RESA: Research School for Swedish Anthropology
PhD course open to: PhD students
Course title: Design Anthropology of Borders
Dates: November 2018-January 2019
Location: Engaging Vulnerability Research Program, Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University
Course coordinators/instructors: Mahmoud Keshavarz, PhD, Uppsala University and Shahram Khosravi, Professor, Uppsala University/Stockholm University
ECTS: 7.5 credits
Contact: Mahmoud Keshavarz (, Shahram Khosravi (

Course overview

Borders seem to be everywhere. However, some borders are more visible than others due to the way they are designed. Some borders operate more heavily than others due to their distinctive material qualities and some are more lethal than others because of the way they operate. Some borders operate not only to repress but to produce different kinds of subject, wealth and capital, and they do so due to their specific design and materiality.

This interdisciplinary course takes you to an inquiry of and intervention in the materiality of the geopolitical, urban and technological borders of the contemporary.

Course description

While borders of different kinds seem to be everywhere, yet some borders are more visible than others due to their design; some perform heavier than others due to their distinctive material qualities; some are more lethal than others because of the way they perform; some borders operate not only to repress but to produce different sorts of subject, wealth and capital and they do so due to their specific design and materiality.

In recent years, an emerging movement in social sciences and humanities, including anthropology, is taking place which calls for a greater attention towards objects, materials, infrastructures and their performative, spatial and temporal qualities that recognise and consequently generate a different form of politics. Similarly, scholars of migration and border studies have payed attention to the performativity and materiality of borders for instance through discussing technologically and materially designed apparatuses regulating mobility and migration.

Following such emergence, this experimental course by weaving two modes of inquiry aims to provide a space for thinking and discussing as well as intervening in how the materiality and performativity of borders operate and what they produce through their designs in different sites and moments. Building on recent scholarship in anthropology of borders and design anthropology, this course aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice through multi-modal learning.

In this course, on the one hand, students will read the texts in which scholars and practitioners examine the materiality and performativity of borders in contemporary time. On the other hand, the course by engaging design methods of inquiry such as mapping, visualisation, prototyping, probing, etc. will include practice and project based explorations of borders in different contexts introduced to the class through lectures and seminars. Possible contexts for project could include but not limited to borders in urban spaces operating through logistics and infrastructures, gentrification processes, integration discourses and practices; geopolitical and historical borders operating through off shore visa policies, European border regime, colonial borders and demarcations, development and humanitarian work as well as borders in and by technological configurations such as algorithms, biometrics, surveillance, big data, drones, social media, etc.

The aim of the course is to provide an understanding of the anthropology of objects, sites and spaces as borders and bordering processes through implying different ethnographic as well as design concepts and methods.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the course the student is expected to:

  • Account for and develop an understanding of anthropology of materiality, design anthropology and anthropology of borders based on recent literature;
  • Account for and critically discuss different approaches to borders in recent literature on border studies and more specifically materiality of borders;
  • Have an understanding of design methods used in ethnographic practices, ethnographic methods used in design processes as well as other relevant mixed-methods;
  • Propose and practice a design project individually or in group that highlights, discusses, challenges or examines borders in one or more of the three levels of geopolitical, urban or technological settings;
  • Critically evaluates one’s own and others projects and account for the limitation and possibilities of design anthropology as an emerging field of study.


Teaching activities include a series of lectures, seminars, presentations, tutoring and workshops. Class attendance is obligatory unless stated otherwise. The language of instruction is English.


Besides active participation in the course, workshop activities and seminar discussions, the students are expected to deliver two main assignments:

(I) Conduct and present visually or/and materially a specific project that addresses encounters, negotiations and challenges around a site or situation of borderwork. This can be individually or in a group of two if desired.

(II) Write a final paper of which the requirement differs depending on masters or PhD level.

PhD students are required to deliver a final paper of 5000-6000 words that is both exegetical and analytical. They may or may not engage with the practical project done during the course but if they decided to do so, they need to be sure that enough space is dedicated to critical review of the literature, analysis of certain points and arguments as well as critical positioning of their project within them.

All students will be assessed for their active participation in class, their oral presentations of the project and for the quality of their final paper.

For more information, please visit Engaging Vulnerability’s website.