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.
In spring 2020, the Design Anthropology course will focus on Afro-Brazilian sacred groves, terreiros, in Salvador da Bahia, the fourth largest city in Brazil. Terreiros can be understood as a combination of urban farm and monastery where energies of nature / orishas / deities associated with Afro-Brazilian religions are cultivated through combinations of plants and sacred leaves combined with animal sacrifice and religious rituals. In these spaces, Afro-diasporic memories, knowledge and deities are celebrated.
Terreiros are plentiful in Brazilian cities such as Salvador which is commonly referred to as “the Black Rome,” because of its hilly topography, the number of churches, and the fusion of African religions that enslaved populations brought to the new world. There are officially about 1,300 terreiros in Salvador, although some researchers maintain that this figure is closer to 2,000. They have very particular internal arrangements—and they are among the last remaining green spaces in an increasingly dense city.
Eight students will visit Salvador over Spring Recess (March 13–22) and, working in pairs, document the physical and social spaces. GSD students will be selected through the limited enrolment lottery. FAS students will be selected through a short essay due immediately after the first class session. The remaining twelve students who do not travel will conduct their research through secondary sources. There are no prerequisites. Knowledge of Portuguese would be helpful but is not required.
Students are expected to engage in two main projects over the course of the semester. The first is the fieldwork either in person or using secondary sources. The class periods leading up to the fieldwork will prepare students—methodologically, ethnographically, and theoretically—for this exercise. After spring recess, all students will share in the results of the collaborative fieldwork to interpret it and produce visualizations of the physical space and lived experience. This first assignment will prepare students to complete the second main project of the course: a design proposal capturing their thinking on design anthropology and the future of the terreiros.
Where possible, the synergy between anthropologists and designers will be cultivated to maximize exchange between disciplines. The seminar provides students with training in ethnographic methods which can be applied in other academic and professional projects. On completion of the course, students should be prepared for conducting their own ethnographic fieldwork projects, either alone or collectively. During the semester, students will:
1. Apply fieldwork as a bridge between design and anthropology;
2. Develop theoretical positions on landscape arising from fieldwork;
3. Identify non-written forms of note taking;
4. Experiment with visualizing social phenomena and the lived experiences of spaces;
5. Analyze collective ethnographic data;
6. Imagine and recommend design and policy propositions informed by fieldwork.