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Design Anthropology: Understanding, Utility and Engagement

A three-day workshop at the University of Aberdeen

September 7-9, 2009

James Leach
Caroline Gatt

Over the last decade anthropological methods of research and analysis have
gained increasing visibility and currency in industrial contexts. Corporations
such as Philips, Pitney Bowes, Hewlitt Packard, Microsoft and many others
recognise that the qualitative data gathering techniques of anthropology are of
benefit in understanding markets and consumers in new ways. Further, the
disciplines attention to cultural differences has promised to generate tailored
innovation in product and service design. Finally, recent developments in the
discipline which have brought sustained attention to technology, to
architecture, to materials and objects, and to knowledge production and
exchange offer opportunities for engagement with external partners and
These developments in industrial contexts and within the discipline have
made it possible to question how Social and Cultural Anthropology can best
interface with industry, broadly construed. This stimulates further questions
about how anthropology can contribute to novelty, consider utility in new
ways, and investigate the potential impact the discipline can have beyond the
academy. One key aspect to be explored will be methodological innovations
that might facilitate or even participate in this potential.
The Workshop
The workshop will explore in some detail if and how anthropological
methodology should be recast to be of practical use to those beyond the
discipline. We envisage that these discussions may bring various theoretical
issues to bear on such a recasting of methodology. Participant are asked to
contribute towards long-term research goals of expanding understandings of
ethnographic practice in academia and industry, and developing a research
agenda for the emergent field of design anthropology, and what a programme
in Design Anthropology should consider and cover.
The question becomes what that potential may be able to offer various
users. At this point it seems that the best route to take is to develop a
network of interested people who could both contribute and benefit from such
a project. The aim of the workshop is to create a space in which productive
exchange can occur with an emphasis on what anthropology might practically
offer and what people trained in Design Anthropology might be able to do. For
this reason the workshop will include elements of practical making as well as
facilitating different structures for discussion.
The workshop brings together a group of interested
backgrounds, namely software design, political and
including new media art, the corporate world, existing
programmes and social theorists interested in both
theoretical developments.

people from various

social activism, art,
design anthropology
methodological and

The third day will be dedicated to pinning down the practicalities of developing
a taught programme in Design Anthropology at Aberdeen. The aim is to
develop a postgraduate course having a core extended course in
anthropological method and theory and various short intensive modules both
in Aberdeen and in other places. One idea might be that particular students
interests can be better accommodated elsewhere than Aberdeen, by intensive
contact with particular supervisors or facilitators.
Meals: A sandwich lunch, and both morning and afternoon refreshments (tea,
coffee) will be provided on all three days of the conference. Participants are
invited for dinner on the evening of Monday 7 th TBA. Participants are also
invited to lunch at Zeste on Tuesday 8 th at 13:30 (building number 40 on the
campus map).
Location: On Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th the workshop will be held at the
Linklater Rooms (building number 26 on the campus map).
On Wednesday 9th the workshop will move to the Divinity Library (building
number 28 on the campus map).
Map: Map of Old Aberdeen Campus

Monday 7th September
09.00 09.30 Introduction: James Leach, University of Aberdeen
09.30 11.00

Methodological Innovations 1.
Tim Ingold, University of Aberdeen
Catching Dreams and Making Do
George Marcus, University of California, Irvine
Ethnography by Design
Dawn Nafus, Intel Portland, Tom Yarrow, University of Wales,
James Leach, University of Aberdeen
Digging Outside the Academy

11.00 11.30

Tea and coffee

11.30 13.00

Methodological Innovations 2.
Discussion led by Arnar Arnason, University of Aberdeen,
Mette Kjaersgaard, University of Aarhus, Maggie Bolton,
University of Aberdeen

13.00 1430


14.30 17.00 Making things 1.

