About the Class

Fall 2021  |  GANT 6405  |  CRN 11235
Tuesdays 6 – 7:50pm | Transdisciplinary Design Space @ 6 E 16th St, 12th Floor
Shannon Mattern | matterns@newschool.edu | sign up to meet with me
Teaching Assistant: William Scarlett | scarw071@newschool.edu 

David Lemm, via Socks Studio

Designers commonly use ethnographic methods, and social scientists often adopt design practices, economies, cultures, and artifacts as their subjects of study, focusing in particular on how design “translates values into tangible experiences,” as anthropologist Dori Tunstall puts it. The New School offers us a unique environment for studying the myriad ways in which these disciplines and practices can inform one another, and we’ll begin our semester by examining those relationships: anthropology of design, ethnography for design, ethnography as design, and so forth. We’ll then explore some conceptual case studies, taking up various anthropological concepts and concerns and observing how they’re designed — made material, experiential, affective; given form — through a range of design practices (e.g., from urban design and architecture to fashion and software design), and how anthropological concepts and methods inform those practices. Throughout the semester we’ll host guest lectures and take field trips to see these methods in action, and students will have the opportunity to conduct a final research project, which could take the form of a written research paper, an ethnographic report, or a research-based creative project. While this seminar serves as the core course for the Anthropology and Design track, graduate students from across the university are encouraged to enroll. 


Over the course of the semester we’ll work together to…

  • survey the historical, contemporary, and potential future intersections of design and anthropology (and the social sciences and humanities more broadly), 
  • think capaciously about design and anthropology, 
  • exploit the anomalousness of our geographically distributed, networked quarantine condition to acknowledge the prevalence of design in our own virtual, physical, and social environments; as well as the potential for anthropological concepts and methods to illuminate how the human, the more-than-human, the artificial, and the “natural” are entangled,
  • develop a deeper appreciation for the opportunities and responsibilities – practical, epistemological, ontological, and political – that come with interdisciplinary research and practice, 
  • create supportive contexts for conceptual and methodological experimentation and inclusive collaboration, and  
  • apply concepts and methods central to our class in the critical assessment and refinement of our learning environments: the social, institutional, spatial, and technological apparatae designed to foster our interaction and education