Week 2: September 7: Okay, This Is Weird!

via Gavin Potenza; used with permission


If you’re accustomed to syllabi that consist of little more than a weekly schedule and a list of readings,  the following might look a bit – or a lot! – intimidating. Fear not! Most of what you see here is my attempt to provide context and intellectual framing. I explain why I’ve chosen particular texts, and what I hope you’ll gain from reading, watching, or listening to them. I offer tips regarding what to focus on. I pose questions that I hope you’ll keep in mind as you engage. I also occasionally direct you to collections of related resources that you’re welcome simply to skim, but which might (I hope!) prove useful for your own research – or inspire a new interest, or introduce you to some new resources, or connect you to a new community. In short, the voluminous text you’ll see below is meant to serve as a friendly guide to your weekly preparations. It’ll ideally make your reading more efficient and meaningful 🙂


Today, while we’re still acclimating ourselves to the class and to one another – and the weirdness of this whole situation – we’ll discuss the various spaces, tools, and platforms we’ll be using throughout the semester. In the process, we’ll start to develop some observational and analytical techniques. We’ll consider how we can make our learning spaces and tools both transparent and opaque: how we can allow them to serve as unobtrusive substrates and channels on and through which we engage with one another and share “content” and ideas, while also “denaturalizing” these apparatae, approaching them as ethnographic field sites and examining how they inform our interactions, shape our discourse, cultivate affect, etc. Ideally, we can use that critical reflection to continually redesign our course as we go along – to make sure our learning tools and environments serve our needs. 


  • Breakout Groups: we’ll critique our learning platforms as designed “field sites” 
  • Refine our Community Agreement in light of our platform analysis 


The following list looks like a lot – but please fear not! You’ll be engaging in some online orientation activities and reading a few short, accessible articles. 

  • Please review our course website and come to class prepared to ask any questions you might have about Anthropology + Design.
  • Join our class Slack. If you’re new to the platform, please check out the Slack Help Center and watch this tutorial video. Be sure to complete your profile (uploading a profile photo, in particular, would be really helpful, since we won’t be seeing much of each other’s faces this semester!), configure your notifications (including all those potentially intrusive dings and emails), and brush up on the protocols for addressing groups and individuals, sending direct messages, and using threaded discussions.
    • Now, please introduce yourself on Slack! Find the #introductions channel in the left-hand sidebar and share with us, in 150 words or fewer, who you are, your pronouns, what program you’re in, what your primary research or creative interests are, and how those interests intersect with the major themes of our class. Feel free to include links to your work. And please add a picture or video of a designed object, site, or system that somehow emblematizes you, and briefly tell us why it’s significant. 
    • I encourage you to check back later in the week, too, to review and respond to your colleagues’ posts. This isn’t obligatory – but I do want to build a culture wherein we all feel free to use our class Slack as a forum for ongoing discussion, resource sharing, etc. 
  • Sign up for your reading response date. We need some volunteers for September 14! 🙏

Now, let’s think about how we might take our own pandemic classroom, and the reshaped material and digital worlds that extend from it, as sites and subjects of critical investigation. How might we continually reflect on our learning spaces and digital forums as ethnographic “field sites?” The pandemic has already made these familiar spaces newly “strange”: what can we learn about our conventions and habits, our infrastructures and affect, etc., through this estrangement – and how can we use that understanding to design an environment that’s conducive to learning together? 

Julia Solomonoff, hand, writing

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