Dsn S 504X Why Change Anything?

Conceptual Bases for Design and Intervention

Spring 2004



5:10 – 8:00 pm Tuesdays, Hoover 1322

Course website:  link through




Dr. Tara Lynne Clapp, Community and Regional Planning

Joern Langhorst, Landscape Architecture




Designers, planners and artists propose innovations, changes and interventions.  This seminar offers an introduction to a range of approaches to justifying these changes. We will consider the kinds of reasons for change, their bases in social, philosophical and design reasoning and their usefulness in justifying change to different audiences. We will investigate fallacies, ideologies and common contemporary problems in justification.


Whether you are a conservative, a revolutionary, a radical or a devotee of apathy, your position is based on reasons, of which you may or may not be aware. Sometimes reasons take the form of unexamined associations or presuppositions. We will begin the course with a review of common fallacies in thinking. While all these are fallacies from a philosophical standpoint, some fallacies (like hypostatization) may have a social or rhetorical “truth”.  That is, some fallacies work to justify action. 


We will then examine different kinds of reasons given to justify action. Whenever we claim that we should do something, we usually combine arguments that are both normative and descriptive. That is, our arguments about what we should do or what we should change depend on some relationship between what is and what should be.

There are different approaches to describing what “is”‚ and people can and do differ in their approaches to description. Ethics and aesthetics are those sets of approaches to justifying what “should” be done. We will introduce major approaches to ethics and aesthetics at this point.


It is here that we run up against relativism. Since reasonable people can disagree, how can anything be justified?  Here we will consider the difference between ultimate authoritative justification and arguments that would convince different audiences.

Relativism though has its own cultural power, so we will spend some time considering where relativism comes from, what is wrong with it and what is right with it.


Ideas of relativism are fundamentally related to conceptions of personhood and the nature of humans as social selves or isolated selves. As we will use the history of the development of contemporary ideas of the self to inform our discussions of relativism, we will apply our understanding of the concept of self, or personhood, to a review of theories of knowledge. Who we are as selves or persons affects ideas of what we can justifiably know.


Here we will need to address the concept of an ideology. We will consider an ideology both from a descriptive perspective as a system of thought that brings coherence to a time period, and from its critical usage as a system of thought that prevents people from acting in ways that would improve their lives. We will review and discuss important traditions in the criticism of ideologies.


Finally, we will apply these theories to fundamental problems in our disciplines. For planners and designers in the public realm, the “public interest”‚ is a core professional, political, rhetorical and philosophical problem. It is a fundamental rhetorical justification within the field, but it is an idea that requires critical investigation.


For designers and artists, “aesthetic reasons” offer a similar kind of problem. While we give aesthetic reasons, they have been subject to severe criticism from several quarters.

Both the public interest‚ and aesthetic reasons‚ have been victimized in the context of widespread cultural relativism and scientism. We are suspicious of them in ways that are to our detriment as human beings. On the other hand, we are also suspicious of them, given their history of use in domination, suppression and illegitimate justification. How can we use our arsenal of theories to develop our own position in our own discipline?


Outline of Elements:

            Rules for the Hard of Thinking:  A Field Guide to Fallacies

            Real Life Reasons:  Norms, Descriptions, Prescriptions and Predictions

            History and Reasons

            Cutting Yourself on Occham‚s Razor:  Thick and Thin Descriptions and Reasons

            Communities of Justification in Design, the Humanities and the Sciences

            Relativism in Historical Context:  from Religious Peace to the Isolated Self

            Persons and Knowledge

            Ethics, Knowledge and Design

            Ethics and Ideology


Learning Outcomes:

On completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • identify and avoid common fallacies in design justification
  • recognize, understand, critique and respect different approaches to the justification of interventions
  • understand and critique the shortcomings of common approaches to justification
  • thoughtfully use different approaches to justification with an awareness of audience
  • critically examine common contemporary ideologies and recognize their role in design, art and planning
  • understand the role of ethics in justification of all kinds of design, and
  • apply their understanding of conceptual frameworks to design and design critique.


