A Danish PhD student's project to encapsulate the ideas of the French philosopher Bruno Latour in a board game, have kept the third-year Visual Communication and Design students at Stellenbosch University up until the wee hours of the night recently.
They had to come up with concept packaging ideas for the Politics of Nature (PoN) board game – a serious table top game that is being used to explore new ways of democracy whilst at the same time addressing urgent societal and environmental challenges.
The board game was originally conceived by Jakob Raffn and his collaborator, Frederik Lassen. Jakob is currently a PhD student in agricultural systems and sustainability at Aarhus University, Denmark. The aim of PoN is to explore how Latour's political philosophy, the Politics of Nature, could work in practice.
According to Jakob, it was Cape Town's water crises in 2018 that led him to collaborate with Dr Charon Büchner-Marais at the Stellenbosch University Water Institute (SUWI), and co-founder of the Stellenbosch River Collaborative.
“I hoped that the crises would give me an opportunity to experiment with this new take on governance," Jacob explains.
This led to another collaboration with Corbin Raymond, a lecturer in the Visual Arts Department. In March 2019, under the auspices of SUWI and supervised by Corbin, visual arts student Nadia Stroh designed a local version of the Politics of Nature game to be played by stakeholders in the Eerste River catchment.
This year, Corbin and Jakob again worked with the third year students to design concept packaging for the game. This included briefing sessions, physically playing the game themselves, and individual discussion and feedback sessions.
Jakob says these interactions are part of his project of “making science matter": “There are people who cannot imagine a different world. In this game, we are combining a myriad of disciplines to provide people with the tools to start imagining and building a new common world. We cannot do it with the current governance tools at our disposal."
According to Corbin, the design project has given students a valuable opportunity to interact directly with Jacob, and to work with him to come up with design ideas for a real-world product.