Making Autonomy: Design, Material and Visual culture in Latin America (April 2015, Aberdeen Scotland)

Dates: 17-18 April 2015
Location: University of Aberdeen, Scotland
Deadline for submission of abstracts: 28 November 2014

Organised by Dr. Livia Rezende (V&A/RCA History of Design Programme, Royal College of Art, London, UK) & Dr. Patricia Lara-Betancourt (Research Fellow, Modern Interiors Research Centre, Kingston University, UK)

Panel to be held at the 51st Society for Latin American Studies Conference.

‘Autonomy’ is central to the design debate in Latin America. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed an intensified pursuit for the institutionalisation of the design profession and education with the establishment of modern design schools, professional associations and the promotion of design policies aiming to offset the region’s dependency to ‘centres’ of material production. From the Cuban revolutionaries to Brazilian developmentalists, state-driven initiatives promoted import substitution and industrial development in the region. One of the few overarching publications to investigate this process, Historia del Diseño en América Latina y el Caribe: Industrialización y Comunicación Visual para la Autonomía (Silvia Fernandez and Gui Bonsiepe eds. 2008), discusses industrialisation and modern design as drivers for autonomy.

Autonomy, however, also underpinned the grassroots work of Cuban designer Clara Porset who explored, encouraged and disseminated a revaluation of local art and craft production in Mexico. Before the modern design schools of the 1950s and 1960s, nineteenth-century Latin American museums and schools had provided technical and artistic education to form professionals capable of advancing material production in the region. More recently, while industrial design output diminished in the face of de-industrialization in the 1990s, work in multimedia and web design expanded, and designers sharing similar working conditions to their peers in Europe and North America were able to compete internationally.

Our panel seeks to challenge the idea of an autonomous region defined solely in terms of industrial development and framed in a centre-periphery model of cultural exchange. We seek papers that examine broadly alternative histories of the development of design, material and visual culture in Latin America, grounded in historical research from the late nineteenth century to today.

Submissions may consider among other topics:

• Autonomy and industrialization – historiographical critique

• Craft, practice and theory

• Institutionalization of the design profession

• Design pedagogies, nineteenth-century technical education, professional associations, among others

• The role of exhibitions, shops, advertising, books and magazines in disseminating modern design

• Design, nation branding and autonomy

Please submit a 250-word abstract via the link found on the conference website by 28 November. (

Also, please send a short biography to the panel organisers via the emails and

About Fil Salustri
I'm a design methodologist and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. Adjectives that describe me include: secular humanist, meritocrat, and long-winded. Some people call me a positivist too, as if that were a bad thing. Go figure. My real home page is

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