On the Grounds of Solutionism: Ontologies of Blackness and HCI
Why is the solution the end point to a problem? While many in HCI and design have examined the impulse to solve problems–the solutionist or techno-solutionist mindset–we examine the logic that binds the solution and the problem together as a pair. Focusing on the timely and consequential problem of systemic racial injustice, we think through the paradoxical possibility that the pairing of the problem and solution (so often treated as the default in design and HCI) perpetuates the very conditions we seek to improve. With Calvin Warren’s profound Afro-pessimism, we recognize how the tools used to solve structural inequities around Black life are constructed with inequities themselves. The problem-solution, therefore, is a dead end. We use this paradox as an invitation to rethink ongoing efforts to seek equity and justice more broadly, setting out a fragile but hopeful path for HCI and design.
Jan 2021 - Dec 2022
Jay Cunningham, Gabrielle Benabdallah, Dr. Daniela Rosner, Dr. Alex Taylor
University of Washington (HCDE); University of London (HCID); ACM CHI 2023
Why does HCI view techno-solution as the end point to a social problem?
How might HCI counter the assumption that new or revised technologies are the solution to any given social problem?
How might HCI rethink assumptions about who might imagine, design, build, and oversee the technologies that are shaping our future?
This work tackle techno-chauvinism (the idea that technology is the solution to "all" social problems). In moving toward more socially just technologies and design processes, practitioners must dispel the gospel of technical solutionism. Doing so allows us to address "wicked" problems like anti-Blackness, gender/sexism, misogynism, and violence in communities of color.
Afro-pessimism as a lens to view the infeasibility of techno-solutions in HCI and Design research.
As HCI and Design scholars, we don't simply want to modify current HCI approaches based on Warren's proposal. Instead, we aim to use his philosophy to galvanize, inspire and energize us..
For us in HCI and Design, What we take from Warren’s proposal is not a retooling of existing HCI approaches, but a possible philosophical extension to galvanize. It is to see design and a legacy of inequity that correlates with its practice – as always developing within a hermeneutic (ever-evolving) world that it must also revise (adjust, engage, contend with).
What we in design research should learn from Warren – if we can, like him, engage the unruly connections between solutions and ontologically-denied Blackness requires revisiting our path so far. We have seen that solutions come with problems. And that, in working on solutions, designers put to work a wider set of stakes and positions that at the same time shape and respond to the governing structures in which they live. What Warren’s proposal invites is the inspection of solutions from both inside and outside of frameworks of being.
Watch the brief recorded talk for ACM CHI 2023.
April 23-18, 2023 | Hamburg, Germany
Read the full-text paper (https://dl.acm.org/doi/pdf/10.1145/3557890).