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Thinking, anthropology, and design

I am currently reading, Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment by Paul Rabinow (Princeton University Press: 2003).  The book is an indepth meditation on the work of Michel Foucault. Its is useful for me because I have taken Foucault's notion of governmentality as a key theme in my work, but he also puts Foucault in dialogue with John Dewey, with whose theories  I have always resonated.

Dewey, Thinking, and Anthropology

Rabinow describes Dewey's idea of thinking as "...a situated practice of active inquiry whose role and goal is to initiate a movement from a discordant situation to a more harmonious one. " (Rabinow 2003: 17).  This helps to reframe the purpose and objective of Anthropology from the study of humankind to one more about the thinking about humanity. Sidenote: It makes me wonder if AIGA had Dewey in mind when it shifted its mission to design thinking.

The idea of moving from a discordant situation to a more harmonous one is fascinating when you connect this with the Taoist ideas I have been applying of trying to align oneself with the natural world. Humanity not as an object of study (in the past) but rather situations for thinking enbles a much more freeing engagement with the problems of humanity and an orientation of the field of Anthropology as future-oriented and solution proposing.

This is the intersection of anthropology and design. Anthropology offering the tools, the equipment to identify discordant situations and design offering the equipment to propose more harmonious situations, anthropology then helping to refine those proposals in an iterative fashion.

Research methods for art and design

Img_1144 I start teaching my new class on Research Methods for Art and Design on Friday. I am very excited about it as I attempt to adapt anthropological methods to art and design contexts. I must say, I was very disappointed by the texts available for the course. I ended up using as my  main texts (1)  the classic, H. Russell Bernard's Research Methods in Anthropology, 4th edition by Altamira Press 2005 and (2) John Jones' Design Methods, 2nd edition, which was developed by the British Design Council by published by Wiley and Sons 1992.

Bernard will probably be too advanced for the students and Jones will be too simple. The current design research books were completely unsatisfactory. Brenda Laurel's Design Research was not instructional enough to use as a textbook. There were a lot of opinions and positions stated, but it is not organized as a guide to how to do the actual research.  IanNoble and Russel Bestley's Visual Research was a disappointment. While visually stunning, I did not think it worked as a textbook either.

So there is a major knowledge gap, so as my course co-participants (students) follow along the research journey, I hope to discover what they need in a research methods for art and design textbook.

making of the Declaration of Independence

Dunlap_2 Recently, I read the book American Scripture by Pauline Maier (Vintage Press 1997) which talks about the “Committee of Five,” who were the drafting and editorial committee for the Declaration of Independence. The committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R Livingston. It goes into depth about the multiple revisions to the content of the Declaration and how it was based on other declarations created at the time and in the past.

The book skims over the “design” of it except to say that it was hand written, the plain parchment original is lost, 150-200 copies were printed by John Dunlap but it was not the signed copies sent to Europeans, it was crafted more for the American people as its audience, and that Timothy Matlock did the handwritten version that was signed by all but two of the delegates. There is an interesting quote on page 149 about Jefferson's dismay at the mutilations his draft went through, "He had forgotten... that a draftsman is not an author...[it was not] presented to the worls aas the work of a particular writer, but a public documentm, an authentic expression of the American mind."  Jefferson also sent copies of the documents to his friends to see if they liked his version better than the final version. Would this be the first instance of "user testing" of American public documents?

This text opens up my main area of focus now with design and governmentality, in terms of trying to understand how public documents and communications, objects and processes enfranchise or disenfranchise individuals. It is different from the current focus on design in government in terms of innovation and looks at design as the actual apparatuses of governance. This is even different from looking at propoganda. I am more interested in the more mundane processes and artifacts of governance.

American Scripture helps point in the right direction.

Katrina and the perils of out of touch leadership

Veve_gede Last night, I watched the first half of Spike Lee's documentary on Katrina and New Orleans, When the Levee Broke. The only other film that has shaken me in terms of race relations in the US was when I first saw, Roots, as a kid. I remember not being able to speak to white people for 3 days after that series.

While "When the Levee Broke" does not make me want to stop talking to white people, it does make me want to shout at our public officials and the people who keep voting uncaring and out of touch politicians into office. The two most shocking aspects of the film for me where:

Some conspiracy theories are actually based on historical empirical knowledge

Accusations that the levees where intentially bombed or left unfinished and weak are not so crazy when the same levees were dynamited in 1929 and 1964 to flood the 9th Ward and other areas in order to protect the City of New Orlean's more affluent areas, including the French Quarter. The way in which rationalist governmentatity seeks to discount the perspectives of people who know their history fills me with a rage for the arrogance on leadership, which does not know that its purpose is to lead through service.

The American leadership is out of touch with the reality of American lives

The recalling of who was where days 3 to 5 of the tragedy again demonstrates that leadership should be based on empathy for the people whom you serve not on a decontextualised list of priorities. The image of President Bush flying over the tragedy represents the perils of an orbiting approach to decision-making, whether that orbiting is based on the belief in a strong ideology or political expediency. When an elected official takes an oath of service, he or she should be given a curse. This curse would make them feel the pain and anguish of the most desperate and underserved human that his or her decisions affect.

Orbiting versus empathy

Sorry that I have been away from posting. I've been very busy with work. Here are a few things that have been on my mind lately.

