This paper was delivered at
Design History Society's Design Activism and Social Change conference in Barcelona September 2011. The paper can now be downloaded here.
Hopenhagen: Design Activism as an Oxymoron

Hopenhagen was an initiative by the International Advertising Association (IAA) in support of the United Nations at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-15) in Copenhagen December 2009. The international public relations campaign culminated with an installation in the public square in central Copenhagen during the climate summit. Meanwhile, many of thousands of climate activists congregated in Copenhagen found Hopenhagen itself so offensive that they made the campaign and installation itself a target of their protests. Hopenhagen is a classic example of corporate appropriation of people’s movements and the subsequent neutralization of the messages demanding structural change and social justice. As such Hopenhagen embodies the conflict within the concept of design activism itself. This paper will describe how Hopenhagen 2009 damaged genuine people’s movements at Copenhagen. It will also prescribe strategies for public exhibitions and information campaigns for more democratic communication processes. Critically it is wrong to assume that the tactics used in the advertising industry can be used to build a climate movement. The mistake started as soon as the UN asked the IAA for help.

The paper can be
downloaded here.