Off to DC for AAA meetings
November 29, 2007
Going to DC for the American Anthropological Association meetings. Totally not prepared yet, but very excited about meeting friends. I tend to not blog the AAAs because they are so overwhelming. Its now 6 days from 8am to 8pm and about 30 sessions it seems running simultaneously.
I do have a super duper panel on Friday. So if in DC, come see it. With 5000 + people, the AAA is very lax about badges but tell them I told you that:
Title: Anthropology, Design and Govermentality: ethnographic approaches to civic designing and the tangibility of
Organizer/Chair: Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall
Date: Friday, November 30, 2007
Time: 08:00:00AM - 09:45:00AM
Location: Marriott Wardman Park and Omni Shoreham Hotels.
Justice, democracy, accountability, openness are not just abstract terms, but are tangible experiences for people
made manifest through designed artifacts, communications, and environments. This panel examines how
ethnographic approaches to civic designing make manifest the problematization of governance and people’s
participation in contemporary civic life. By ethnographic, we mean the questions, assumptions, methods, and
outcomes that seek to uncover people’s functional and symbolic meanings from their own perspectives. By civic
design, we refer to the government sanctioned and regulated public documents and forms, objects, machines, web
interfaces, and built environments that mediate the interactions between the government and the governed.
Drawing on Michel Foucault’s concept of governmentality, the panel looks at governance as the “conduct of
conduct” accomplished through the “disposition of things.”
The panel examines governance across the domains of aviation and transportation, urban and retail planning, IRS
design management, and public health. It explores the relationship between three levels of design and
governmentality: (1) public policy and knowledge, (2) design practice and the civic designing process as
ethnographically informed; and (3) lay people and the usability and meaning of civic design artifacts. It epitomizes
the emerging praxis of design anthropology, a field that seeks to understand how the processes and artifacts of
design come to define what it means to be human.
The panel begins with Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall’s framing of the two overarching themes that bring the participants’
perspectives together. First, design plays a significant role in making governance tangible to people. The poorer the
design of civic design artifacts, communications, and environments is to everyday people; the poorer are people’s
“feel” of the government. Second, ethnographic approaches to civic designing can remove the distance between the
government and the people by ensuring the rooting of the people’s functional and symbolic values into the designs,
and the policies that inform the designs.
Anthropologist Ken Erickson explores the world of FAA and Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations in
the design of Boeing airplanes accessible to people with physical disabilities. He addresses how interdisciplinary
teams handle the conflicts between the ethos of citizen-centered designing and formal government regulation.
Leilah Rampa, MFA student, shares her research and designs developing wayfinding systems on the Chicago Transit
Authority trains and buses for people with physical disabilities.
IRS designer and design manager, John Jacobin, discusses the IRS Design Management Project and the
opportunities and challenges of bringing citizen-centered design into this large government bureaucracy.
Abe Lentner, technical assistant for the City Design Center in Chicago, walks us through the design artifacts and
processes used to engage Chicago residents in the urban and retail planning of their own neighborhoods.
In conclusion, Ric Grefé, executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design, and anthropologist,
Inga Treitler comment on the significance of the intersections between policy, design, and anthropology the panel’s