Things could be different: Design anthropology as hopeful, critical and ecological

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther

Abstract / Description of output

Following what Bezaitis and Robinson have called the '"things could be different" impulse' (2011), this paper traces the path of engagements with the environmental in both design and anthropology and highlights the recurrence, centrality and importance of this impulse along the way. Showing how these 'eco-paths' intermingle in the contemporary inter-discipline of design anthropology, we propose that the environmental prism offers a particularly valuable insight into the nature of the experimental moment, into the temporal orientations of inquiry, and into the hopeful processes of making futures manifest (Miyazaki, 2004). Furthermore, our contention is that this perspective alerts us to the fact that in both design and anthropology there is and perhaps should always be a concern with that other which is possible. We might call this a critical orientation towards the possibility of difference. Whether this is manifest in asking how we might make things differently or whether others do things differently already, the shared territory of design and anthropology perhaps lies in this opening-up of ways of thinking.This opening-up, we argue, is to help to make our relationships with/in the living and non-living emergent world all the more caring. We see that in the story of ecological and sustainable design, for instance, alternative ways of making, designing, and using objects were understood as a resource for critical designers wishing to bring about a 're-enchantment' with nature (Clarke 2011). Similarly, anthropological thinking shifted beyond the fixed and oppositional duality of Nature vs. Culture (Latour 1993, Descola and Pálsson 1996, Ingold 2000) and away from privileged ideas of linear progress and development, by way of exploring the myriad ways in which people do or don't make, interpret or imagine things different(ly). These shifts have stimulated alternative non-linear understandings of sociality as organisms and materials in flux, undergoing continual dialogue and exchange (Delanda 1997, Ingold 2010).This paper is therefore embodying the 'things could be different' impulse, as it forwards a hopeful version of design anthropology. Moreover, it is in its environmental form that we feel this hopefulness - this 'optimism of the intellect' (Harvey 2000) - is perhaps most clearly and consistently exercised. It is here that critical understandings of the past are combined with fine-grained attunements to the contemporary situation and intuitive castings which feel their way, carefully, into the shape of the non-foreclosed future. Together these can provide the conditions for the continuation and becoming of the rich diversity of matter, life and living in our shared world.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2014
EventSeminar 1: Ethnographies of the possible - The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Duration: 11 Aug 2014 → …


SeminarSeminar 1: Ethnographies of the possible
Period11/08/14 → …

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • design
  • anthropology
  • ecology
  • temporality
  • material culture


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