Accepted Paper:

Exploring (idiotic) engagements between ethnography and design  


Andrea Gaspar (CRIA, Centre for Research in Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

My paper explores how the encounter between design and ethnography can provide an opportunity for ethnography to revise its own 'cultural' assumptions regarding anthropological practices of creativity.

Paper long abstract:

Two contrasting ways of conceiving design-anthropology engagements can be considered: 1, as a collaboration where designers remain designers and ethnographers remain ethnographers (Suchman 2011, Yaneva 2009): in this relationship, designers design while ethnographers observe, analyse and have a critical role - but relational resources are not fully explored; and 2) a more relational, open and unpredictable kind of collaboration where ethnographers and designers may become 'idiots' to each other (Michael 2012, Rabinow & Marcus 2008). It is the latter possibility that my paper explores.

Based on my fieldwork in a design studio of Milan, I will present situations that refer to my encounter with a different way of conceiving creativity and performing 'the new'. Design and ethnography perform relationality and therefore creativity in very different ways. While in ethnography it is what comes from the outside (which is obviously also processed inside, through interpretation) that is considered generative, in design it is rather what is processed inside (through authorial creativity) that is performed as generative. While involved in the process of learning what being creative in design terms requires I was also exposed to its transformative effects. Thus, my ethnography went far beyond the description about these different ways of bringing the new into being - it ended up exploring also the engagements between ethnography and design. My paper will present situations concerned with "engagement events" and the "disruptive character of the idiot" (Michael 2012) - situations where the relationships generated ended up being disruptively creative for both parts.

Panel IP05
Ethnography as collaboration/experiment