how we can change legal analysis so that it may fulfill its primary vocation in a democratic and enlightened society: to inform us, as citizens, in the attempt to imagine our alternative futures and to argue about them. The subject is crucial, and the moment is daunting.

Law and legal thought have been, in the contemporary Western industrial democracies as in many societies of the past, the place at which an ideal of civilization takes detailed institutional form. In law and legal thought, ideals must come to terms with interests, and the marriage between interests and ideals must become incarnate in practical arrangements. Legal doctrine supplies a way of representing and discussing these arrangements that makes it possible to sustain and develop them from day to day and from controversy to controversy. How can we grasp an established institutional and ideological settlement in a manner that acknowledges its transformative possibilities, giving us power to make the future and freeing us from superstition about the present?

This question has now gained added force. We live at a time when the idea of social alternatives risks being discredited as a romantic illusion responsible for historical catastrophe. We no longer attach secure meanings to the fighting words of the past. We must then rediscover in the small variations on which legal thought has traditionally fastened the beginnings of the larger alternatives we can no longer find where we used to look for them." pp. 1-2

"The large explanatory projects of classic nineteenth-century social theories such as Marxism, with their characteristic belief in a predetermined sequence of indivisible institutional systems driven forward by lawlike forces, have fallen victim to both the growth of academic learning and the disappointments of political experience. We nevertheless cling to their left-overs, confusedly using the vocabulary of theoretical systems we claim to have renounced: concepts like capitalism that presuppose the existence of a single, typical economic and legal regime with an institutional logic of its own, or distinctions between the reformist humanization and the revolutionary substitution of the established order. The positive social sciences, for their part, dispense with the idea of structural change altogether, treating basic arrangements and preconceptions as the cumulative residue of countless past episodes of problem solving or compromise, or as the outcome oftrial-and-error convergence toward the best available practices. In such an intellectual climate, the transformation and invention of the formative structures of a society become literally unimaginable. As a result, we find ourselves driven back to an understanding of political realism as proximity to what already exists.

The failure to imagine transformative possibility that has come to vitiate the dominant practice of social and historical study infects normative political philosophy as well as the shared language of practical politics.

This failure has helped shape, especially in the English-speaking world, a dominant style of political philosophy. It is a way of thinking that disconnects the formulation of principles of justice from the problems of institutional design, refuses to acknowledge the effect of established institutions and practices upon desires and intuitions, and treats the social-democratic compromise of the postwar period as the insuperable horizon for the pursuit of its ideals. The first and second characteristics of this political philosophy connect through their joint dependence upon the third. Together, they result in a paradoxical dependence upon the historical context the philosopher wanted to transcend.

The philosopher may imagine that principles of right in particular, principles of just distribution can be first formulated in an institutional vacuum. Technical disciplines of institutional design can then deal with their practical application in the light of empirical knowledge and changing circumstance. Thus, he trivializes the problem of institutional design as one of circumstantial social engineering." pp. 3-4

Unger, R.M., 1996. What Should Legal Analysis Become?, London ; New York: Verso Books.







Yochai Benkler

A simple example of how Yochai Benkler employs design language within his discussion about the networked information economy and its technological and institutional structures:

"If a law—passed for any reason that may or may not be related to autonomy concerns—creates systematic shifts of power among groups in society, so that some have a greater ability to shape the perceptions of others with regard to available options, consequences of action, or the value of preferences, then that law is suspect from an autonomy perspective. It makes the choices of some people less their own and more subject to manipulation by those to whom the law gives the power to control perceptions. Furthermore, a law that systematically and severely limits the range of options known to individuals is one that imposes a normative price, in terms of autonomy, for whatever value it is intended to deliver. As long as the focus of autonomy as an institutional design desideratum is on securing the best possible information flow to the individual, the designer of the legal structure need not assume that individuals are not autonomous, or have failures of autonomy, in order to serve autonomy. All the designer need assume is that individuals will not act in order to optimize the autonomy of their neighbors. Law then responds by avoiding institutional designs that facilitate the capacity of some groups of individuals to act on others in ways that are systematically at the expense of the ability of those others to control their own lives, and by implementing policies that predictably diversify the set of options that all individuals are able to see as open to them." p. 151

