My thesis book for the Master of Fine Arts in Transdisciplinary Design, discussing design's capacity to lead the push for social equality.
The current state of the plantations is nothing short of modern-day feudalism — taking the migrant population, placing it in social isolation and ensuring the people live in abject poverty with little to no access to education, health, food or an alternative livelihood. Plantation owners eliminate any opportunity for social mobility. Similar to feudal land shares, this oppressive social system is designed to establish workers’ dependence and entrap them and their children in an endless cycle of generational servitude, providing plantations with a perpetual source of cheap labour.
In India, 50,000 women die from pregnancy and childbirth related causes every year; this accounts for 17% of all maternal deaths globally, more than any other country in the world. Culturally accepted discrimination against women—particularly poor women from lower castes and indigenous communities—drive India’s high rate of maternal deaths.
The core concept of the infographic was simple: highlighting that while 94 rupees per day was already an unbelievably low wage after deductions and taking into account modern costs of living, tea workers incomes were actually unlivable.
Workers in Kerala earn roughly 3 times workers in Assam. This drastic differential in income gave me the idea to produce an infographic that would place daily wages side-by-side to show audiences how much less Assamese tea garden workers were receiving, while simultaneously highlighting the fact that tea garden workers in Assam earn less than state minimum wage.
All forms of media representation are simplifications of a real world object for the sake of conveying information. From maps, to icons, to photographs and even language, representations serve to summarize something in order to convey complex information in a concise and understandable way. Without representations conversations would be completely impossible; we could have no shared understanding of objects in reality. However, as necessary as they are there is a potential danger when our created representations are presented as fundamental truths—especially when dealing with representations of groups of peoples.
While effective media campaigns can raise awareness of issues on a global scale, the fear of falling into the “Sally Struthers” trope of dehumanizing your subjects is always a dangerous possibility, especially in the context on international work. Advocacy media that focuses too heavily on the direness of human circumstances often objectifies the people it intends to help in a way that is not only demeaning, but perpetuates harmful stereotypes that shape global perceptions. These misconceptions, along with the entire construction of the “third world” label, only serve to sustain Eurocentric hegemony and international class divides.
Popular culture is a very funny thing. It is not like some all-power authority figure tells the masses that Justin Bieber is no longer dreamy, or that Jennifer Lawrence is America’s new snarky sweetheart. It just kind of happens—unless you believe that Beyoncé, Ryan Gosling, and Neil Patrick Harris are secretly puppet mastering the American population. Pop cultural trends and mindsets manifest and dissipate almost exclusively from the unprovoked will of the populous, defined by no one, confirmed by everyone. In fancy Transdisciplinary Design lingo we call this “emergence.”
Being a lifelong gamer and—for the most part—not a psychopath, I have always discredited claims that violent video games make violent children. But there seemed to be an uncomfortable hypocrisy lurking somewhere in the fact that I committed uncharacteristic sexual pursuits and highly violent actions in the virtual fantasies of video games while denouncing Mr. Bungle’s claim that events in a virtual reality have no consequence on RL existence. So, if events in a virtual world do have ramifications in the real world, what could possibly justify violence in video games?
Let’s talk about sex. Well, more so about sexuality—a topic I bet you didn’t expect to find on a Design Strategies blog for Parsons the New School. Never the less, moments of insight from this tantalizingly ambiguous field of Transdisciplinary Design often bleed into some of the most unexpected topics. For me, this bleeding effect happened while reading through an independently published graphic novel I received via Kickstarter titled "Anything that Loves: Comics Beyond “Gay” and “Straight.”