In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Anthropology and Design

  • Introduction
  • Educational Resources
  • Journals
  • Architecture and Urban Design
  • Branding
  • Design and Disability Studies
  • Design and Politics
  • Digital Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Product Design
  • Prototyping

Anthropology Anthropology and Design
Todd E. Nicewonger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0084


While anthropological studies of design expertise are not new, recent publications, conferences, and online forums have helped coin what is commonly referred to as design anthropology or anthropology and design. This body of work, however, is very diverse. In fact, those who self-identify as design anthropologists often evoke additional labels in describing their professional practices and research. In doing so, design anthropologists underscore the hybrid nature of anthropological engagements with design, which can extend from academia to the private sector. Additionally, design itself is an expansive category of diverse professional activities, commitments, and knowledge practices that can range from product design and architecture to brand management and humanitarianism and more. The diverse nature of this social terrain is thus made up of varying clusters of design activities. As such, not all design topics produce the same kinds of possibilities for anthropological engagements with social life, raising important questions about how research conducted, for instance, among marginalized communities overlaps with the kinds of queries and research techniques being employed by anthropologists working in the private sector. Complicating all of this further is the fact that there is a large interdisciplinary body of scholarship examining the sociopolitical dimensions of design. Consequently, this bibliography provides a starting point for exploring not only anthropological work on design but also key theoretical and interdisciplinary arguments that have raised critical questions about the socially oriented work of design and in turn have given shape to certain analytical questions and concerns. In this light, this bibliography examines how design as a subject and object of social analysis provides a rich and complex field of possibilities for exploring the human condition.

General Overviews

A growing body of literature has tackled a host of issues and concerns facing the emergent field of design anthropology. Edited volumes like Clarke 2010 and Gunn and Donovan 2012 (cited under Anthropological Overviews) provide writings by scholars working at the intersection of design and anthropology. Focusing more on the role of anthropological work in business and industry, Squire and Byrne 2002 (cited under Anthropological Overviews) examines how anthropological insights into human behavior can influence the development of consumer goods and services, while Rabinow, et al. 2008 (cited under Anthropological Overviews) offers a completely different perspective by asking how design can become a motif for rethinking anthropological practices. These examples are extended through interdisciplinary writings from the field of design studies and related disciplines also concerned with design. The inclusion of work outside of anthropology is important because design anthropologists as well as design scholars are often in conversation with one another. That said, interdisciplinary work on design is itself diverse in the forms of evidence that scholars draw on as well as the style of argumentation and disciplinary commitments they pursue. Consequently, this section has been broken down into three subsections. The first draws on recent work by anthropologists, the second examines selected texts by design scholars that focus on the social aspects of design, and the last includes relevant theoretical work on design as well as materiality and aesthetics.

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