"The emerging viability of commons-based strategies for the provisioning of communications, storage, and computation capacity enables us to take a practical, real world look at the autonomy deficit of a purely property-based communications system. As we compare property to commons, we see that property, by design, introduces a series of legal powers that asymmetrically enable owners of infrastructure to exert influence over users of their systems. This asymmetry is necessary for the functioning of markets. Predictably and systematically, however, it allows one group of actors—owners—to act upon another group of actors—consumers—as objects of manipulation." p. 161


How is private opinion about matters of collective, formal, public action formed? How is private opinion communicated to others in a form and in channels that allow it to be converted into a public, political opinion, and a position worthy of political concern by the formal structures of governance of a society? How, ultimately, is such a political and public opinion converted into formal state action? These questions are central to understanding how individuals in complex contemporary societies, located at great distances from each other and possessing completely different endowments of material, intellectual, social, and formal ties and capabilities, can be citizens of the same democratic polity rather than merely subjects of a more or less responsive authority." pp. 180-181

Benkler, Y., 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press.


Larry Lessig

In "Code and other laws of Cyberspace" Larry Lessig discusses the design of our digital infrastructure and its impact on society. Here are some short passages to demonstrate his use of the term 'design'.

"There is regulation of behavior on the Internet and in cyberspace, but that regulation is imposed primarily through code. The differences in the regulations effected through code distinguish different parts of the Internet and cyberspace. In some places, life is fairly free; in other places, it is more controlled. And the difference between these spaces is simply a difference in the architectures of control—that is, a difference in code.

If we combine the first two themes, then, we come to a central argument of the book: The regulability described in the first theme depends on the code described in the second. Some architectures of cyberspace are more regulable than others; some architectures enable better control than others. Therefore, whether a part of cyberspace—or the Internet generally—can be regulated turns on the nature of its code. Its architecture will affect whether behavior can be controlled. To follow Mitch Kapor, its architecture is its politics. And from this a further point follows: If some architectures are more regulable than others—if some give governments more control than others— then governments will favor some architectures more than others. Favor, in turn, can translate into action, either by governments, or for governments. Either way, the architectures that render space less regulable can themselves be changed to make the space more regulable. (By whom, and why, is a matter we take up later.)

This fact about regulability is a threat to those who worry about governmental power; it is a reality for those who depend upon governmental power. Some designs enable government more than others; some designs enable government differently; some designs should be chosen over others, depending upon the values at stake." p. 24


"In the middle 1990s at the University of Chicago, if you wanted access to the Internet, you simply connected your machine to Ethernet jacks located throughout the university. Any machine with an Ethernet connection could be plugged into these jacks. Once connected, your machine had full access to the Internet—access, that is, that was complete, anonymous, and free.

The reason for this freedom was a decision by an administrator—the then-Provost, Geoffrey Stone, a former dean of the law school and a prominent free speech scholar. When the university was designing its net, the technicians asked Stone whether anonymous communication should be permitted. Stone, citing the principle that the rules regulating speech at the university should be as protective of free speech as the First Amendment, said yes: People should have the right to communicate at the university anonymously, because the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the same right vis-à-vis governments. From that policy decision flowed the architecture of the University of Chicago’s net.

At Harvard, the rules are different. If you plug your machine into an Ethernet jack at the Harvard Law School, you will not gain access to the Net. You cannot connect your machine to the Net at Harvard unless the machine is registered—licensed, approved, verified. Only members of the university community can register their machines. Once registered, all interactions with the network are monitored and identified to a particular machine. To join the network, users have to “sign” a user agreement. The agreement acknowledges this pervasive practice of monitoring. Anonymous speech on this network is not permitted—it is against the rules. Access can be controlled based on who you are, and interactions can be traced based on what you did.

This design also arose from the decision of an administrator, one less focused on the protections of the First Amendment. Control was the ideal at Harvard; access was the ideal at Chicago. Harvard chose technologies that made control possible; Chicago chose technologies that made access easy. These two networks differ in at least two important ways. First and most obviously, they differ in the values they embrace. That difference is by design. At the University of Chicago, First Amendment values determined network design; different values determined Harvard’s design.

