Working across disciplines can bring fresh outlooks to anthropology and introduce new perspectives to other fields, in return. The course Design and Power is an example of possibilities for collaboration when students to come together from architecture, art, and anthropology. Offered in the Winter semesters of 2017 and 2018, the course explored issues in Design Anthropology and introduced students of art, design, and architecture to ethnographic research methods.

The course was created by Dr. Will Thomson, who came to the Anthropology Department as a postdoctoral fellow with the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies. Thomson holds dual undergraduate degrees in Journalism and East Asian Language and Literature from the University of Massachusetts, and he received his doctoral degree in 2015 from New York University. Before turning to anthropology, Thomson spent seven years working as a journalist and as a digital news editor at WBUR, Public Radio in Boston.

In class assignments and final projects in the class, students experimented with mixing methods from design and ethnographic research in novel combinations. The result was a hybrid approach that allowed students to explore different techniques and express themselves in different ways. 

In one signature assignment of the course, students created Broadsides designs that responded to readings from the class. Conceived of as an alternative to written reading responses,students instead interpreted them using the tools of design. The visual presentation also occasioned new ways to talk about anthropological concepts and theory. “They have great conversations that cut across their different interests and different capacities,” said Thomson.

Thomson reflected on the course and what he hoped his students took away from it. “I would love to see them come out of this with a confidence to work more experimentally and explore new spaces for collaboration. I also hope they will begin to think in new ways about design and what the term itself means, when design now applies to so many different and various practices,” he added.