Co-creating the gray zone

Something about my recent paper in Design and Culture.

So Otto and me have written a review of sorts, discussing the place of design in military doctrine. We are pointing to the adoption of design thinking in the context of counterinsurgency, and how this has been usurped in relation to ”gray zone warfare”. In our reading of the UK’s new ”Integrated Review”, we show how co-creation has emerged as the perfect conceptual partner. An extract:

A decade has passed since the advent of the soldier-as-design-thinker, and none of the concerns [of this time] are present in the UK integrated review. In many ways, the report is a reflection of the more recent concern that liberal democracies may be subverted without any shots being fired. Global Britain in a Competitive Age is premised on the idea that the UK must become more astute in operating in the “gray zone” between war and peace. Indeed, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, indications of meddling in the Brexit referendum, and disputes over Huawei’s control of 5G infrastructure suggest that the kingdom is already ensnared in this gray zone.

The notion of co-creation seems to provide a tool for navigating this web of treacherous interrelations. The only way to achieve sovereignty is to control the design of the very infrastructures, platforms and everyday technologies that serve as the milieu for gray zone belligerence. In many ways, the nebulous nature of the term “co-creation” makes it a perfect name for a gray zone strategy: Indeed, pretty much any activity can be classified as co-creative, but yet have a somewhat benign ring to it. Like the term “co-design”, it the perfect anodyne label for activities that are profoundly political, and usually imply that some form of betrayal is under way.

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