Design + Anthropology : Converging Pathways in Anthropology and Design book cover
1st Edition

Design + Anthropology
Converging Pathways in Anthropology and Design

ISBN 9781629583198
Published December 5, 2017 by Routledge
128 Pages

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Book Description

This book explores the evolution of two disciplines, design and anthropology, and their convergence within commercial and organizational arenas. Focusing on the transdisciplinary field of design anthropology, the chapters cover the global forces and conditions that facilitated its emergence, the people that have contributed to its development and those who are likely to shape its future. Christine Miller touches on the invention and diffusion of new practices, the recontextualization of ethnographic inquiry within design and innovations in applications of anthropological theory and methodology. She considers how encounters between anthropology and ‘designerly’ practice have impacted the evolution of both disciplines. The book provides students, scholars and practitioners with valuable insight into the movement to formalize the nascent field of design anthropology and how the relationship between the two fields might develop in the future given the dynamic global forces that continue to impact them both.

Table of Contents


Chaos, Purity and Danger

What this book is about

Who this book is for

Structure of the book

Chapter One: Making the Strange Familiar, and the Familiar Strange


The anthropological roots of design anthropology

Tracing the threads

Anthropology and business

Anthropology: Its Achievements and Future

The way we were: The legacy of 1960s through the 1980s

Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary

Dialogue 1: Writing Culture

Dialogue 2: In the wake of Writing Culture: new projects

We will not regret the past nor wish to close the door on it

Dialogue 3: An anthropology of the Contemporary

Dialogue 4: Bridging the traditional, the modern, and the contemporary

Dialogue 5: Introducing the design studio

Dialogue 6: Adaptive strategies

Dialogue 7: Deparochializing anthropology

Anthropological relocations and the limits of design

Design: Anthropology’s future or problematic object?

Chapter Two: Roots in Design


Significance for anthropology

The Sciences of the Artificial: Rationality and the science of design

Herbert Simon in context

What implications for anthropology?

Understanding artifacts and systems: the dichotomy of inner and outer environments

the Emergence of Professional Design

politics of the artificial: Design at the end of the millennium

Unraveling the politics: a critique of the artificial

Challenges to scientific "truth": blurring the boundaries of natural and artificial

contemporary Critiques of design

The social turn: Design for the Other 90%

Is humanitarian design the new imperialism?

Branzi’s Dilemma: Design Consciousness in Contemporary Culture

21st Century design: An integrative discipline

The design education manifesto

Designing with, not designing for: the influence of participatory design

Ethnography in the field of design

the design education manifesto

Designing with, not designing for: the influence of Participatory design

Ethnography in the field of design

Chapter three: OPERATIONALIZING DESIGN ANTHROPOLOGY: How we know it when we see it


Disciplinary evolution: adaptive strategies

Disruptive change demands pluridisciplinary collaboration

Design anthropology: "Ethnographies of the Possible"

Events and situated practice

The significance of events and situations in anthropological practice


an Emerging set of principles

toward future-making: Vignettes of cultural production and change

Vignette 1: Design Anthropological Futures Conference

Design Anthropological Futures: Ethnographies of the Possible

Analysis and outcomes

Vignette 2: BarnRaise

Pre-event: registration and team assignments

Setting the stage: opening reception

The design workshop: a "future-in-the-making" event

Analysis and outcomes




Design anthropology: discipline, subject area, or research strategy?

Basic web search: Google Ngram

Google Scholar and ProQuest

Social Network analysis of Design anthropology Events and Contributors

Data Description

Social Network Analysis

Google Site search

Discussion of findings

Design Anthropology’s COINs and CoPs

Tracking the diffusion of innovation

Homophily and heterophily

Attributes of innovation


Chapter five: epilogue

Final thoughts

A field in its own right

Not to be confused with design ethnography

Technological challenges

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Christine Miller is Clinical Associate Professor of Innovation in the Stuart School of Business at the Illinois Institute of Technology, USA. Her research interests incorporate how sociality and culture influence the design and diffusion of new products, processes, and technologies. She studies technology-mediated communication and knowledge work flows within multiple discipline groups, teams, and networks and the emergence of collaborative innovation networks (COINs).


"Design + Anthropology represents an important milestone in the creation of a new and important field of artistic and intellectual inquiry.  Drawing on both leading anthropological theorists and designers, it presents a unique synthesis of the importance of design in creating order out of chaos and thus creating tomorrow’s world. Both anthropologists and designers will read this book with great advantage."
Allen W. Batteau, Wayne State University, USA

“Miller masterfully illuminates the territory between anthropology and design by weaving together a wide range of voices into a rich narrative.  She has a great sense of what authors and events are particularly revealing, and includes important debates that have not been covered in other reviews of the field. This work stands out through its original, creative and highly rewarding approach.  An essential read for anyone interested in the intersection of anthropology and design.”
Christina Wasson, University of North Texas, USA

“In this highly relevant book Christine Miller bridges the gap between designers and anthropologists, describing how to create collaborative innovation networks to build interdisciplinary pathways between the yin and yang of innovation."
Peter A. Gloor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA

This book expertly accomplishes its ambitious aim “… to contribute to a vision of design anthropology as an emerging transdisciplinary field and global community of practice comprised of regionalized collaborative innovation networks.” This is a classic diffusion of innovations story with insights about the emergence and expansion of design anthropology and what it means for all of us.
Julia Gluesing, Wayne State University, USA

Design + Anthropology is the perfect book for those on a career path that twists and turns through multiple disciplines and practices. Miller traces the intersecting intellectual histories of both anthropology and design in a way that feels to me as though I am exploring a long-lost lineage. With one foot in, and one foot wandering out, of both of anthropology and design, this book helped me to see how we have arrived at design anthropology, and why it speaks to me as a practitioner of infrastructure and futures design.
Emilie Hitch, Thinkers & Makers

Christine Miller’s book is a fascinating account of the birth of a new field:  Design Anthropology.  In the early chapters, she tells the story of the field’s evolution from two separate disciplinary traditions.  In later chapters, she demonstrates the field’s rapid growth and diffusion, as well as its distinctive character on each side of the Atlantic. 

Chapter 3 on “Operationalizing Design Anthropology” is particularly compelling.  I was struck by two general points Miller made related to the concepts of role and time.

  • Role:  Design anthropologists are no longer “observers, analysts, and interpreters” of culture, but rather, “participants and agents in the processes of social and cultural transformation (57).”  For anthropologists, this shift in role represents a shift in focus, purpose, and identity as they take on an “intentionally interventionist and transformative perspective (3).”  
  • Time:  Design anthropologists look to the future, asking questions such as “what if and what might be” (65).  Their orientation to future-making entails working proactively and in collaboration with others.  Opportunities to imagine something new and different (e.g., an approach, framework, product) typically involve developing, testing, and refining with input from collaborators – including those who might be direct beneficiaries.

I also appreciated the way in which Miller articulated eight principles or elements of design anthropology:  “future orientation, iterative, critical, holistic, collaborative, transdisciplinary, performative, [and] emergent potentiality (67).”  Both designers and anthropologists will be able to identify the principles that are part of their particular disciplinary background.  Design anthropologists, on the other hand, will recognize the incorporation of all eight principles in this new transdisciplinary field.

Elizabeth Briody, Cultural Keys LLC