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Solutionism is a term coined by the Belarusian-American political analyst and writer Evgeny Morozov to refer to a mindset or ideology that views technological solutions as the primary or sole means of addressing complex social, political, and economic problems. According to Morozov, solutionism is characterized by a belief that technological solutions can and should be applied to virtually all aspects of human life, and that these solutions are inherently superior to non-technological approaches.

In Morozov’s view, solutionism often involves an overly optimistic and simplistic view of the potential of technology to solve complex problems, and can lead to a focus on superficial or cosmetic changes rather than addressing deeper structural issues. He argues that solutionism can also lead to a neglect of the social and political context in which technological solutions are implemented, and can exacerbate existing inequalities and power imbalances.

Morozov has criticized solutionism for its tendency to prioritize technological solutions over other approaches, and for its potential to obscure or ignore the underlying causes of problems, as well as the potential negative consequences of technology. In his writing, he has argued that solutionism represents a narrow and misguided approach to addressing complex social and political challenges, and has called for a more nuanced and critical approach to the use of technology in addressing these issues.

From a Marxist point of view

From a Marxist perspective, this ideology is problematic because it ignores the social and economic structures that underlie many problems. Instead of addressing the root causes of problems, solutionism relies on the belief that technology can solve everything.

This perspective fails to recognize that many of the problems that require solutions are a result of capitalist exploitation and oppression. For example, poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation are not simply technical problems that can be solved with new gadgets or apps. These issues are deeply rooted in the capitalist system, which prioritizes profit over people and the environment.

Also, solutionism often serves to reinforce the power structures that benefit the capitalist class. By promoting the idea that technology can solve all problems, solutionism distracts from the need for systemic change and promotes the idea that individuals can solve problems on their own without the need for collective action or political change.

In addition, solutionism often assumes that technology is neutral and that its impact is independent of social, economic, and political factors. This is a fallacy, as technologies are not created in a vacuum, but are shaped by the interests and values of those who create them. The values and interests of the capitalist class are often reflected in technological solutions, leading to further reinforcement of existing power structures and the exclusion of marginalized groups.

In summary, a Marxist critique of solutionism highlights its limited understanding of the root causes of problems, its promotion of individual solutions over collective action, and its reinforcement of existing power structures. Instead of relying on technological solutions, a Marxist approach would prioritize systemic change and collective action to address the underlying social and economic structures that perpetuate oppression and exploitation.

What can designers do?

here are some ways designers can react to solutionist work environment and design briefs:

  1. Challenge assumptions: Instead of blindly accepting the problem and solution presented in a brief, designers can question the assumptions behind them and challenge them.
  2. Embrace complexity: Rather than seeking to simplify complex problems, designers can acknowledge and embrace their complexity, recognizing that solutions are rarely one-size-fits-all.
  3. Adopt a systemic approach: Designers can take a systemic approach to problem-solving, considering how their designs fit into broader social, economic, and political systems.
  4. Engage in critical reflection: Designers can reflect critically on their own work and the broader societal implications of the solutions they create.
  5. Collaborate with diverse stakeholders: Designers can work with a diverse range of stakeholders, including those who are most impacted by the problem they are solving, to co-create solutions that are more inclusive and equitable.
  6. Consider long-term implications: Rather than focusing solely on short-term solutions, designers can consider the long-term implications of their work and strive to create designs that are sustainable and resilient over time.
  7. Emphasize ethical considerations: Designers can place a greater emphasis on ethical considerations in their work, including issues of social justice, human rights, and environmental sustainability.