Empowering Participation Within Structures of Dependency

Published in Participatory Design Conference (PDC), 2022

Recommended citation: Gautam, A. & Tatar, D. (2022). Empowering Participation Within Structures of Dependency. In Participatory Design Conference 2022: Volume 1. (pp. 75-86) http://aakash.xyz/files/pdc2022.pdf

Participatory Design (PD) seeks political change to support people’s democratic control over processes, solutions, and, in general, matters of concern to them. A particular challenge remains in supporting vulnerable groups to gain power and control when they are dependent on organizations and external structures. We reflect on our five-year engagement with survivors of sex trafficking in Nepal and an anti-trafficking organization that supports the survivors. Arguing that the prevalence of deficit perspective in the setting promotes dependency and robs the survivors’ agency, we sought to bring change by exploring possibilities based on the survivors’ existing assets. Three configurations illuminate how our design decisions and collective exploration operate to empower participation while attending to the substantial power implicitly and explicitly manifest in existing structures. We highlight the challenges we faced, uncovering actions that PD practitioners can take, including an emphasis on collaborative entanglements, attending to contingent factors, and encouraging provisional collectives.

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