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Samar Sabie
Samar Sabie

Cornell Tech

Is Unmaking Design?


Design does more than supply the market with new products and services; it can raise provocations, critique existing socio-technical arrangements, seed conversations around matters of concern, and imagine radical alternatives. However, even when design is used as a critical provocation or political contestation, the focus is often on 'making' something new - a product, interface or artifact. That is because 'unmaking', a natural aspect of the designerly transformations always underway in the worlds around us, remains invisibilized and rarely theorized as its own explicit and intentional strategy. Samar Sabie and Tapan Parik’s interest in unmaking emerged during a summer 2018 civic design program they organized for youth in New York City. The youth used unmaking as a design move to subvert conventional narratives about their surrounding urban context and its implicit priorities. This move led to fractious encounters in the program yet raised difficult conversations and tensions which other “benign” and constructionist moves failed to raise. Through this case study and others, they argue that the politics of unmaking as a non-constructionist act and the visceral experience of it can expand the utility of design and provide value beyond those suggested by the de-growth movement. However, recognizing unmaking as design requires a new definition of design which acknowledges its capitalist implications and the omnipresent tension between value, invention, and growth.


Samar Sabie is a fourth year Information Science PhD student at Cornell Tech minoring in Science and Technology Studies (STS). Given the conflictual nature of coexistence in multicultural societies, her dissertation investigates two questions: 1) what role can design play as a social practice in nurturing a culture of listening and impactful confrontation across different urban settings? And 2) how can technology provide an arena where differences within a community are confronted? These questions emerged as a result of working with the spatial politics of intercultural, interclass, and intergenerational differences in participatory design contexts on Roosevelt Island. They are also influenced by her own journey as a female Muslim scholar attempting to reconcile her identity with salient liberal ethos in the West. She holds a B.Sc with a double major in Architecture and Computer Science, a Master of Architecture (MArch), and an MSc in Computer Science, all from the University of Toronto. Before coming to Cornell, Samar spent five years studying, analyzing, and documenting shelter and technology conditions in refugee and IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in Iraq. Currently, she combines designing and making with ethnography, critical theory, and pedagogy development to converge what she discovers about the world with how she wants to impact it. Through the DLI fellowship program, she looks forward to cementing her interests with rigorous scholarship around digital technologies and theories of fairness, democracy, and representation.

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