1. Societal processes are presently emerging that make a balancing of social inequalities ever more unlikely and that pose a serious danger that society will drift apart, both on the global and national level and on the regional and local level.
People are born into socio-spatial circumstances. Their chances in life vary in the extreme because of this “randomness”. In the interest of social integration and in accordance with democracy’s postulate of equality, modern societies embody the promise of an equalization of living circumstances. This is a guarantee for the political stability of a community. So it is not only permitted, but clearly necessary to ask about the fulfillment of this political desideratum. That means to ask what social reality actually looks like; to ask about the balance of a 30-year phase of neoliberal economy on a global level; to ask what effects deregulation and the privatization of state tasks and the restructuring of the social systems in Europe have had; and to ask how the unleashing of the global financial industry affects above all the economically weak.
Cities have always been the sites of migrants’ hopes for survival and the improvement of their situations, but they are also sites of organized defensiveness, inequality, and exclusion. The urbanization of world society is an accelerating process. In the 21st century, for the first time in the history of humankind, more people live in cities than in rural environments, with unpredictable and initially catastrophic consequences for both rural and urban areas. In the megalopolises of the Third World and emerging countries, the social conditions of 19th-century Europe are resurfacing in potentiated form. At the same time, these processes affect the “old” world by means of streams of capital, goods, and migrants, creating new imbalances and disadvantages there. Starting with the financial markets, a system of organized irresponsibility has spread that not only exacerbates social differences, but also consciously exploits them for private advantages.
We live in a time that must be newly surveyed – in social terms and as the basis for a new societal consensus. Coming back to “real things” is the precondition for this.
2. Today, the difficulty of empirically describing reality no longer lies in a lack of information, but, quite the contrary, in the constantly growing amount of data that make it difficult to draw an overall picture of society and to distinguish between what is important and what is unimportant. Today we have access to an unencompassable wealth of data, much of it automatically generated: statistics, personal data, photos, documents, etc. Hardly anything seems able to elude this universal visibility in the digital age. At the same time, the present is increasingly more opaque. There are precise data for more and more questions of detail, but it is getting harder to find orientation and gain an overview of the present; the quantitative description of phenomena is getting denser, but understanding of the underlying relations and processes seems to be vanishing. Considering that all societal activity depends on information, the wealth of data poses a real dilemma; we can indeed speak of a “digital opacity”. Automated processing with the aid of programs that autonomously view, order, and evaluate data in no way automatically creates transparency. A situation arises in which political activity is not empirically verifiable and is dissolved in politically exploitable contradictions.
Information design is more than a collection of data: information design uses data to create statements that provide insights into societal circumstances. Information design reveals connections behind the surface of the phenomena. Information design provides orientation. It creates a hierarchy of information based on relevance and content. It reduces complexity, thereby creating an overview.
Information design is not neutral. The shaping of information is influenced by the interest in knowledge. An enlightening, emancipatory information design reveals facts that are repressed, not spoken of, or forgotten, but that are nonetheless essential for understanding the present. And it thereby influences the perspective of societal activity. The image of the world we make for ourselves determines how we act.
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