The positioning cards: on affect, public design, and the common


In this paper, we present a design tool, the positioning cards that we have developed, validated, and used in different projects. These cards are built to allow CI4CG and Participatory Design researchers to discuss the political alignment of design projects, in iterative processes of design involving people in the definition of the technological features to be implemented. The background of the cards is the conceptualization of contemporary participatory design as public design, engaging with societally relevant phenomena outside the traditional environment of the workplace. To engage with such an extended dimension of participatory design, we frame our contribution in the contemporary form of capitalism, stressing how contemporary capitalism dispossess the wealth created by social production. In this context, we argue, CI4CG designers need to engage deeply with the theoretical implications of their work. To support this effort, we built the cards combining a political perspective oriented toward nourishing the common—the ensemble of the material and symbolic elements tieing together human beings—with the “affect turn” in the social sciences—therefore including affective dimensions like joy, sadness, and desire in the design of CI4CG technologies. In the final part of the article we discuss how we have used the cards in four different projects.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Autonomous Marxism, or post-workerism, is a stream of Marxism that developed after the ‘70s social movement’. It distinguishes itself through the stress on Marx’s Fragment on the machines (1857–1861, trans. 1973), that constitute the way through which the autonomists have rethought Marx theory in the light of the transformation of contemporary capitalism, stressing the importance of cognitive work (Vercellone 2007).

  2. 2.

    The common distinguished itself from the commons, a well known concept brought to the attention of contemporary by the work of Elinor Ostrom (1990). Indeed, the commons are (mainly localistic) forms of institutional arrangements, including social norms and values, while the common is the ensemble of diverse resources looked at as an entirety. Specific commons can indeed be part of a common perspective (e.g., Hakken et al. 2015; Teli et al. 2015).

  3. 3.

    3 Autonomous Marxism, or post-workerism, is a stream of Marxism that developed after the ‘70s social movement’. It distinguishes itself through the stress on Marx’s Fragment on the machines (1857–1861, trans. 1973), that constitute the way through which the autonomists have rethought Marx theory in the light of the transformation of contemporary capitalism, stressing the importance of cognitive work (Vercellone 2007).

  4. 4.

    In fact, Massumi in his book reports studies in neurosciences in which scientist point to half a second of difference between a bodily stimulous and a cognitive reaction. It is this “half a second” that, according to him, shows the temporal priority of affect over cognition, as philosophically theorized by Spinoza centuries before the emergence of neurosciences. Equally, affective neurosciences emerged that agree on the bodily priority of affect in relation to cognition (e.g., Berridge and Kringelbach 2013; Posner et al. 2005). From this point of view, when looking at the interaction with technologies, affect refers to the first immediate reaction to the technology, for example what people verbalize as a “beautiful app” or a “terrible site”.

  5. 5.

    In this paper, we base a progressive political perspective on affect, in line with other scholars, like Deleuze, Hardt and Negri, and the same Massumi. Nevertheless, we are aware that even conservative and regressive political perspective can grow out of an affect perspective, especially if based on negative affect as described by Spinoza, as sadness, anger, fear, etc… The actual knowledge on affect makes it a dimension to be considered as part of being human and our proposal is a progressive one based on such premise.

  6. 6.

    It should be clarified that desires here are taken as characterizing human life and not a necessarily positive or progressive characteristics. The reference is to recognize the centrality of desires, as done by Deleuze and Guattari when considering contemporary humans and social fabric as full of “desire-machine”, social mechanisms and practices that perpetuate their desiring status (Deleuze and Guattari 1972, trans. 1977).

  7. 7.

    We are aware that this list is not exhaustive of the full spectrum of positions on the considered relations. For example, Bob Dick “Dialectic approach” (2002) is excluded. Nevertheless, we relied on Dahlberg extensive literature review and his understanding of the four listed positions as the most widely adopted among social scientists focusing on digital democracy. Moreover, three of these political positions can be considered progressive in their intents, the deliberative one based on Habermas philosophy, the counter-public in Chantal Mouffe philosophy, and the autonomist in the Italian political thinking of the ‘70s. Nevertheless, they differ on what they consider the means and goals of political conflicts (rational debate, emergence of marginalized identities, and autonomy from capital accumulation).

  8. 8.

    More information on the project are available at

  9. 9.

    More information on the project are available at

  10. 10.

    Available at


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Correspondence to Maurizio Teli.

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Teli, M., De Angeli, A. & Menéndez-Blanco, M. The positioning cards: on affect, public design, and the common. AI & Soc 33, 125–132 (2018).

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  • Participatory design
  • Public design
  • Common
  • Affect
  • Cards
  • Collective intelligence