Course Expectations:

As a graduate seminar, learning is expected to occur through engagement with the material in class and outside of class.  Students will not be able to complete course requirements without attending each week. Engaging in seminar discussions is required.


Students are expected to prepare for each class session by reading the assigned materials, and writing a short reading response that identifies main ideas and key issues from the readings along with key questions for discussion.


Students will take turns co-leading seminar sessions. Leaders are expected to find and present examples that illustrate the application of the readings in the built environment or in ‘real-life’ issues.  They are also expected to present their reading notes and introduce key questions for discussion. 


Students are expected to participate in a number of events outside of assigned class time.  We have suggested a series of lectures; students may find other appropriate venues and substitute them (subject to approval).  These lectures/events should be used to contribute to class discussion of issues.


Each student will prepare and present a final project that addresses the application of core concepts in the readings to a problem in their discipline. This assignment can take the form of a term paper, a design critique, or a design. Students will propose a topic/project/paper by the seventh week.  Class time (with due date benchmarks) will be spent on the development and review of projects. Students will present this paper/project to reviewers in the final class sessions.


Each student will be responsible for reviewing and assessing their own and others work.



Assigned Readings:


We have put together a BIG reader for this course. Many are excerpts from classic works or introductions to major schools of thought. 


The reader is available for purchase through University Readers at http://www.universityreaders.com
In the top right corner, click on the orange "Students Buy Now" button, select Iowa State University … So far ours is the only class listed … I think you will be able to find it.


University Readers has a toll free number (800-200-3908) if you have any problems ordering online or getting your free downloads of the first week’s readings.


Requirements and Grading:

Students must complete all requirements to pass the course.


Participation in all sessions                                                        complete/incomplete


Engagement with material/class:

            Reading Responses (one for each class)                                    20%

            Class leadership (two sessions)                                     20%

            Review and Assessment of Own and Others Work                   10%


Final Project:                                                                           

            Project proposal and development                                            20%

            Final product/paper                                                                  20%

            Presentation                                                                              10%


Rubrics will be available on the course website for each graded element in order to develop their work and to assess the work of others.



Reading Assignments and Course Schedule


The reading assignment schedule is in the Table of Contents of the reader.  For January 20, you are expected to have read:

Engel, S.M. 1976. With good reason.  New York: St Martins Press. “Informal Fallacies,” 86-96, 104-143, 165-194.


Regan, Tom. 1982. “Introduction.” In And justice for all : new introductory essays in ethics and public policy, edited by Tom Regan and Donald VanDeVeer, 1-16. Totowa N.J. : Rowman and Littlefield.


Titus, Harold H. 1959. Living issues in philosophy, an introductory textbook. New York, American Book Company. Third edition, “Values” 293-306.


Rader, Melvin and Bertram Jessup. 1976. Art and human values. Engelwood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.  “Meaning of Value” 3-18.





Outside Events of Week

To be added to

Leaders and Due Dates:

Jan 13


why change anything?


Leaders: TLC and JL

Jan 20

Values, Fallacies and Ethics:

Some reasons are wrong

Description vs. evaluation

Is and ought


Leaders: TLC and JL

Jan 27

Roots of relativism



(Taylor not in reader)



Feb 3

Historical Frameworks

Description/interpretation, narrative



Feb 10

Scientific frameworks



Feb 17

Economic frameworks

use value, exchange value, Costs and benefits

Teleological ethics


Thursday 19th Molotch Places as commodities?


Feb 24

Aesthetic Frameworks

Monday Mar 1 Lucy Lippard On the Beaten Track 1999


Mar 2

Aesthetic Frameworks cont’d

Wednesday Mar 3 Guerilla Girls gender and race – who speaks


Mar 9

Ethics, Knowledge and Value




Mar 16

Spring Break



Mar 23

Ideas of Ideology

Mar 24 Nobuko Miyamoto art activism and community

Final Project Proposals due

Mar 30

Ideologies and Space



Apr 6

Persons and knowledge: sex, gender and sexuality


Bring project work for review


Apr 13

Pragmatism and Language




Apr 20

Language and symbols in action



Bring project work for review



Apr 27

Project presentations



May 4

Project presentations