Design Anthropology: Objects, Landscapes, Cities (with FAS)

In recent years, there has been a movement in anthropology toward a focus on objects, while design and planning have been moving toward the understanding of objects as part of a greater social, political, and cultural milieu. This seminar explores their common ethnographic ground. The course is about both the anthropology of design, and the design of anthropology.

For designers, the goals will be to learn thick ethnographic observation and description; applying theoretical concepts in making connections between ethnographic data; and moving from ethnography to design proposals. Anthropologists will be challenged to think about different forms of fieldwork by collaborating with non-anthropologists and working toward a collective ethnography; using visual information to represent ethnographic information and insights; and applying anthropological skills to the study of objects, materiality, and design processes.

The seminars will be filled with different components and tasks, including lectures and synopses of the weekly topic, fieldwork-based exercises, learning how to take notes or record data using different media, analyzing ethnographic data, sharing thinking on individual projects, and discussing assigned readings.

Students will be expected to engage in two large projects over the course of the semester. The first is fieldwork centered on the border region between Ireland and Northern Ireland, March 15–24, with pairs of students carrying out an ethnography of specific communities. Class periods leading up to that fieldwork will prepare students—methodologically, ethnographically, and theoretically—for this exercise.

After fieldwork, students will analyze their findings in relation to certain conceptual themes that drive much of design anthropology but also bear on the specific nature of design problems and opportunities in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This will prepare students to complete the second large project of the course: a term essay or design proposal capturing their thinking on design anthropology and fieldwork in Ireland/Northern Ireland.

This course will include a trip to Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland and County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland for 16 students, 8 from the GSD and 8 from FAS. Travel will take place on March 15–24. All students who travel in this course will be term billed $300. The 8 GSD students will be selected via the limited enrollment course lottery. Students may enroll in only one traveling course or studio in a given term, and are responsible for the cost of all meals and incidentals related to the trip, including visas and any change fees related to modifications to the set flight itinerary.


This course will meet in Gund Hall 109 for the first class. After that the course will meet in Tozzer room 203.