Though better known in the Anglophone world as the guru of postmodern “hyperreality”, the French philosopher and radical sociologist Jean Baudrillard devoted a great deal of attention to theorizing design. This paper singles out the moment—inspired by a conference he attended in 1972 in New York at MoMA—where he advances the argument that contemporary design, understood as articulating and incorporating the entirety of the artificial environment, is a direct manifestation of the most significant development in political economy since the industrial revolution—what Baudrillard calls the “political economy of the sign.” According to Baudrillard the origin of this expanded sense of design is the Bauhaus. That school sought to extend the role and mission of design to all fabricated phenomena, in the process collapsing any distinction between objects (and environments), turning them all into a fusion of art and technology, aesthetics and functionality. In explicating Baudrillard's argument, this paper also traces the missing presence of design in traditional political economy, arguing that Baudrillard was one of the first authors, albeit critically, to identify the now essential role of design in postindustrial capitalism.

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