Design Anthropology: Objects, Landscapes, Cities

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 Exuma archipelago in The Bahamas, March 12-March 22, with pairs of anthropologists and designers carrying out an ethnography of specific islands.

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 in Exuma. 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 Exuma.

Participation is expected in class and amounts to 30% of the final grade; fieldwork in Exuma is worth 40%; while the final assignment (essay or design project) is 30% of the overall grade. No late assignments will be accepted except for emergency or medical reasons.

Enrollment is limited to 12 students, 6 from the GSD and 6 from FAS.

Note, students selected for 3336 in the online limited enrollment lottery will be term billed $300 for international travel, in addition to the costs of meals and incidentals. Students are responsible for obtaining the necessary visas. One set itinerary is made for the trip with no modifications. If students wish to modify the itinerary, it may be possible for them to do so in direct contact with the travel agent, and the student is responsible for any change fees incurred. Students will need to sign a travel waiver in the Department of Landscape Architecture and register their trip with Harvard Travel Assist.