Visual Anthropology

Wayne Li
Wayne Li
Professor of the Practice of Design and Engineering

How would you define this big idea?

Visual Anthropology is the concept of engaging communities and cultures in their context using photography and videography. It stems from needfinding and ethnographic approaches found in the applied social sciences, and is used by designers and social scientists to understand cultures’ implicit attitudes and beliefs in order to better create solutions (e.g., products, services, businesses, policies, community programs, etc.). This big idea looks at two specific methods, digital storytelling through documentary media (photography and videography) and participatory research (engaging communities in context) in order to explore community engagement.

How is this big idea included in your work?

My field is in user-centered design as it pertains to user/stakeholder ethnography. One of the main deliverables for our course are examples of ethnographic film made for communities through immersion, participatory research and needfinding (not needs based services, but the more general term, coined ~1999). Clients in the past (for profit: Delta, Northrop Grumman, Intergraph, Thyssen Krupp, non-profits: Threespot Media, Arthur Blank Foundation), have given us grant $ to conduct these type of research studies amongst various communities (e.g., flight operators, firefighters, police, EMS, Arts Organizations, k-12 Teachers) through this course. The students, by engaging with these cohorts, learn to step outside themselves and empathize with their groups.

Learn More

Michael Berry – Point Forward, Stanford University

Dev Patnaik – Jump Associates, Stanford University, Wired to Care