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Who Can Afford to Be Critical?

Who Can Afford to Be Critical?

An Inquiry Into What We Can't Do Alone, as Designers, and Into What We Might Be Able to Do Together, as People

Afonso Matos
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On the conditions and limits of critical thinking for design culture under capitalism

Design schools increasingly urge students to address social, political and environmental issues in their work. But who can afford to work in this way after graduation?

In a dynamic style that draws from multiple contributors, Who Can Afford to Be Critical? discusses the limits that affordability, class and labor impose upon the educational promise of holding a "critical" practice. Why do we tend to ignore the material and socioeconomic constraints that bind us as designers, claiming instead that we can be powerful agents of change? Instead of focusing on the dream of ethical work under capitalism, could we instead focus first on designers' own working conditions, as one immediate site for collective action? Over the course of four chapters, this publication delves into the modes of precarity in critical graphic work and possible paths toward emancipation from that position.


Afonso Matos is a Portuguese designer and researcher who is based in The Netherlands. This book is a collection of fanzines inspired by conversations and texts around four main themes: the bubble of the (critical) design school; the power of design and the agency of designers; the nature of design; and collective power. Included are excerpts from Matos’ thesis on the use of design as a social critique and agent of change, his transparent disclosures and personal investigation into the impact of privilege on critical design, as well as the contributions from Silvio Lorusso, J. Dakota Brown, Marianela D’Aprile, Somnath Bhatt, the DAE students of 2021/2022, and many more.


  • ISBN-10: ‎9083270637
  • ISBN-13: ‎9789083270630
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