Matt Ratto, University of Toronto
Critical Making
17.00 1800

Making Things 2.
Discussion led by Tom Yarrow, University of Wales and Jen
Clarke, University of Aberdeen


End Day One



Tuesday 8th September

09.00 09.15 Introduction: Caroline Gatt, University of Aberdeen
09.15 11.00

Exploring Interfaces
Rachel Harkness, University of Aberdeen
Pragmatism and Hope in Eco-Design
Jacob Buur and Wendy Gunn, Mads Clausen Institute
Design Anthropology as a Way of Crossing Disciplines
Alberto Corsin Jimenez, School for Industrial Organisation,
What does an anthropologist do as dean of a management,
design and industrial innovation school?

11.00 12.10

Break Out Groups

12.10 12.30 Presentations from break out groups

12.30 13.15 Design Anthropology?
Discussion led by Laura Watts, University of Lancaster and
James Leach, University of Aberdeen

Lunch at Zeste

Wednesday 9th September

09.00 09.45 What have we learnt?
09.45 10.30 What would an MSc look like?
10.30 11.00

Tea and coffee

11.00 12.00

Planning the MSc continued

12.00 13.00 Practicalities

13.00 14.30 Lunch
14.30 15.30 Developing the Report Groups work on ideas for each
15.30 16.00 Tea and Coffee
16.00 18.00 Combine sections and conclude


Mike Anusas is Design Lecturer in the Department of Design, Manufacturing
and Engineering Management (DMEM) at the University of Strathclyde in
Glasgow. As an undergraduate he studied 'Product Design Engineering', a
joint-institution course at The Glasgow School of Art and the University of
Glasgow focused on developing human-centered approaches to technological
design. During 1997-2004 he worked as a multi-disciplinary designer in
product, exhibition, packaging and architectural design for a range of
research, consulting and manufacturing organisations. His current teaching is
concerned with drawing and making, ethnographic observation and social
theory within the design process. His research projects and PhD are in
collaboration the Department of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen
and are concerned with theories and practices of designing and making and
their relationship to cultural perceptions of nature and environment.
Arnar rnason is a lecturer in social anthropology at the University of
Aberdeen. He has spent most of his working life doing research on death, in
particular with regards to the politics of therapeutic interventions in grief.
Lately he has done some work on landscape, sometimes even on how death
and landscape meet. He is tempted to do a project on the Icelandic horse as a
companion species.
Maggie Bolton came to anthropology after an earlier career as a
physicist/engineer in industry. She completed her PhD in social anthropology
at the University of St. Andrews and worked at the universities of Manchester,
Bradford and Hull before joining the anthropology department at Aberdeen.
Her ethnographic area of research is the Bolivian Andes, and her most recent
research has looked at interfaces between scientific and indigenous
knowledge in the context of livestock development projects aimed at llama
Jacob Buur is professor of User-Centred Design at the Mads Clausen
Institute, University of Southern Denmark, and research director of the SPIRE
strategic research centre. SPIRE aims to establish the theoretical foundation
for 'Participatory Innovation' - a new approach to user-driven innovation.
SPIRE is cross-disciplinary, uniting researchers from design-antropology,
interaction design, interaction analysis, business and innovation management,
and the centre collaborates with the theatre company Dacapo and Danish and
international industries. Prior to his appointment at the Mads Clausen Institute
he was manager of the user-centred design group at Danfoss A/S for 10

