Authorities/Knowledge/Beliefs/Outcomes: ‘Governing’ in the Profession of Graphic Design in the US


This exploratory research examines an under-evaluated aspect of graphic design in the United States: the nature of the profession. Discourse analysis that applies the theory of governmentality is used to assess previously collected, open-ended interviews with graphic designers, as well as other source material. Based on the late work of Michel Foucault, governmentality considers how authorities govern through the creation and dissemination of knowledge, which works through individuals’ desires and beliefs and leads to unpredictable outcomes. In this research, two ‘authorities’ within the graphic design profession are identified and considered – design competitions and graphic design higher education. Both authorities are loose and heterogeneous, spread across many organizations, locations, and individuals. These authorities govern through the creation and production of knowledge about what graphic design is and how to practice it. Governing is evidenced in documents, on Web sites, in education accreditation materials, and via practitioners’ and educators’ discourse. Governing works through practitioners’, educators’, and students’ desires to have their work validated by their peers, instructors, critics, judges, and the profession. The outcomes of this governing are varied. Practitioners accepted the awards, found external venues for validation, and questioned the structure and nature of the competitions. Educators questioned the composition and premise of graphic design education and shared knowledge about classroom policies. Practitioners questioned the definition of graphic design and its practice learned during schooling. Thus, the theory of governmentality is a tool for illuminating how the graphic design profession in the US governs. This exploratory analysis opens up new questions for graphic design research, education, and practice. Keywords: Graphic Design, Governmentality, Governing, Profession, Design Competitions, Education</p

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