Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice
This volume is an outcome of a panel held at the 11th Biennial European Association of Social Anthropologists Conference at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, in August 2010. The aim of the panel, Design Anthropology: Intertwining Different Timelines, Scales and Movements , was to expand the notion of ethnographic practice and contribute toward a research agenda for design anthropology. About half of the chapters were presented in a first version at this panel, whereas the others have been subsequently elicited by the editors.
Design anthropology is an emergent fi eld and is practiced in different ways depending on one’s methodological positioning. Design practices attempt to make connections (albeit partial) between past, present, and future. Ideally, in the present you have a vision of the past in order to create a future out of the everyday. Practitioners of design anthropology follow dynamic situations and social relations and are concerned with how people perceive, create, and transform their environments through their everyday activities. This view challenges the idea that design and innovation only refer to the generation of new things as being central to processes of social and cultural change. Design anthropology practices occur across different scales and timelines and involve many disciplines, each bringing their own distinct ways of knowing and doing.
Inspired by processual, critical and action orientated approaches in anthropology, the editors of this volume attend to the potential of design anthropology practices as providing places for refl ection on combinations of methodology and theory. As such the volume focuses on concepts, tools, and methodology in an attempt to reconsider the relation between theory and practice in design anthropology. Starting with the ambition of carving out a theoretical fi eld, although very preliminary, we sketch the theoretical and methodological issues involved. Considering the theory-practice relation in design anthropology raises the question, Can you develop theory as part of practice? Underpinning many of the contributions in this volume is a demonstration of the situated nature of theory generated during collaborative engagement and the specifi city of theory as emergent from fi eld investigations. Moreover, the contributors to this volume have shown how theory generated in this way can be involved within design processes. As editors we argue that theory in design anthropology is continually being built. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the volume demanded ongoing collaboration between the editors and contributors far beyond the normal remit of editorial input.
In the moment-to-moment interactions between anthropologists and the people they work with, anthropologists make implicit understandings explicit. What the ethnographic method brings is contrast and relation, and it opens up the taken for granted by bringing into the foreground what was in the background. Anthropological theory uses explicit contrast as a way of constructing meaningful difference. Design anthropology is a move to shift the focus from anthropological description to action. In methodological terms, how does this infl uence the theory practice relation in this emergent fi eld? What role does anthropological theory play in design anthropology? How is the validity of knowledge in design anthropology established? To address these questions the volume brings together a group of anthropologists who are actively contributing to this fi eld.
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