years. He takes a keen interest in methods for studying and involving users in
design, and in particular he has worked with video as a means of bridging
user studies and innovation. He has designed user interfaces for a range of
products, including joysticks for excavators, electronic controllers for heating
and refrigeration, valves and frequency converters.
Jen Clarke is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen.
She will be working in collaboration with the Forestry Commission and TSG
who are keen to explore how art comes to be made in forests. Jen graduated
with a Masters in Anthropology (Distinction) from Goldsmiths College, in 2007;
prior to this she completed an MA (Hons) in Literature at Glasgow University
in 2003. Jen has worked as a teacher in the UK and in Japan, in the
charitable sector (in grants giving, events management and fundraising) as
well as in programming in the Education department of the art gallery Tate
Alberto Corsn Jimnez is Dean at Spain's School for Industrial Organisation
(EOI) and Senior Scientist at Spain's National Research Council (CSIC).
Previously, he was University Lecturer in the Anthropology of Organisations at
the University of Manchester (2003-2009). He is the editor of 'Culture and
well-being: anthropological approaches to freedom and political ethics' (Pluto
2008) and 'The anthropology of organisations' (Ashgate 2007), and is
currently finishing a book on the political anthropology of the economy of
Caroline Gatt has done anthropological research and worked with
environmental non-governmental organizations since 2000. Between 2003
and 2005 she was the coordinated for Friends of the Earth Malta of
Community Centres for Sustainable Living, an applied anthropology project
funded by the EUs Grundtvig programme. For a short while she also worked
with Startup Malta Foundation for Entrepreneurship, and has always been
interested in startups. She worked with two research theatre groups, Icarus
Performance Project in Malta and C.I.R.T. in Italy, as a practitioner/researcher
during which time she co-organised Maltas first Summer University of
Performing Arts. She is now a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the
University of Aberdeen, having done fieldwork with Friends of the Earth
International. Her research explores environmental politics, perception, group
constitution and maintenance practices, with a particular interest in ecological
phenomenology. Her publications include Emplacement and Environmental
relations in Multi-sited theory/practice in a volume edited by Mark-Anthony
Falzon (2009) and together with Jeremy Boissevain Environmentalists in
Malta: The Growing Voice of Civil Society in a volume edited by Tom Selwyn
and Maria Kousis (in press).

Mette Gislev Kjrsgaard has worked for the past 10 years as an
anthropologist with product development, design and architecture in various
industrial, organizational and academic contexts. She is interested in applied
as well as academic aspects of the combination of design and anthropology.
She has a background in social and visual anthropology and hold MAs from
University of Manchester and the University of Aarhus. Presently, she is a
lecturer at the department of anthropology and ethnography at the University
of Aarhus, where she is responsible for courses in design anthropology and
organizational anthropology. Simultaneously she is writing up her PhD thesis
on design anthropology, which is based on research conducted in
collaboration with the Mads Clausen Institute for Product Development at
University of Southern Denmark, where she was employed for a number of
Wendy Gunn is Associate Professor of Design Anthropology, SPIRE, Mads
Clausen Institute, University of Southern Denmark. Gunn's focus here is on
the design of technologies that would build upon and enhance the embodied
skills of human users, through attention to the dynamics of performance and
the coupling of action and perception (as opposed to the more traditional
focus on mental computational operations). This is a radically new area of
research that cuts across a wide range of fields from industrial design,
through human movement studies and ecological psychology, to sociocultural
anthropology. From an anthropological perspective, it resonates with three
areas of interest that are generating some of the most exciting new work in
the discipline: the understanding of skilled practice, the anthropology of the
senses, and the aesthetics of everyday life. Research interests include: visual
perception and material culture, learning and knowledge traditions,
information theory and systems development.
Rachel Harkness is an anthropologist with interests in art and architecture,
politics and the environment. She has recently completed her Ph.D. at the
University of Aberdeen with a thesis entitled Thinking Building Dwelling:
Examining Earthships in Taos and Fife. This thesis is based on fieldwork she
carried out with the builder-dwellers of off-grid eco-homes in Scotland and the
US called Earthships. In it Rachel discusses architecture as a peopled
process and considers the ways in which the dwellers are able to make
manifest their dreams and designs for living. Rachel is currently working on a
number of projects to do with ecology, craftwork and materials and their reuse, as well as a series of workshops about anthropology and its engagement
outside academia.

