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Reparatory Arts & Design

Embodied practices, vulnerable knowledges and resilient methodologies.

OSIC, Oficina de Suport a la Iniciativa Cultural, Departament de Cultura

Generalitat de Catalunya, 2022.

The ecological crisis we are all globally experiencing is almost indescribable. It touches all the aspects of our survival and has exposed us to the fragility and fracturability of our world.[1] Through their practices, artists and designers worldwide engage with multiple forms of damage. They search for solutions, create reparations that answer to and challenge the disciplinary institutional responses, and enable new processes of adaptation, rethinking, healing, and care.

This article reflects on a new framework that critically and creatively interrogates and rearticulates our cultural notions of art and design. This new framework focuses on reparatory design practices and draws attention to their related methodologies, models, and practices hitherto misjudged by the disciplinary regimes of academia. The article aims to show how these practices enable the constitution of spaces of radical emancipation where resilient methodologies and vulnerable knowledge can grow. The article focuses primarily on Barcelona city, Spain.

Design is a culturally situated phenomenon. The material and formalised form of its practices, its media and technological contingencies, its modes of perception and scope of expectations, as well as the functions, modes of action and purposes of design, have been and are being constantly confronted with historical, political, economic, and even spiritual changes in the societies they happen to occur. Design is a form of cognition of the world, which is why its cognitive perspective and way of understanding are fundamental to the kind of world it makes known.

The idea of reparatory design models aims to think of design practices from an inclusive, contributive, regenerative, transitional perspective as forms of critical-cognitive, reflexive, and experimental spacing. Hence the need to compose sustainable research ecologies, nodes of analysis that can be both participatory of existing and to-be-existing procedures.

Design has been, and is, a fundamental agent in the industrialised transformation of the context of social production. Given the current conditions and the acceleration of social changes happening at different levels, such as emotional, economic, political, and relational, should we consider that reparatory design models, in their processes, coincide with and consider models of social justice, democratisation, and participatory inclusion and share the same goals? What are models of reparation in design? How or where could thinking design from a reparatory perspective lead us? How, or in what way, should design practices and prototypes be assumed in this respect?

Focusing on the way these practices are answering material and immaterial needs, extending the reparations toward social relational bounds, emotional fields, communicational performativities, poetics of attention, and ecologies of collective affection, this article contributes to a worldwide paradigm shift in the field of design practices, and around them, from technology to politics, from identities to public policies. This reparatory perspective implies strengthening a conception of creation that assumes the necessity of answering different global and local problems through new methodologies and approaches that reflect the multiplicity and complexity of our societies and acknowledge our historical and culturally diverse roots, languages, and ways of life.


To Repair

To repair is to recognise the world’s vulnerability and respond to it, enacting a collective commitment towards its actual damages.[2] In her book, Repair, Professor Elizabeth V. Spelman defines the scope of the 'impulse to restore' in humans. She even coins the term Homo reparans to acknowledge that the impulse to repair seems a fundamental feature of the human animal.[3] But she also states a significant differentiation within the realm of reparation. Repair is acting towards something that has been broken or damaged by accident, by the force of natural causes, because of the object's materiality or the intensity of its use. However, there is a substantial difference between repairing an object, such as a computer, a watch, a washing machine, or a piece of furniture and repairing a relationship.[4] To repair a relationship requires:


(…) a complete understanding of the relationship between the victim and the wrong-doer, the nature of the conflict, the full range of harms that the victim received, what can be done to repair the harm and an understanding of what prompted the offender’s behaviour and what can be done to prevent this behaviour from occurring in the future.[5]


As humans, we are bodies in relational condition to our environments. Our bodies are, in fact, vulnerable, breakable. We are subjects of damage, fracture, and wounds. As collectives, we are subject to potential harms, injuries, and pains that exceed the mere parameters of our individualities. Moreover, the reparation of these harms cannot be just repaired by ordinary tools. What sort of tools has been created to repair these kinds of damages? Reparatory justice is one of the main tools that human societies have developed to confront these relational injuries.

