Carnegie Mellon University
smatamar_phd_design_20201.pdf (49.83 MB)

Bordering Designs Contestation Designs: An Exploration of Undocumented Nicaraguan Women’s Everyday Life in Costa Rica

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posted on 2020-05-29, 21:36 authored by Silvia Mata-marinSilvia Mata-marin
project of modernity reordered and rearranged the world by imposing categories of difference. These currently materialize in inconspicuous bordering systems designed to enforce the separation between the Global North and Global South; the west and rest; the have and have-nots: dualities continuously (re)produced today in the spatial arrangement of the world and in the domain of everyday life. This research focuses on the material possibilities afforded by design to scatter sovereign power— that was once exclusive to nation-state borders— and embed it in the sociotechnical systems that mediate everyday life. This dissertation presents a design-informed framework that situates design in contemporary practices of bordering— understood as processes of exclusion experienced by migrants that are (re)produced at the level of everyday life by state and non-state actors. I propose that by paying attention to everyday life we can uncover how design has been complicit in creating and perpetuating the undocumented migrant condition and how design has been used in the production of “illegality”. In this sense, this research does not seek to uncover the power of design, but instead turns its attention to the ontological relation between power and design, the ways power dynamics materialize by design and how design (re)enforces power dynamics, put simply, it is an exploration of how power is designed.
Using the experience of undocumented Nicaraguan women in Costa Rica, I argue that undocumentedness is a designed technology of population management that materializes and legitimizes “illegality” while reproducing the colonial logic of difference between Costa Rica(ns) and Nicaragua(ns). This logic of difference, instrumental to the project of nation-building, is currently (re)produced by popular and political discourses that materialize in technologies of migrant management. Based on the experience of Nicaraguan women living in Río Azul — a marginal, urban neighborhood in the outskirts of San José —, and informed by critical border studies, decolonial theory, feminist theory, political theory, and critical geography, this dissertation locates everyday life as the site of border-struggles for undocumented Nicaraguan women.
This dissertation also considers counter-practices that materialize in the form of designs that emerge and operate from other logics, logics that are initially driven by state exclusion such as contestation and (in)visibility, but ultimately logics that build the communal and forms of autonomy. These forms of contestation use design as material politics, in this sense, design is used to reconfigure the material possibilities afforded by their undocumented condition and to redistribute these material possibilities as forms of emancipation.




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Design

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Dan Lockton Molly Steenson Elizabeth Chin

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