Flash Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Teaching
Secondary Theme: The Visual
The emerging discipline of ‘design anthropology’ is posed as three-fold: anthropology for design, anthropology of design, and the (re)design of anthropological analysis and inquiry (Murphy 2016).This FLASH panel is conceived with the latter objective in mind. An experiment in pedagogy and research, each presentation draws on an array of knowledge practices that depart from the conventional modalities of ethnographic study yet which exist in productive tension with it and with one another. Lab/Field/Studio/Archive, these are what STS scholars Gad and Jensen (2016) would gloss as “lateral” domains. “Fellow travelers along the routes of social abstraction and analysis,” to quote Maurer (2011), they are differently constituted in material, social, and epistemological terms. Lab/Field/Studio/Archive, each profess different criteria of and commitments to truth production along with distinctive modes of participation and application. Rather than privilege one over another, each FLASH presentation models an experimental anthropological practice in which research concerns are interrogated and advanced by transposing and juxtaposing them across these varied epistemic domains.
Via the proposed lateral method, anthropological problems are successively translated into laboratory exercises, artistic representations/creative activities, technical cum conceptual genealogies, and ‘micro’ field studies. Unlike the spontaneous defamiliarization inherent to classic fieldwork, similar to Marcus and Murphy’s (2013) “Ethnocharette” the analyst self-consciously orchestrates the defamiliarization of their own problematic. The result is a methodological engagement whereby perspectives are deliberately multiplied rather than reduced, and “practices, theories and concepts bump into each other, rub up against one another, and modify one another” (Gad and Jensen 2016). Engendering conceptual gaps, frictions, and overlaps, these exercises in design anthropology articulate critical insights in concrete terms and make it possible to rethink assumptions, reframe questions and reveal hidden logics. An investigative and analytic exercise both critical and generative, Lab/Field/Studio/Archive likewise promotes the translation of anthropology to broader audiences sympathetic to discipline’s project yet unfamiliar with its narrow terms of reference.
The formulation of these linked interventions derive from a graduate seminar in Design Anthropology informed by the field of “speculative design,” where design practices are utilized to “trigger shifts in perspective” and “open spaces for un-thought of possibilities” across an array of human problems (see Dunn and Raby 2013). Largely focused on African issues due to student and faculty expertise, the course involved observations of design studios and consultations with architects, archivists, engineers, and design professionals on our US campus. Exploiting these “disciplinary borderlands” (Kohler 2002), students experimented with exploratory Lab/field/studio/archive exercises in light of array of object-centered themes representing what can be called the ‘tool-kit of late-modernity.’ Relevant in Africa and globally, they include utilities infrastructures, humanitarian devices, and security architectures (cf. Appel, Anand, Gupta 2015; Collier 2007; Redfield 2013). Moving from experimental inquiry to self-conscious method, the panel’s image-rich FLASH presentations - attentive to processes of knowledge production as much as the knowledge produced - trace these engagements and the unexpected insights engendered across disciplines, geographies, and anthropological problems.