Welcome to my research site, ‘Objects in development’. My name is Ralph Borland, and I am an artist, designer and researcher based in Cape Town, South Africa. I am currently a postdoctoral fellow on the research project Global Arenas of Knowledge, which is investigating ‘Southern Theory‘. My recent projects include the exhibition ‘Future Foreshore’ for the University of Cape Town, in April 2014. Until January 2014 I was a postdoctoral fellow in the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.
The broad frame of my own research as represented on this site is into the multifunctionality of objects – especially those that combine functions for the user with communication to audiences. I describe such objects, and our understanding of them, as in development – their production and study is an emerging area – and I’m particularly interested in the deployment of such objects in the developing world.
My PhD thesis ‘Radical Plumbers and PlayPumps – Objects in development’ (2011) investigates popular interest in ‘design for the developing world’. It argues that the advancement of small scale technologies designed for users in the developing world – to provide energy, water, education, income and so on – is influenced by how well these projects communicate to ‘first world’ audiences. In my thesis I analyse the South African PlayPump, a children’s roundabout that pumps water, as an example of such an object. The PlayPump attracted high levels of funding through the compelling story it told to audiences to the project, despite the fact that it was not very successful at meeting the direct needs of its users.
I keep track of my current research interests, and whatever else catches my eye, in my journal. Visit the reference section for my thesis bibliography and Zotero collection, and other texts that relate to my research. You can contact me here. For my wider work, please visit ralphborland.net