How Critical Design Transforms Ideas and Our World

How can scientists, technologists, and activist-scholars learn to create positive transformations in our work and our world? And how can we turn that critical work into pathways for others to do the same?

J. Nathan Matias
2 min readJun 4, 2024
Image: “Guns into Plowshares” (1997) by Mennonite artists Esther Augsburger and Michael Augsburger. The plow is constructed from 3,000 guns purchased in a buyback program in Washington D.C.

Earlier this year, my collaborator Jonathan Zong sent me a beautiful article by the theologian of technology Hanna Reichel about the ethics and design of blades, and what it teaches us about the design of ideas. Quoting the book of Isaiah chapter 2, she reminds us that swords can be changed to plowshares — and that the reverse is also true:

“Imagine you found a piece of metal with a sharp edge. You turn it in your hands. What you imagine that you could do with it will depend…”

What happens next in this story? Will the edge be used to threaten another person, mark a path, or release nutrients into the soil with a new year? Reichel argues that critical scholars can “read tradition against tradition” to imagine transformations of this generative kind.

The idea of turning over ideas on top of themselves with a hoe (or a plow) is a beautiful metaphor for critical thinking and critical design. As a professor, this is one of my jobs — to nurture the creative, critical imaginations of those I mentor, supporting them to imagine and develop new growth.

[…read more at the Citizens and Technology Lab…]



J. Nathan Matias

Citizen social science to improve digital life & hold tech accountable. Assistant Prof, Cornell. Prev: Princeton, MIT. Guatemalan-American