Nina Holm Vohnsen is a Social Anthropologist from the University of Aarhus,

Denmark. She is currently doing PhD research in a position shared by the
Department of Anthropology at Aarhus University, the Danish Ministry of
Employment, and MindLab - a cross ministerial innovation unit promoting
qualitative field research as a tool to make better and more focused policies in
the public sector. She is currently doing ethnographic research focusing on
the implementation of specific experiments and action plans aiming at
regulating the Danish labour marked. Here she is mainly interested in the
ways in which knowing and shaping are concurrent processes. Her previous
research include: Migration and gender relation in urban Guatemala (2005).
Functional Somatic Syndromes in a Danish context (2006-2007). Her
recurring interest is the creativity and emotional work exercised by citizens
caught between ideals, dreams, structure and practicality.
Penny McCall Howard is completing a PhD in anthropology at the University
of Aberdeen, provisionally titled Work and Tension: The Human Habitation of
the Sea in Scotland. Field research was undertaken on fishing trawlers and
with people working in the offshore oil and gas industry, fish farms, and the
cargo shipping. She is particularly interested in the relationship between
people and the machines they work with, and in understanding when skilled
and fulfilling relationships break down to cause frustration, injury and death.
Another focus is on the relationship between techniques of navigation and
orientation, and the rapidly changing digital navigational instruments used in
the fishing industry. In the future, she is interested in developing
anthropological approaches to workplace safety and well-being. She also
holds a 100 ton captains license in the United States Merchant Marine and
worked for several years as a captain of passenger carrying ships in the
United States. Her first degree was in marine biology and contemporary
Tim Ingold is Professor of Social Anthropology and Head of the School of
Social Science (2008-11) at the University of Aberdeen. He has carried out
ethnographic fieldwork among Saami and Finnish people in Lapland, and has
written extensively on comparative questions of environment, technology and
social organisation in the circumpolar North, as well as on evolutionary theory in
anthropology, biology and history, on the role of animals in human society, and
on issues in human ecology. His recent research interests are in the
anthropology of technology and in aspects of environmental perception. He has
edited the Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology (1994) and was editor of
Man (the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute) from 1990 to 1992. He is
a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His
major publications include Evolution and Social Life (1986), The Appropriation
of Nature (1986), Tools, Language and Cognition in Human Evolution (co-edited
with Kathleen Gibson, 1993), Key Debates in Anthropology (1996), The
Perception of the Environment (2000), Lines: A Brief History (2007), Creativity
and Cultural Improvisation (co-edited with Elizabeth Hallam, 2007) and Ways of

Walking (co-edited with Jo Lee Vergunst, 2008). He is currently writing and

teaching on the comparative anthropology of the line, and on issues on the
interface between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture. He has
supervised thirty-two doctoral students to completion, and is currently
supervising a further ten, on subjects ranging from thinking like a river in
northern Finland to traditional craft in Japan.
James Leach is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Head of
Department at the University of Aberdeen. He has undertaken long term field
research in Papua New Guinea, and also in the UK. Jamess research
interests include intellectual property and notions of creativity, knowledge
production and exchange in cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary contexts, the
development of new technologies and their implications for social form, and
the relation of law (specifically intellectual property law) to artistic practice. He
is currently working on a book addressing contemporary constructions of the
owner and the creator in different contexts. These interests all draw upon
and extend collaborative anthropological research with Reite villagers from
the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea.
James was trained as a Social Anthropologist in Manchester (B.Soc.Sci 1992,
PhD 1997). His first publications focused on kinship, creativity,
place/landscape, and art in Reite. Since then, he has written on Intellectual
and Cultural Property, and on interdisciplinary collaboration. He has recently
been engaged in comparative research on creativity and ownership in the UK
(artists placements in Research and Industrial contexts), in directing research
on gender in Free/ Open Source Software Development, and on artists
relation to laws of Privacy and Defamation.
George E. Marcus is Chancellor's Professor of anthropology at the
University of California, Irvine. In 2005, he established> the Center for
Ethnography there, dedicated to charting and reimagining the conventions of
ethnographic research challenged by new forms and norms of collaboration
and by the fashion for design thinking. Previously, he was chair of the
anthropology department at Rice University where he participated in the
production of the volumes Writing Culture and Anthropology as Cultural
Critique, and the Late Editions series of annuals through the 1990s. His most
recent volumes are Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary (with
Paul Rabinow and others), and Fieldwork Is Not What It Used To Be (coedited with James Faubion).
Dawn Nafus is an anthropologist with the People and Practices Research
Group (PaPR) at Intel Labs in Portland, Oregon. Nafus holds a PhD in Social
Anthropology from Cambridge University, and she previously worked as a
research fellow at the Institute for Social and Technical Research at the

