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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/phss-3331


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Truth and Responsibility in Design + Anthropology


design anthropology

applied anthropology


The purpose of design is to impact the world. The question is not whether to do impactful design. The question is what its impact will be. When anthropology is joined with design it moves toward becoming a transformative practice in ways that have been missing in the past. What new ethical issues and potentials does design + anthropology raise? Anthropology and design have both distinctive and overlapping relationships with truth and responsibility. The practice of anthropology has evolved over time from a descriptive and interpretive science to one that increasingly engages in transformative action. We envision anthropology as forever a “discipline-in-the-making” as Tim Ingold has put it. Anthropology evolves with the social life which is its concern. Design is a process and practice through which continually evolving theory and methods intentionally transform what exists into potentiality for what could be. Complementing Ingold, designer Meredith Davis stresses the fluidity of design in relation to changing socio environmental conditions. Despite these parallels, the fields do differ. Design is more worldly than anthropology. It exists mostly outside academia in commercial applications. And while design is intended to change the world, anthropology has traditionally lacked a transformational mindset and failed to provide training that equips anthropologists to act. Transformational change has happened largely on the sidelines of the discipline’s recognized practice. The shift of anthropology toward engaging in transformational change raises new ethical concerns and gives old issues a new twist. Anthropology has long faced ethical criticisms related to its long relationship with colonialism, and today the field faces charges that it is failing to address contemporary concerns with social justice and systemic racism. As anthropology engages with design, design offers little in the way of ethical guidance. In trying to respond to social concerns, designers encounter pressures driven by corporate strategies, brands, and the realities of keeping businesses profitable. Critiques of design are neither new nor few. Victor Papanek critiqued waste and urged social responsibility half a century ago in his vigorous critique of industrial design. Last year, Mike Monteiro raised similar criticisms of ethical lapses and the need for social responsibility in digital design. What does truth and responsibility look like at the complex intersection of the two disciplines? What should we expect from the merger of anthropology and design? This panel will explore the conference themes of ‘truth and responsibility’ at the intersection that panelist Chris Miller has defined as “design + anthropology”: the integration of the theories, principles, and practices of design and anthropology, creating a new, rapidly evolving transdisciplinary melding of two fields of praxis. Drawing on their experience as researchers, practitioners, and educators at the intersection of design + anthropology, this panel will discuss the potential of this new field to cultivate transformative practices that allow us to contribute to a more ethical common future, and the hazards we might encounter along the way.


Transcript English (automatic)

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