Week 4: September 21: Designing Anthropological Methods

via Zak Jensen; used with permission

Over the next several weeks, we’ll examine anthropology and design in various “prepositional” relationships: the design of anthropological methods, ethnography in – or for – design, and the anthropology of (ontological) design.

Today we’ll consider: How might we incorporate design methods and sensibilities into anthropological practice – and why would we do such a thing? I encourage us all – particularly the designers in our group – to look anthropologically at these anthropologists themselves (be “meta!”) to consider: how do they conceive of design, how do they utilize it rhetorically, and how do they perform it in their own work? (design has, in some cases, become a bit of a fetish! 😉) Let’s consider, too, how the compounding crises of 2020-21 – health, economic, racial, democratic and climatic – might obligate us to redesign ethnographic practice. 

We’re foregrounding this lesson because we want to get you engaged in fieldwork – applying the critical concepts and methods central to the course – early in the semester. We’ll start next week! 

🚨🚨 We’ll meet virtually this week to accommodate our external guest! 🚨🚨


  • Student slides
  • Group discussion 
  • Guest @ 7pm: ANDREA BALLESTERO, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Rice University; author of A Future History of Water (Duke University Press, 2019; download here); editor, with Brit Ross Winthereik, of Experimenting with Ethnography: A Companion to Analysis (Duke University Press, 2021); and director of Rice’s Ethnography Studio
  • Our Collaborative Notes


  • How can we “design” an epistemological and aesthetic framework for our use of theory? Read Andrea Ballestero, “Theory as Parallax and Provocation” in Dominic Boyer, James D. Faubion, and George E. Marcus, eds., Theory Can Be More Than It Used To Be: Learning Anthropology’s Method in a Time of Transition, ed. (Cornell University Press, 2015): 171-80 [please recall that you’ll be prompted to log in to access our copyrighted readings].
  • How might we incorporate design sensibilities and methods into our fieldwork? Skim through these Arena collections of “Fieldwork Toolkits,” “Experimental Design-Ethnography Collaboratives” and “Platforms for Experimental Design Ethnography,” where you’ll find tools, collectives, conferences, publication venues, podcasts, etc. that feature the sorts of work we’re exploring this semester – and that might provide a potential community for your work! 
  • And how might we use design to inform analysis? Read Andrea Ballestero and Brit Ross Winthereik, Introduction to Experimenting with Ethnography: A Companion to Analysis (Duke University Press, 2021): 1-12; feel free to skim any of the other (short!) chapters!
  • Léa Coffineau, a graduate of our Anthropology program and a member of our 2020 AnthroDesign community, has offered to share her slide response to this week’s themes

How might the current context create an obligation, as well as an opportunity, to redesign our methods, our institutions, and even our broader epistemological frameworks? 


  • We also have to acknowledge decades’ worth of work in the Digital Humanities, “multimodal scholarship,” and “research-creation,” which has also sought to incorporate design, art practice, and computation into traditional scholarship. 
  • Gretchen Bakke and Marina Peterson, Between Matter and Method: Encounters in Anthropology and Art (Bloomsbury, 2017). 
  • *Anne Burdick, “Design Without Designers,” Conference on the Future of Art and Design Education, Parsons School of Design, New York, NY, 2009.
  • Luke Cantarella, Christine Hegel, and George E. Marcus, “A Week in Pasadena: Collaborations Toward a Design for Ethnographic Research,” Field: A Journal of Socially-Engaged Art Criticism 1 (Spring 2015). 
  • Danny Cardoza, Chika Watanabe, Gökçe Günel, and Saiba Varma, “Interview: Patchwork Ethnography,” Cultural Anthropology (June 10, 2021).* 
  • Andrew Causey, Drawn to See: Drawing as an Ethnographic Method (University of Toronto Press, 2016). 
  • Elizabeth Chin, “On Multimodal Anthropologies from the Space of Design: Toward Participant Making,” American Anthropologist 119:3 (2017): 541-3. 
  • Alberto Corsín Jiménez and Adolfo Estalella, “Ethnography: A Prototype,” Ethnos 82:5 (2017): 846-66. 
  • Denielle Elliott and Dara Culhane, eds., A Different Kind of Ethnography: Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies (University of Toronto Press, 2017). 
  • Adolfo Estalella and Tomás Sánchez Criado, eds., Experimental Collaborations: Ethnography Through Fieldwork Collaborations (Berghahn Books, 2018). 
  • Laura Forlano and Stephanie Smith, “Critique as Collaboration in Design Anthropology,” Journal of Business Anthropology 7:2 (2018): 279-300. 
  • Kim Fortun, Brian Callahan, Brandon Costelloe-Kuehn, Brad Fidler, Alison Kenner, Aalok Khandekar, Alli Morgan, Lindsey, Poirier, and Mike Fortun, “Hosting the Platform for Experimental, Collaborative Ethnography,” [was to have published in HAU (March 4, 2018); instead, posted on the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography]. 
  • Elisa Giaccardi, Chris Speed, Nazli Cila, and Melissa L. Caldwell, “Things as Co-Ethnographers: Implications of a Thing Perspective for Design and Anthropology” in Rachel Charlotte Smith, Kasper Tang Vangkilde, Mette Gislev Kjaersgaard, Ton Otto, Joachim Halse, and Thomas Binder, eds., Design Anthropological Futures (Bloomsbury, 2016): 2235-48. 
  • Christine Hegel, Luke Cantarella, and George E. Marcus, Ethnography by Design: Scenographic Experiments in Fieldwork (Bloomsbury, 2019). 
  • Christopher M. Kelty, ed., “Prototyping Prototyping” Special Issue of Limn 0 (2010). 
  • George E. Marcus, “Platforms, Parasites…” section in “The Ambitions of Theory Work in the Production of Contemporary Anthropological Research” in Dominic Boyer, James D. Faubion, and George E. Marcus, eds., Theory Can Be More Than It Used to Be: Learning Anthropology’s Method in a Time of Transition (Cornell, 2015): 55-63.
  • Keith Murphy, “Visual Turn III: Anthropology of/by Design: A Conversation with Keith M. Murphy,” (July 21, 2015).
  • Keith M. Murphy and George E. Marcus, “Epilogue: Ethnography and Design, Ethnography in Design … Ethnography by Design” in Wendy Gunn, Ton Otto, and Rachel Charlotte Smith, eds., Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice (Bloomsbury, 2013): 251-68. 
  • Paul Rabinow and George Marcus, with James D. Faubion and Tobias Rees, Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary (Duke University Press, 2008): 81-92, 113, 115-21. 
  • Danilyn Rutherford, “Funding Anthropological Research in the Age of Covid-19,” American Ethnologist (May 1, 2020). 
  • Lucy Suchman, Randall Trigg, and Jeanette Blomberg, “Working Artefacts: Ethnomethods of the Prototype,” British Journal of Sociology 53:2 (2002): 163-79. 

More on COVID-19’s implications for anthropological research: