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The Design Politics of the Passport

A conversation between Mahmoud Keshavarz and Stefan Jonsson

Image: A collection of forged passports stacked at National Centre for Forensics (NFS), Linköping, Sweden, 2016. Photo courtesy of Alexander Mahmoud.

The Design Politics of the Passport: Materiality, Immobility, and Dissent is a recently published book by design scholar Mahmoud Keshavarz. It’s an innovative study of the passport and its associated social, political and material practices as a means of uncovering the workings of ‘design politics’. It traces the histories, technologies, power relations and contestations around this small but powerful artefact to establish a framework for understanding how design is always enmeshed in the political, and how politics can be understood in terms of material objects.

Combining design studies with critical border studies, alongside ethnographic work among undocumented migrants, border transgressors and passport forgers, this book shows how a world made and designed as open and hospitable to some is strictly enclosed, confined and demarcated for many others – and how those affected by such injustices dissent from the immobilities imposed on them through the same capacity of design and artifice.

Stefan Jonsson is a writer, critic and professor at the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO), Linköping University. He has written widely on European modernism and modernity, as well as on racism and on colonial and postcolonial cultures and aesthetics. His recent books include Crowds and Democracy (2013) and Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism (2015, with Peo Hansen). He worked with Pia Arke on Stories from Scoresbysund: Photography, Colonisation and Mapping.

Mahmoud Keshavarz is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Engaging Vulnerability Research Program, Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University. His work sits at the intersection of design studies and politics of movement and migration. He is the author of The Design Politics of the Passport: Materiality, Immobility and Dissent (Bloomsbury, 2018), co-founder of Decolonizing Design Group and since 2019, co-editor-in-chief of the journal Design and Culture.

The Design Politics of the Passport: Materiality, Immobility and Dissent is introducing a new public events’ program at Iaspis, looking at how socially engaged practice within design, craft and architecture engages in relation to urgent contemporary societal issues. The program unfolds through various themes and formats from the autumn 2019. The first, entitled Vulnerability by Design explores the intersections of what forms of human, animal and environmental vulnerabilities are produced by design and designing and how the vulnerability, partiality and limits of design and designing are exposed through various tactics and techniques. Through three main themes: borders, environments and bodies these issues will be highlighted and discussed in a series of seminars with Swedish and international guests. Vulnerability by Design is developed by Iaspis, the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s international programme for Visual and Applied Artists together with Mahmoud Keshavarz.