Orbiting versus empathy as a modality for decision-making

Orbiting is Gordon MacKenzie's term, from the book Orbiting the Giant Hairball,  for how to avoid the Giant Hairball of corporations:

Orbiting is responsible creativity: vigorously exploring and operating beyond the Hairball of the corporate mindset, beyond "accepted models, patterns, or standards" — all the while remaining connected to the spirit of the corporate mission.

While this is a positive orientation to avoid the muckity muck of corporate cultures, what does this mean if you have the responsibility for developing the accepted models, patterns, or standards in an organization. In that situation, orbiting means a different thing. It is about disconnecting or ideally attentuating your connections to other people within the organization. This is how CEOs use spreedsheets and abstract ratios to orbit from the impact of a corporate layoff.

Empathetic decision making is another modality. Being trained as an anthropologist, I tend to put a lot of stock in human relationships as the basis of all business or government issues. How to get the client or citizenry to trust you? How to convince people to buy your idea, vision, or product? These are all human issues, which means that you have to be connected to people to understand their mindsets, motivations, desires, and expectations. This is the work of empathy. As a business or governmental leader whose decisions have such a strong impact on other people and the environment, empathy is key for making effective and holistic decisions. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink, talks about empathy being one of the six senses (the others are design, story, sympathy, play, and meaning).

I asked a CEO-type friend which modalities he uses and he said that he uses both in tandem. First empathy to gather all the information he needs to make sure his is attuned to what's going on and then orbiting to gain a broad enough picture to make sure his decisions include the most perspectives. But I still wander if that orbiting is necessary to still make a decision. Can you internalize both the forest and the trees while still in the trees? Somehow, I instinctly feel that something is lost when you orbit. It is setting up a separation between self and other.

Is there something akin to an expansive empathy in which you extend yourself and your connection to all things so that the distinctions between self and other is blurred and thus the decision made is one of the whole living organization?


Connections, work, and decisions: men and family

There were two articles in the New York Times that caught my interest this morning: Jane Gross's article When the Beard is Too Painful and Lois Uchitelle and David Leonhard's 7/31 article on Men Not Working.  Jane Gross's article deals with 40 to 60 year old "gay" men who still want to maintain their marriages and families, while having a homosexual relationship. Men not working talks about middle-aged men who are unemployed or underemployed while seeking for work that pays the bills and is meaningful to them. What is interesting is the role of women and family life in each of these stories.

In the Men Not Working article, they talk about how up to 60% of the out-of-work men in the US are divorced, separated, widowed, or never  been married. It quotes sociologist Kathryn Edin:

“What happens to a lot of guys who become unmoored from family life, they become unmoored from everything,” Ms. Edin said. “They are just living without attachments and by the time they are 40 or 50 years old, the things that kept these men from falling away — family and community life — are gone.”

There is an implicit connection between men working and the stablizing force of women and family life. How many times I've seen or read about a man working to gather the wealth to marry his beloved and start a family. This is the story of Heathcliff and Cathy of Wuthering Heights, the entire institution of bride price, even going back to the Epic of Gilgamesh. To civilize Enkidu, Gilgamesh first entangles him with a women, Shammat. Are women and family life the main gateway to human connection for men?  Are women really forces of production instead of seduction, contrary to how they are portrayed? Although, Shammat achieves her productive means through seduction, which is interesting.

Jane Gross's article only complicates the situation. Again, it addresses the small percentage of heterosexually married gay men and their desire to maintain their social and emotional connections to their wives and children as well as the emotional connection to their homosexual partner/lover. She quotes a man struggling with his "Brokeback" marriage:

One support group member, Steve T., is a Long Island doctor, married to his high school sweetheart and the father of three school-age sons. He said he felt the sting of judgment when he tried a group for gay fathers. “They thought my desire to stay married was part of my denial,’’ said Dr. T., who would do almost anything to keep his family together and his suburban lifestyle intact, even after telling his wife that he is gay.

Its not working out for Dr. T, whose wife has asked him to move out even after trying to accept his duo-lifestyle, but it demonstrates the complexity of the various human connections needed to keep people whole. The article goes on to describe the loneliness and isolation that some of these men find as they struggle with the gay dating scene. Beyond claims of false consciousness of these men based on the assumption of gay denial, is there something else there in the desire to maintain those connections as a source of meaning as well?

I think we need more flexible models for types of human connections in the dyad romantic relationship. I keep thinking about the movie Normal with Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkinson, about a 50ish midwestern rural man who decides to have a sex change. After kicking him out of the house, inviting him back, and he preparing to have the surgery, they both end up staying together because they've loved each other for over 20 years. The nature of that love shifts and changes but you still love the person. Why does it have to be only one way or another?


Making waves

Ocean_waves_800 Last week, I had a long conversation with Lauralee Alben, an amazing woman who is using Design to change the lives, work, and legacies of many Fortune 500 companies, but more importantly of women around the world. She has developed this Sea Change Design Process, by which people develop their Intent, Context, Relationships, and Flow for designing change in their lives.

What is so exciting for me is the discussions we had about alternative models for power, leadership, etc. Although her perspective is much more grounded in a woman-centered idea of power than mine. I find I much more for abolishing any essentialized ideas of gender, I appreciate the idea of leadership being about your ability to get people to trust the "intent" of a form of acting in the world while allowing the group of people, who share that intent, to help define the path that it will take.

It is very much akin to that which I am discovering through Tao and Tai Chi. But it centers on understanding and being able to guide the interrelatedness of all things from the physical to the spiritual and then being able to amplify and sustain that through relationships.

Anyway, it was such a powerful and inspirational meeting. I'm still buzzing off the connection made.