Making Trouble: Design and Material Activism

Otto von Busch


I find the proposal fascinating, intriguing, and provocative. It raises all sorts of vexing questions and positions about design and craft in areas that are neither comfortable nor familiar. The strengths are its novel approach to the ideas of craft, design, and materiality in relation to power and the state; its use of atypical examples (Gandhi, Zapatistas, lock picking) to illustrate novel uses of material reinvention that challenge conventional State power structures; its repositioning of craft and design in relation social transformation; and the author’s unique and idiosyncratic perspective and voice.

—Jamer Hunt, Vice Provost for Transdisciplinary Initiatives, Associate Professor of Transdisciplinary Design, The New School

Making hacks into reality. It engages matter in ways that trespass the boundaries between the civic realm and the state apparatus. With authority present to our senses in fences, locks, buckets, tax forms and grains of salt, making has the potential to tweak these manifestations. Even with primitive tools and skills, design and making can break open and repurposes arrangements of power.

The proof of this is that some crafts are so controversial—lock-picking, moonshining, shoplifting, smuggling, sabotage for example—that they need to be controlled or even outlawed. When designers and makers touch on these contested realms, they run into trouble with state authorities.

This highly original book explores how the material power of design and making can challenge arrangements of agency and domination. Removing the innocence from crafts and unpacking a series of conflicting cases—from illegal makings to the strategic and civic use of crafts to manifest alternatives to the current order—it shows how designers and makers can use primitive tools to actively redraw boundaries between the civic realm and the state.

Otto von Busch is associate professor of Integrated Design at Parsons School of Design in New York. In his research he explores how the powers of fashion and making can be bent to achieve a positive personal and social condition with which every person is free to grow to their full potential. His latest publications include The Psychopolitics of Fashion: Conflict and Courage Under the Current State of Fashion, (Bloomsbury 2020), and The Dharma of Fashion: A Buddhist Approach to Our Life with Clothes, (Schiffer 2020).