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Anthro & Design

The New School and New York are ideal places to think anthropology and design together — not only because students and faculty from across these fields have lots of opportunities to meet and collaborate in the classroom and around campus, but also because they’re both honored as creative and intellectual practices that have much to learn from each other. Anthropology offers critical concepts and methods that are extremely valuable for the politically- and ethically-informed practice and analysis of design. Design, likewise, empowers anthropologists to think more expansively about the subjects, methods, and modes of their practice — attuning them to the material and aesthetic qualities of objects, spaces, landscapes, and systems they might encounter in the field; and inviting them to manifest their research in creatively mediated forms.

More Information

You’re welcome to casually take Anthropology + Design courses as electives toward your Master’s degree, or you can declare the Anthropology + Design minor, a 9-credit program.

In this “Scratching the Surface” design newsletter interview, Shannon Mattern describes the Anthropology + Design minor and its potential appeal and utility to anthropologists, designers, and students in various other fields. You’ll find courses within the subject area and local resources below, and you’re welcome to reach out to Faculty advisor, Barbara Adams for more information.


Anthropology & Design: Objects Sites, and Systems is the foundational course for the minor. In this class, we explore the various ways the two fields can inform one another: anthropology of design, ethnography for design, ethnography as design, and so forth. We then examine a variety of conceptual case studies, taking up various anthropological concepts and concerns and observing how they’re designed — made material, experiential, affective; given form — through a range of design practices, and how anthropological concepts and methods inform those practices. We host guest lectures, take field trips, and invite students to apply our course material in a final research/design projects. Past students have written research papers and exhibition reviews, produced podcasts and videos, created zines and design methods kits.

You can read more about our Spring 2020 Data Artifacts, Infrastructures, and Landscapes class here, and about our Spring 2021 Mapping the Field class here. In Fall 2021 we launched a new Design Ethnography Workshop in collaboration with external design partners.

You’ll find a list of dozens of related electives, both within the Department of Anthropology and across the university, here.


Students can take advantage of courses, faculty, facilities, and programming at the Parsons School of Design, as well as events at other nearby institutions, including the Cooper Union, Pratt, and NYU. The New School’s Graduate Institute for Design Ethnography, and Social Thought; the Urban Systems Lab; the Healthy Materials Lab; the Tishman Environment and Design Center; and the Making Center, which features a wide array of workshops and fabrication facilities, are among the many local resources available to you.

Design is always on display at the city’s museums and galleries and exhibition halls, and it’s always under discussion in its professional associations (from the American Institute of Graphic Artists, to the Architectural League and the Urban Design Forum), cultural organizations, activist collectives, and community groups. Each of these resources could serve as a repository of research material, as well as a potential site for fieldwork.

Students in Anthropology & Design frequently engage with these local resources through field trips, guest speakers, and other programmed events.

Extracurricular Programs

In the 2020-21 academic year, Anthropology students secured funding to support an Anthropology and Design (ADX) students working group, which hosted a reading group and regular workshops, and worked with The New School’s XReality Center to organize a virtual exhibition and symposium. Visit the ADX website to learn more about their current activity and to sign up for the mailing list!

We are actively looking for more students (both social science and design) to participate in organizing the upcoming exhibition. Please contact us at if you are interested!