Week 3: September 14: Design <> Anthropology

Victor Papanek

Last week we focused on the design of our learning ecology. Now, let’s think bigger, more capaciously, about design. Like, what is it? Given the wide variety of design practices, can we speak about a generalized capital-D “Design”? Now, what about anthropology? What is it – or what can it be? And what do the two have to do with one another? You might already have answers to some of these questions, but I encourage you to take this opportunity to ask yourself what your own field can be in relation to the other. 


  • Visit from representatives of the ADX Student Group
  • Student slides 
  • Two rounds of breakout groups – one with disciplinarily homogenous groups, the next with disciplinary heterogeneous groups 
  • Full-group discussion 
  • Our Collaborative Notes


What is design? 

  • Contrast Eames Office, “Design Q&A” (1972) < video: 5:29 > with…
  • Sasha Costanza-Chock, excerpt from the Introduction to Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need (MIT Press, 2020): for today you’re reading just a few paragraphs – from “Design Justice: Defining Key Terms” through “Intersectionality” – yet this entire book will likely be of interest to many of you; it’s freely available online, and I encourage you to read it at your leisure!

What is anthropology?

What do the two have to do with one another? 

  • Arturo Escobar, excerpt from “Elements for a Cultural Studies of Design” in Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds (Duke University Press, 2017): 53-62 [another book that’s worth exploring in full when you’ve got the time; learn more about Escobar here!]. 
  • Skim Elizabeth Chin, “Design,” in John Jackson, ed., Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology (Oxford University Press, 2021). 
  • And to get a sense of some current work in the field, skim through recent tables of contents in the Design & Culture journal.

Artem Matyushkin, CXEMA (2020), via Socks Studio


  • For a basic overview of cultural anthropology: Nina Brown, Thomas McIlwraith, Laura Tubelle de González, eds., Perspectives: An Open Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, 2nd ed. (Creative Commons, 2020). 
  • Emeline Brulé (a French PhD student), “How I Learned Design Research and How I Teach It (Part 2 Becoming an Ethnographer,” Design and Society (July 18, 2019). 
  • Allison J. Clark, “Introduction” in Allison J. Clark, ed., Design Anthropology: Object Cultures in Transition (Bloomsbury, 2018): xv-xxiii.
  • Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, Introduction, Are We Human? Notes on an Archaeology of Design (Lars Muüller, 2016): 8-19. 
  • Matthew Engelke, How to Think Like an Anthropologist (Princeton University Press, 2018). 
  • Cassandra Hartblay, Joseph D. Hankins, and Melissa L. Caldwell, Edited Collection, “Keywords for Ethnography and Design,” Fieldsights (Society for Cultural Anthropology, March 2018).
  • Sara Hendren, What Can a Body Do? How We Meet the Built World (Riverhead Books, 2020). 
  • Tim Ingold, “Toward an Ecology of Materials,” Annual Review of Anthropology 41 (2012): 427-42. 
  • *Tim Ingold and Wendy Gunn, “Design Anthropology PhD Course” Syllabus, Soønderborg Participatory Innovation Center (2010). 
  • Selena Kearney, “Defining Design: Is a Universal Definition Possible?Nomat (January 24, 2018). 
  • Bruno Latour, “A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design,” Keynote, Networks of Design, Design History Society, Cornwall (September, 2008): 13pp.
  • Brandon Meyer, “The Many Meanings of Design Anthropology,” OpenAnthCoop (n.d. 2019?). 
  • Daniel Miller, “What Is Anthropology?” (2016) < video: 3:22 >; this video is part of Miller’s Why We Post global ethnographic research project on people’s uses of social media. 
  • Harvey Molotch, “Objects in Sociology” in Allison J. Clark, ed., Design Anthropology: Object Cultures in Transition (Bloomsbury 2018): 28, 30. 
  • Keith M. Murphy, “Design and Anthropology,” Annual Review of Anthropology 45 (2016): 433-43.
  • Keith Murphy, “Design and Temporality: Reaction,” Fieldsights (Society for Cultural Anthropology, 2016). 
  • Ton Otto and Rachel Charlotte Smith, “Design Anthropology: A Distinct Style of Knowing” in Wendy Gunn, Ton Otto, and Rachel Charlotte Smith, eds., Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice (Bloomsbury, 2013): 1-29. 
  • Victor Papanek, “What Is Design? A Definition of Design and the Function Complex” in Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change (Bantam Books [1971] 1973): 23-41. 
  • Norman Potter, What is a designer? things. places. messages. (Hyphen Press, [1969] 2002): 10-14. 
  • *Rachel Charlotte Smith and Mette Gislev Kjærsgaard, “Design Anthropology in Participatory Design,” ID&A Interaction Design & Architecture(s) 26 (Autumn 2015): 73-80. 
  • *Cameron Tonkinwise, “The Grammar of Design Thinking: The Histories and Promises of Socio-Material Practice Remaking” [work in progress]. 
  • *Anne-Marie Willis, “Ontological Design – Laying the Ground,” Design Philosophy Papers (2006).