Reparation has to do with the civil responsibility condition of every society member. Reparation constitutes an indispensable aspect in constructing equitable, fair, and democratic societies. The concept of reparation can be traced to the first human legal code, the Hammurabi code, where the law contemplated the possibility of monetary compensation for damages other than personal injury, as, traditionally, personal injury was considered non-compensable. In the Hebrew law, ‘eye for an eye’ is the commandment that expresses the idea of a reciprocal or equivalent justice measure. The law of retaliation, in Roman law, assumes the same direction: the person causing the damage must be penalised at an equivalent level to the damage injured.[6] The modern concept of reparation confronts damages of different scope. The magnitude of the damage, the number of affected victims, and its gravity make the definition of reparation more complex regarding a community or group.[7] Faced with possible damage, every person is obliged to compensate for the damage caused. The notion of reparation in the legal design of society constitutes a fundamental element through which not only to hold responsible whoever infringes the rights or property of another or others but also establishes as a necessity the care of those who have been direct or indirect victims of a harmful action, such as in the case of global ecological reparation justice. This acquires fundamental relevance in our contemporary interconnected world, where the responsibilities of states, corporations, industries, and communities contribute to all forms of life and their survival on the planet.[8] Reparatory justice is a philosophy and method for settling conflicts that have disturbed the peace, seeking to restore it through a process that involves the victims, the victimisers and the community.[9] Different communities and countries have been demanding or developing reparation, care, and healing processes. Examples of such processes can be found in Colombia's process of peace[10], U.S. black people demands for reparations from the United States of America, caused by U.S. slavery and its aftermath[11], Australia’s reparations for the stolen generations[12], the Māori of New Zealand[13], American Indian nations of North and South American countries, demanding the return of their tribal lands, South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, after the end of apartheid in 1996, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, documenting the impacts of the Canadian Indian residential school system (2008-2015), or The National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture Report (2004-2005), documenting testimonies of those who suffered illegal imprisonment and tortures under Chilean dictatorship. It is impossible here to unfold the entire and relevant discussion on the critical aspects of this legal concept, but it is an introductory approach to a debate to have within design practices and their involvement in social, political, and ecological spheres.

Reparatory design practices

Reparation should be an essential concept in today’s processes of understanding and thinking about design practices, and reparatory practices in design are an important way to enact sustainable changes in the world. In the face of existing damage, the act of reparation seeks restitution that does not entail forgetting the origins of the damage caused. Nor does reparation imply restitution of the original state. On the contrary, it understands that the transformation produced by the damage has created a different reality to which it must adapt. However, this adaptation supposes transformative, relational, sustainable learning. To repair is to heal. Healing is a process of intense care, a period of accompaniment, recovery, and re-bonding.[14] It is a learning process of a reweaving, of an interweaving that, arising from damage, gives shape to new knowledges.[15]

The current global crisis is not a singular and isolated event but the manifestation of a fundamental systemic crisis: a crisis of our relations with nature, that is, with everything that continues to be defined as an externality to our anthropocentric conception of reality, but also a crisis of our interpersonal, social, economic and political relations.[16] On all these levels, it is undeniable today that the way humans relate to each other and other living and non-living entities is not sustainable; it is not viable in the medium and long term.[17] Consequently, all our efforts should focus on transforming these relationships.[18] However, how if not by acknowledging the already existing wounds and the necessity of repairing those injured relational structures? Before further describing the reparatory perspective, the article considers, it is crucial to understand the grounds from which it relates to a relational perspective.

A sustainable relationship is a performative form of connection that is beneficial for the entities it connects.[19] This means, at a basic level, that a sustainable relationship provides the right conditions for the related entities to maintain their identities and specific forms of existence.[20] A relationship must maintain mutual and beneficial quality over time to become sustainable. Sustainability here is a porous continuity between situated conditions, organisms, and their environments open to the potential contingencies. Therefore, a sustainable relationship is a dynamic connection that adaptively changes over time. Changes in the relationships and the connected entities must evolve in a mutually positive adaptation among themselves and the environments they create. Sustainable relationships are, in this sense, the surfaces upon which we must look when we configure reparatory procedures.

Reparatory design practices respond to damages, needs and existent lacks in the relational spheres of lives. The hypothesis here is the following: reparatory design refers to all those embodied practices that, from a diverse range of materialities and performativities, aim at the composition of spaces of vulnerable knowledge and resilient methodologies of care, healing, and repair.[21]

Embodied practices are forms of investigative, productive, and prototyping know-how that assume an enactive approach to the manifestation of cognition and creation.[22] The enactive approach understands cognition as arising from a dynamic interaction between any acting organism and its surrounding environments.[23]

Vulnerable knowledges are those fragilised in hierarchical contexts. The cultures of care, for example, so evident in the work of the medical professional bodies during the pandemic, but also exposed in other fields such as the educational professional bodies (teachers, assistants, managers), have demonstrated their silent importance in the sustainable social fabric.[24] The changes in progress evidence the lack and the need to recognise and develop these forms of knowledge that consider relations, languages, performativities as their territory of democratic production.[25] Resilient methodologies are those that assume the plasticity of the environment as a response to the conditions of damage in which eco-social, geopolitical, human and non-human migration environments may be found. Creating resilient methodologies implies a reparative design process that assumes beforehand the condition of care for the social, psycho-ecological body in which we operate.[26]



[1] Elizabeth Spelman, Repair. The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002).

[2] ‘Understanding vulnerability as not something we must (or can) defend against, but instead as a constitutive fact of our lives, a world-shaping mattering, offers us something.’ Alexis Shotwell, Against Purity. Living Ethically in Compromised Times, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 86.


[3] ‘The Human Being is a repairing animal. Repair is ubiquitous, something we engage in every day and in almost every dimension of our lives. Homo sapiens is also Homo reparans.” Elizabeth Spelman, Repair. The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, (Boston: Beacon Press), 1.


[4] ‘To repair is an act on the world: to engage in mending and fixing entails a relational world-building that materialises affective formations. It also settles endurance, material sensitivity and empathy, as well as more altruistic values oriented towards the sustainability of life.’ Francisco Martinez and Patrick Laviollete, Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough. Ethnographic Responses. (Oxford: Berghahn, 2019), 2.


