L’esthétique de l’engagement écologique

The aesthetics of ecological commitment

Doctoral dissertation, Université de Montréal

août 2019

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The doctoral dissertation is in French, and the defence took place on August 29th 2019. You can download the digital publication through The Université de Montreal’s electronic database.

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Abstract

In the last forty years, designers have not been immune to the political turn of the ecological crisis and the normative tools that it generated to design our relationship to the world. In this professional field, sustainability has been applied particularly to the choice of materials and the standards created have tended to consolidate the aesthetic properties of the Modern Movement. This endemic aesthetic, highly standardizing, anthropocentric and ahistorical, is opposite to the change promised by environmental policies that require citizen commitment, building a community between human beings, and also with others, non-humans. Criticisms against the Modern Movement and environmentalism showed that the ecological commitment could take shape in another aesthetic, an aesthetic which also defeats the distinction between nature and culture and preserves the agency of people for sustainability.

From a pragmatist and realistic perspective, looking at aesthetic through an anthropological approach, this thesis argues that ecological commitment depends on this particular aesthetic. The hypothesis is that the ecological commitment is closely linked to aesthetics of wear – the ability of materiality (bodies and things) to transform, to show mark of uses and time. Various forms of ecological commitment have been identified to verify this hypothesis, and their visual aesthetic properties documented. A photoethnographic survey was conducted between 2014-2016 with six individuals, two couples and four ecological communities, all settled in urban areas. The fieldwork includes a self-managed activist squat in Istanbul, a self-managed cultural and social center in Berlin, a self-managed neighbourhood in Copenhagen, a communitarian house in Montreal, persons following the principles of simple living in Montreal and a self-ethnography performed in the light of ecological practices observed in these fieldworks. A photographic data collection contextualized through a field notebook allows describing the aesthetic properties of those ecological places and the actions undertaken.

The results show that the aesthetics of wear is a transversal quality of these environments. It was identified in artificial and natural materiality, but also gestures. The analysis also reveals twelve other aesthetic properties crucial to ecological commitment. This research allows us to take a critical look at sustainable practices. It contributes to a richer understanding of oppressive and engaging aesthetic properties. Designers shape everyday aesthetics. The knowledge produced allows designers and the other producers of the artificial environment to consider aesthetics as a lever of action for commitment and ecological transition. In particular, it demonstrates that aesthetics is a key element of social and cultural transformations, but its anthropological dimension remains to be explored, tested and legitimized. Finally, this work aspires to contribute, on a theoretical level, to the relationship between aesthetics and commitment, and explore the possibility of a policy (or not) for artificial to improve our future production patterns.