But they differ in a second way as well. Because access is controlled at Harvard and identity is known, actions can be traced back to their root in the network. Because access is not controlled at Chicago, and identity is not known, actions cannot be traced back to their root in the network. Monitoring or tracking behavior at Chicago is harder than it is at Harvard. Behavior in the Harvard network is more controllable than in the University of Chicago network.

The networks thus differ in the extent to which they make behavior within each network regulable. This difference is simply a matter of code—a difference in the software and hardware that grants users access. Different code makes differently regulable networks. Regulability is thus a function of design.

These two networks are just two points on a spectrum of possible network designs. At one extreme we might place the Internet—a network defined by a suite of protocols that are open and nonproprietary and that require no personal identification to be accessed and used. At the other extreme are traditional closed, proprietary networks, which grant access only to those with express authorization; control, therefore, is tight. In between are networks that mix elements of both. These mixed networks add a layer of control to the otherwise uncontrolled Internet. They layer elements of control on top." pp. 33-34

Lessig, L., 2006. Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0, New York: Basic Books.


Erik Olin Wright

E. O. Wright discusses utopia and redesign of society:

"In 1970, facing the draft during the Vietnam War, I attended the Thomas Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian-Universalist seminary in Berkeley, California. Students studying in seminaries were given a draft deferment and so seminary enrollments rose dramatically in the late 1960s. As part of my studies, I organized a student-run seminar called “Utopia and Revolution.” For ten weeks I met with a dozen or so other students from the various seminaries in the Berkeley Graduate Theological Union to discuss the principles and prospects for the revolutionary transformation of American society and the rest of the world. We were young and earnest, animated by the idealism of the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement and by the counter-cultural currents opposed to competitive individualism and consumerism. We discussed the prospects for the revolutionary overthrow of American capitalism and the ramifications of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as well as the potential for a countercultural subversion of existing structures of power and domination through living alternative ways of life.

In order to facilitate our discussions in that seminar, I recorded the sessions and typed up transcripts each week to give to each of the participants. In the first session we discussed what each of us meant by “Utopia”. Toward the end of the discussion I suggested the following:

It would be undesirable, I think, for the task of constructing an image of utopia, as we are doing, to be seen as an attempt to find definitive institutional answers to various problems. We can perhaps determine what kinds of social institutions negate our goals and which kind of institutions seem to at least move towards those goals, but it would be impossible to come up with detailed plans of actual institutions which would fully embody all of our ideals. Our real task is to try to think of institutions which themselves are capable of dynamic change, of responding to the needs of the people and evolving accordingly, rather than of institutions which are so perfect that they need no further change.

In due course the system of conscripting young men into the army changed to a draft lottery and I got a good number, so in 1971 I was able to begin my graduate studies in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

For the next two decades my work revolved around the problem of reconstructing Marxism, particularly its theoretical framework for the analysis of classes. The problem of socialism and alternatives to capitalism surfaced from time to time, but was not the central focus of my research and writing.

I returned to the theme of utopia and emancipatory transformation in 1992. The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union disintegrated. Neoliberalism and market fundamentalism dominated government policies in capitalist democracies. With the demise and discrediting of the centrally planned economies, many people believed that capitalism and liberal democracy were the only possible future for humanity. The “end of history” was announced.

This is the context in which I began The Real Utopias Project in the early 1990s as an attempt at deepening serious discussion of alternatives to existing structures of power, privilege and inequality. The idea of the project was to focus on specific proposals for the fundamental redesign of different arenas of social institutions rather than on either general, abstract formulations of grand designs, or on small immediately attainable reforms of existing practices. This is a tricky kind of discussion to pursue rigorously. It is much easier to talk about concrete ways of tinkering with existing arrangements than it is to formulate plausible radical reconstructions. Marx was right that detailed blueprints of alternative designs are often pointless exercises in fantasy. What I and my collaborators in the Real Utopias Project wanted to achieve was a clear elaboration of workable institutional principles that could inform emancipatory alternatives to the existing world. This falls between a discussion simply of the moral values that motivate the enterprise and the fine-grained details of institutional characteristics." pp. i-ii

Wright, E.O., 2010. Envisioning real utopias, London; New York: Verso.






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