University of Essex. She has worked on issues of communication

technologies its relation to time, mobility, and gender. Her current work
explores the social creation of technology consumers.
Julian Priest is an independent artist and researcher currently focused on
themes at the edges between technology and the environment. He was cofounder of early wireless freenetwork community consume.net in London,
became an activist and advocate for the freenetworking movement and was
an advocate for an open spectrum in the public interest with
openspectrum.org.uk. He has been peer advisor at the Banff New Media
Institute, publishes articles through informal.org.uk and develops projects at
greenbench.org. Since 2005 he has developed an artistic practice around
collaborative forms and shows internationally.
julian@greenbench.org julian@informal.org.uk
Matt Ratto is currently director of the Critical Making lab at the University of
Toronto. He received his PhD from the University of California, San Diego in
2003, writing his dissertation on the social organization of the Linux
development community. He has worked and done research with Netherlands
Institute for Scientific Information (NIWI), Humanities and Social Sciences in
Amsterdam (VKS-KNAW) and the University of Umea, Sweden. His previous
research has included the use of computer simulation and modeling
technologies in Archaeology, the interplay between social organization and
software code, the ramifications of particular software design sensibilities on
our ability to function as citizens and as members of expert collectives, and
the role of digital commons-based peer production in scientific communities.
His current research focuses on how hands-on productive work making
can supplement and extend critical reflection on the relations between digital
technologies and society. This work builds upon the new possibilities offered
by open source software and hardware, as well as the developing
technologies of 3D printing and rapid prototyping. These technologies and the
social collectives that create, use, and share them provide the context for
exploring the relationship between critical making and critical thinking.
Thea Skaanes is chief curator and leader of UNESCO Educational
Collections at Moesgaard Museum in Denmark. As an anthropologist she has
done fieldwork in Cuba studying neighbourhood tactics in claiming spheres of
self-governance from the state. Later she was responsible for ethnographic
merits and community engagement in a pre-project for the world culture
house in Denmark. In relation to the pre-project she facilitated processes as a
trained facilitator and has taught modules at the facilitator education to a
broad group of process consultants. As leader of UNESCO Educational
Collections she works within the nexus of experience economy, education,
research, the art of business and process design.

Rachel Charlotte Smith
Jo Vergunst is an RCUK Academic Fellow in the Department of Anthropology
at the University of Aberdeen. His PhD (2004) was on the perception of
landscape and social change in Orkney, Scotland, and he has since carried
out research on European rural social change and on walking in rural and
urban environments. Recent publications include two co-edited books, Ways
of Walking (Ashgate, 2008) and Comparing Rural Development (Ashgate,
Laura Watts is an ethnographer at Centre for Science Studies, Department of
Sociology, Lancaster University UK. Her interests are in the effect of
landscape and location on high-tech design and on how futures are imagined
and made. Her research has been located in the islands of Orkney, the mobile
telecoms industry, and the public transport industry. Prior to her academic
career she was a designer and business strategist in the telecoms industry.
Much of her work is published on her website at www.sand14.com
Thomas Yarrow is a lecturer in social anthropology and human geography in
the School of the Environment & Natural Resources, University of Wales,
Bangor. Previously he completed his PhD in social anthropology at the
University of Cambridge before holding a Leverhulme early career fellowship
at the University of Manchester. Through this he has developed a regional
interests in West Africa and theoretical interests in development, space and
place, globalisation, civil society, knowledge and elites.