Eco-social design practices, ethnographic approaches and anthropological discourses

Elisabeth Tauber
Social and Cultural Anthropologist, Faculty of Education, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano

Lea Luzzi und Lisa Zellner

Students of the MA Eco-Social Design,

Kris Krois
Head of the MA Eco-Social Design at the Faculty of Design and Art, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano,

Friday 12 April/ 9:45-10:30 

Challenges and opportunities in the collaboration between applied anthropology and design

Our contribution is based on collaboration experiences between professors of cultural anthropology and eco-social design, together with two students of the Master in Eco-Social Design. We want to show the possibilities created through this collaboration, but also highlight the challenging aspects brought forward in the interplay between ethnographic approaches, theoretical reflection and design practices. For an anthropologist, it can be a perplexing experience to support an eco-social design intervention, in a setting which has not yet been thoroughly understood, especially if the ethnographic research is not yet complete. On the other hand, even if designers are sensitive to eco-social issues, they can easily lose patience with the long term duration of an anthropologist’s field research. What is the starting point for such a collaboration? How much debate and adjustment is needed to understand each other? If a collaboration were successful, is the result simply a compromise or does it create advantages for both parties?

We will discuss these questions via two student projects. One project took place in the community of Mals, a municipality well-known for its creative approaches to sustainable development and its outspoken activity in the fight against pesticide usage. The second project took place in a  new district on the outskirts of Bolzano. This neighbourhood was designed by urban planners and architects in a top-down manner and now attempts are made to counteract the public vacuum and social challenges created by the architecture.

The two projects and our respective experiences show exemplary frictions and potentials in the collaboration between design and applied social sciences. These are not only characteristic of the transdisciplinary and practice-oriented course of studies in Eco-Social Design, but also a challenge for many design practices that want to contribute to the urgently needed transformation of the relationships between people and between people and nature in order to achieve less alienated and more sustainable, resilient, equitable and just futures.