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Title: Design for social sustainability in digital fabrication for development in the Global South
Author: Corsini, Lucia
ISNI:       0000 0004 9359 816X
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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Context: The demand for humanitarian and development aid has risen to an unprecedented level. With an urgent need for new solutions, the aid sector has started turning to digital fabrication (3D printing, laser cutting and computer numerical control (CNC) milling). Collectively, these initiatives are referred to as Digital Fabrication for Development (DF4D). It is commonly believed that DF4D can support more low-cost, appropriate and localised forms of production in the Global South. Problem: Despite rhetoric about the transformative potential of DF4D, there is concern that technology projects in the aid sector have historically failed to create lasting impact. It is put forward that social sustainability is currently lacking and that this is limiting the success of DF4D. Despite recognition that social sustainability is the foundation for sustainable development, it is a challenging concept that is often neglected in mainstream sustainability research. In addition, the role of design in promoting social sustainability has not been well understood. Until this problem is addressed, it is believed that DF4D will not succeed in creating the social impact it desires. Research aim: To investigate how design can promote social sustainability in DF4D. Methodology: This thesis follows a pragmatic research paradigm. First, an exploratory study is conducted with fourteen case studies to validate that social sustainability is currently lacking in DF4D. Building on these findings, the main study is conducted with three case studies: a 3D printed otoscope in Nepal; a digitally fabricated prosthesis in India; and, a digital fabricated suction pump machine in Kenya. The main study diverges in two directions, with the first part focusing on an analytical approach and the second part taking a critical systems approach. In the analytical approach, thematic coding of case study data is used to identify the key principles of Design for Social Sustainability in DF4D. In the critical systems approach, Actor-Network Theory is used to investigate the networks of DF4D projects. Results: The analytical approach results in a normative framework to support Design for Social Sustainability in DF4D. It offers practical guidelines that are relevant in project planning and evaluation. The framework highlights the need for radical, systems-focused solutions. It reveals that design can trigger social sustainability at product, process and paradigm levels. The critical systems approach explores an interpretative version of Design for Social Sustainability. It supports the development of an initial toolkit that allows actors to collaboratively map their own networks during ongoing projects. Network analysis of the case studies clarifies the linkage between participation and Design for Social Sustainability. Reciprocity is highlighted as a key network metric that reveals (in)equitable relationships. The results of the analytical and critical systems approaches are compared to identify their complementary insights. It is put forward that Design for Social Sustainability in DF4D demands several shifts in practice from: products to capabilities; exogenous to endogenous development; passive to active actors; quick fixes to open-ended solutions; and, one-off projects to scalable interventions. It is argued that Design for Social Sustainability also has the potential to shape sustainability transitions beyond the project level. Theoretical implications: Synthesis of fragmented knowledge on Design for Social Sustainability and identification of its key principles in the DF4D context. Practical implications: The development of a practical framework and an initial toolkit that can support practitioners in DF4D to develop more socially sustainable solutions. Methodological implications: Explanation of how and why analytical and critical systems approaches can provide complementary insights for exploring complex phenomena.
Supervisor: Moultrie, James Sponsor: EPSRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: digital fabrication ; 3d printing ; humanitarian ; development ; global south ; social sustainability ; design