source:Ideas Arrangements Effects: Systems Design and Social Justice – Non Profit News | Nonprofit Quarterly
Ideas Arrangements Effects: Systems Design and Social Justice
Editors’ note: This article was excerpted, with minor edits, from Ideas Arrangements Effects: Systems Design and Social Justice (Minor Compositions, 2020), for the summer 2020 edition of the Nonprofit Quarterly. This edition of the magazine is about the need to understand the often unacknowledged and unspoken design principles behind some of the practices and structures that pervade our work. We recommend the book highly. All illustrations are by Ayako Maruyama.
Activists, artists, philanthropists, young people, academics—all manner of folks—constantly battle injustices and negative effects in their lives and the lives of others. We take to the streets, to the Internet, to the voting booth, and more to fight for better outcomes. To the same degree, we argue vehemently about the ideas that underlie these injustices—from notions of public and private to ideas about categorizing our bodies, to all the “isms” that say some categories (and people) matter more than others.
But the arena for intervention that we at DS4SI want to make a case for is a less obvious one: that of the multiple, overlapping social arrangements that shape our lives. We believe that creating new effects—ones that make a society more just and enjoyable—calls for sensing, questioning, intervening in, and reimagining our existing arrangements. Simply put, we see rearranging the social as a practical and powerful way to create social change. And we want those of us who care about social justice to see ourselves as potential designers of this world, rather than simply as participants in a world we didn’t create or consent to. Instead of constantly reacting to the latest injustice, we want activists to have the tools and time to imagine and enact a new world.
As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, wrote in her 2018 debut op-ed for the New York Times:
Resistance is a reactive state of mind. While it can be necessary for survival and to prevent catastrophic harm, it can also tempt us to set our sights too low and to restrict our field of vision to the next election cycle, leading us to forget our ultimate purpose and place in history….Those of us who are committed to the radical evolution of American democracy are not merely resisting an unwanted reality. To the contrary, the struggle for human freedom and dignity extends back centuries and is likely to continue for generations to come.1
With the weight of lifetime Supreme Court appointments or healthcare or climate change seeming to hang in the balance of our elections, it is easy to get stuck there. But as Alexander points out, our fixation with politics and policies as the grand arrangement from which all other forms of social justice and injustice flow serves to “set our sights too low.”2 When do we get to imagine the daily arrangements of “human freedom and dignity”?3 We know this won’t happen overnight. It takes time and investment for social arrangements to institutionalize and endure, and it will take time to change them. But it is critical that we try. And to do that, we need to be better at sensing arrangements, intervening in them, and imagining new ones.