Starting with the provocation to Design Unlikely Futures — a slogan encountered during the field work — this research introduces and problematises what I call situated ‘a-firmative’ speculative design practices to empirically engage with the European borderscape. Although design has previously sought to engage with migration and the borderscape, it often fails to take a critical view of the ways it is implicated, or of what else might be done beyond addressing immediate needs. By engaging empirically in the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais, France, the island of Lesvos in Greece, as well as sites closer to usual design practices such as the workshop, studio and exhibition space, this practice research has involved designing, making and deploying devices so that they may enter into new compositions in order to invoke new possibilities, and problematise and record what happens to them in their various encounters. Devices have included a tandem bicycle equipped with audio and video recording equipment, a ‘broadcast trailer’, and films, exhibitions, and publications produced as a result of various ongoing engagements.
To conduct and analyse these devices and practices the thesis draws on a wide range of scholarship and existing design practices. These include: speculative and process philosophy, that provides me with a framework to develop a specific kind of empirically engaged speculative practice. Speculative and critical design (SCD) as a precedent for critiquing problem-solving rhetoric in and around design discourse. Science and technology studies (STS), including the development of actor-network theory (ANT), and its uptake in Scandinavian participatory design (PD), which inspires the concept of a/symmetry that I develop to conduct various kinds of analysis in the thesis. The thesis provides a critical reflection on the above set of practices where I establish a set of key concepts that I use to both make the case for and analyse what I set out as a-firmative, situated empirical speculative practice. I argue that the concept of a/symmetry is key to examining the materialities, temporalities, and compositions of these practices, and the distributions of agency involved in them. Ultimately, I outline an extended manifesto where I draw from both the literature, and the practices I have been involved with to suggest ways for designers (and others) to engage speculatively with the borderscape.