[5] Law Commission of Canada, From Restorative Justice to Transformative Justice Discussion Paper, Catalogue no. JL2-6/1999, 28. Accessed August 10, 2022.


[6] Juliana Nanclares and Ariel Gómez, “La reparación: una aproximación a su historia, presente y prospectivas”, Civilizar Ciencias Sociales y Humanas, Vol. 17, N. º 33, (July 2017): 59-80.


[7] As stated by Professor Margaret Urban Walker: ‘The field of application for reparations is broad, comprising cases where wrongs are discretely episodic and the concrete means of repair (for example, monetary compensation) are fairly straightforward, cases of gross and murderous violation of massive numbers of human beings during a specific period of political repression or persecution, and group histories of destruction, dispossession, subjugation and degradation of status that span centuries.’ Margaret Urban Walker, “Restorative Justice and Reparations”, Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Fall 2006): 377-395. For further discussion on Restorative Justice: Federico Lenzerini, (Ed.). Reparations for Indigenous Peoples: International and Comparative Perspectives. (London, Oxford University Press, 2008). Also, María del Refugio Macías, Gloria Puente & Isaac de Paz, “La justicia restaurativa en el Derecho Internacional Público y su relación con la justicia transicional.” IUSTITIA, 2018, (15): 9-30.


[8] Olufemi Táíwò, Reconsidering Reparations: Worldmaking in the Case of Climate Crisis, (London: Oxford University Press, 2022).


[9] Pablo de Greiff, “Justice and Reparations”, in Pablo de Greiff (ed.), The Handbook of Reparations. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 451-477.


[10] María del Refugio Macías, Gloria Puente, and Isaac de Paz. “La justicia restaurativa en el Derecho Internacional Público y su relación con la justicia transicional.” IUSTITIA, 2018, (15): 9-30.


[11] J. Angelo Corlett, Race, Racism, and Reparations, (New York: Cornell University Press, 2018).


[12] Julie Cassidy, “The Stolen Generations – Canada and Australia: The Legacy of Assimilation”, Deakin Law Review, Vol. 11, Nº 1. 2006,


[13] Federico Lenzerini, (Ed.). Reparations for Indigenous Peoples: International and Comparative Perspectives. (London: Oxford University Press, 2008).

[14] Marcia Krawl, Understanding the Role of Healing in Aboriginal Communities. Report Ministry of the Solicitor General of Canada, 1994.


[15] Liliana Parra-Valencia, “Prácticas y Experiencias Colectivas Ante La Guerra y Para La Construcción De Paz: Iniciativas Sociales De Paz En Colombia.” Agora U.S.B. 14, no. 2 (2014): 377, 10.21500/16578031.972.


[16] Bruno Latour, Facing Gaia. Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. (Cambridge: Polity, 2017).


[17] Arturo Escobar, “Sustainability: Design for the pluriverse”. Development 54, 2011: 137–140. Also, Enrich Hörl, “Introduction to general ecology. The ecologization of thinking”, in General Ecology. The New Ecological Paradigm, edited by Erich Hörl and James Burton. (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).


[18] Zach Walsh, Jessica Böhme, Brook D. Lavelle, and Christine Wamsler. “Transformative education: towards a relational, justice-oriented approach to sustainability”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 21 No. 7: 1587-1606, Bingley, 2020,


[19] Peter Harries-Jones, A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995).


[20] Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realisation of the Living. (Dordrecht: Springer, 1980).


[21] Regarding these three elements of care, healing, and repair, I have heavily relied on three-research works: Tiina Seppälä, Melanie Sarantou, Satu Miettinen, (eds.) Arts-Based Methods for Decolonising Participatory Research. (New York: Routledge, 2021). And Girija Kaimal, and Asli Arslanbek, “Indigenous and Traditional Visual Artistic Practices: Implications for Art Therapy Clinical Practice and Research”, Frontiers in Psychology, June 16, 2020. Sec. Psychology for Clinical Settings, 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01320. And Heather L. Stuckey, and Jeremy Nobel, “The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature.” American journal of public health vol. 100, 2 (2010): 254-63, 10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497.


[22] Francisco Varela, Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom, and Cognition. (Stanford: Stanford University Press,1992).


[23] ‘The term enaction underlines the growing conviction that cognition, far from being the representation of a pre-ordained world, is the joint advent of a world and a mind from the history of the diverse actions that a being performs in the world.’ Francisco Varela, Eleanor Rosch, & Evan Thompson, The Embodied Mind, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992). Also in Evan Thompson, Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007). And Ezequiel Di Paolo, and Evan Thompson, “The enactive approach”, in Lawrence Shapiro, (Ed.), The Routledge handbook of embodied cognition (London: Routledge, 2014).


[24] María Puig de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).


[25] Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Care Work: Dreaming Disability. (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018).


[26] María De Mater O’Neill, “Developing methods of resilience for design practice” (PhD diss., Northumbria Department of Design, Northumbria University, 2013). Accessed August 20, 2022.


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