All posts by Rachel

Rachel Carmen Ceasar is a doctoral candidate in the Joint Medical Anthropology Program at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. Her research focuses on contemporary Spain and Morocco as a lens through which we may come to understand how people deal with the aftermath of war and repression. For her next project, she will investigate the unmarked graves of Berber war corpses that remain in Spain today as a critical aspect of the historical and contemporary tensions between Spain, Morocco, and Berber Morocco.

anthropology + design: laura forlano.

[This post is part of a series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design. This is our final post!]

LAURA FORLANO. writer and design researcher.

 

WHAT I DO.

I’m an ethnographic time traveler. For much of the last 10 years, I’ve been studying the ways in which the use of communication technology enables emergent socio-cultural practices around working and living in cities. For example, I’m interested in peer-to-peer networking, bottom-up organizing, co-located online collaboration, user-driven social innovation and open source urbanism, to name just a few. I’ve watched teens use mobile phones in Tokyo, observed activists building Wi-Fi networks on rooftops in Berlin, interviewed freelancers in Starbucks cafes in New York, watched doctors use computers in operating rooms, tested iPhone applications for navigating college campuses, visited design studios in Barcelona, and hung out with hackers in Budapest.

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anthropology + design: daniela rosner.

[This post is part of a series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]

DANIELA ROSNER. design researcher. ethnographer. science studies scholar.

 

ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.

I think design and anthropology have the potential to reinforce each other’s aims.  Anthropology could help develop a more socially informed design process, and design could help clarify anthropological investigation. That’s the goal, but not always the end—design can over-simply or misinterpret anthropological insights, and anthropological inquiry can overdetermine or stifle design. What’s helpful in an anthropological interpretation of design is how it helps reveal an instance of design as just one (of many) located and specific moments of change. Lucy Suchman articulates this nicely in her writing on the limits of design, suggesting that “conventional design methods are (necessarily) silent on matters that anthropology would be interested in articulating” (2011:3).

Conversely, design can open up creative possibilities overlooked by other modes of investigation, and help anthropologists communicate in the field. For me, design often involves studio-based explorations. Design can take on many forms for different people, but as someone with an undergraduate degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, I base my own methods on those early days—thinking with materials and building intuition through hands-on explorations.

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anthropology + design: kat jungnickel.

[This post is part of a series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]

KAT JUNGNICKEL. ethnographer. maker.

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ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.

I’ve always made a bit of a mess. I’ve splashed around darkrooms, attempted to stitch interdisciplinary collaborations, and knit a research blog. I’ve hosted exhibitions, printed ‘zines and folded origami-inspired data boxes. I regularly collaborate with colleagues to build and perform dubiously welded “Enquiry Machines,” and I’m currently sewing a range of new Victorian women’s cycle wear as a means of thinking about public space, mobility, and gender. Continue reading

anthropology + design: anne galloway.

[This post is part of a two-week series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]

ANNE GALLOWAY. designer. ethnographer. archaeologist.

ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.

My sense of anthropology is very materialist so I think it made a lot of sense for me to gravitate towards design. I originally trained as an archaeologist and did ethnographic fieldwork on Andean textile production, so I’ve always been interested in the things that people make. Of course, as anthropologists we’re taught the importance of context and I think that bringing anthropology and design together really stresses contextual meanings. For me, the most interesting connection between anthropology and design can be found in how each practice enhances the other. Anthropology provides a kind of thick description that contextualises design processes and products, and design offers anthropology creative means of exploring and representing what it means to be human. I also enjoy the explicit combination of thinking, doing, and making—of blurring boundaries between analytical and creative practice, between rational and emotional experience.

Sometimes, in design, we talk about research about, for, and through design—and I think that anthropology is well suited to contribute to each endeavour. As we know, ethnography (including material, visual, and discursive culture) can tell us a lot about the roles of design in everyday life. Ethnography also provides us with valuable information that can be used to design “better” things—or to design nothing at all. And although research through design is perhaps less obviously related to anthropology, I think that every kind of anthropological research could create and employ objects and images with as much nuance as we’ve come to use words.

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anthropology + design: silvia lindtner.

[This post is part of a two-week series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]

SILVIA LINDTNER. DIY maker, hacker, and ethnographic design researcher.

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ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.

Many disciplines and fields often work with competing notions of what counts as design, claiming authority over the term, practice, and definition. Think for instance about efforts in critical design (e.g., Dunne & Raby 2007) and the strong oppositions its practitioners often make to product design. Critical design is aimed at engaging people in critical ways with commonly used products. As Jeff and Shaowen Bardzell illuminate, critical design is positioned in opposition to affirmative design—the latter considered as “the common practice, and this practice is amoral and ultimately a dupe for capitalist ideology, while critical designers are described as moral agents who seek to change society for the better” (Bardzell & Bardzell 2013).

It is important to not shy away from the politics of design, or to brash aside such heated debates over definitions, terms, and authentic practices–many of which are legitimizing efforts of new approaches in an overly competitive market (both industry and the academy). The question is how to engage the politics of design in a way that remains open to multiple viewpoints and approaches. At numerous times in my research, I have heard people argue that the process of making and designing itself is apolitical. There is much that refutes such statements–think for instance of questions of labor when we turn towards sites of production that manufacture the technological products we use on a daily basis, or listen to debates of hackerspace members over what counts as hacking versus making versus product design. What is important here is to consider the differences that lie in designing as a mode of inquiry, a leisure practice, or central to one’s profession and livelihood.

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anthropology + design: nicolas nova.

[This post is part of a two-week series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]

NICOLAS NOVA. design researcher. ethnographer.

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ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.

The word “design” is problematic as it’s often related to furniture and glossy magazines at the local newsstand. And because this term is used in different fields, from engineering to management, you have different professions in which practitioners see themselves as “designers:” architects, engineers, people developing user interfaces for websites or video games, etc. A good way to approach design is to understand what “designers” do: they define the shape and the behavior of artifacts based on their understanding of potential users and the context in which they live or work. Said differently, they materialize “prospective futures.”

In order to speculate about near future possibilities, designers usually need to make their work relevant, useful, or believable by people. This is where the social sciences fit in. Knowledge and methods coming from anthropology–such as ethnography–are used and often repurposed by designers to help make different decisions over the course of a project. Observing people’s routines in a kitchen can inform the design of electric appliances, for instance. Interviewing users with a non-standard way of using their bike can also be curious and lead to new bicycle designs.

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anthropology + design.

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger, Rachel Carmen Ceasar.

Chances are you know nothing about design.

Me neither.

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So when I was introduced to designer Laura Forlano at the Society for Social Studies of Science meeting in Sunny San Diego last fall, my interest in what design could do for anthropology–and vice-versa–was piqued.

For the next two weeks, I will be running a short series that features interviews with design researchers, ethnographic hackers, and field work makers with their take on anthropology and design. For the first interview, we will be talking with design researcher and ethnographer Nicolas Nova (that’s his toolkit in the photo above).

Rachel Carmen Ceasar (@rceasara) is a doctoral candidate in the Joint Medical Anthropology Program at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco (California, USA). She writes about the subjective and scientific stakes in exhuming mass graves from the Spanish Civil War and dictatorship in Spain today.