Populist America: What Objects Reveal about US Identitarian Formations

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Oliver Arellano-Padilla, Parsons School of Design / University Of Massachusetts, USA


    Under the current liberal democratic governmental regime in the United States in which citizens are considered consumers, design —particularly visual communication design— can be seen as a site in which power relations configure. In this paper, I will explore to what extent does the visual design of political projects and businesses —as a form of representation— constitute regimes of truth that give a public voice to distinct communities under an identitarian formation. I will elaborate on three questions that I consider urgent to reflect, around the relation of politics, communication, and design in the contemporary moment in the US: What are the processes by which communities and their identities constitute through the consumption and appropriation of visual cultures via different media? What is the labor of the past as a visual history of the present in these political processes? Is the visual design of a given project productive —part and parcel— of a not yet fully articulated political community that will come to be under this new mediated visual identity? By interrogating the logic of identity formations through visual and material cultures in political processes will I explore the relevance of visual and object design in everyday American cultural life as part of ongoing political processes beyond formal exercises such as voting. Through the ethnographic research I conducted during fall 2017, I observed how visual systems anchored in objects, such as the Baseball First Game Attendance Certificates that is given to families gratis at Yankee Stadium in New York and Donald Trump’s iconic MAGA cap produced communities and identities which are constantly re-articulated and renegotiated. I suggest that Visual Design has the capacity to objectify the metaphysics of identitarian formations, to materialize in cultural objects —images— a not-yet fully constituted community of political actors like voters and rally participants, to mention some. The overall goal of this paper is to explore what is the impact of these cultural objects within a democratic system in which populism as a logic creates political identities both for industries and traditional political actors.