Rachel Joy Harkness profile picture

Job title:

Lecturer, Design Ecologies


Programme Director, MA Design for Change


I am a design anthropologist working at the intersection of design, social anthropology, the environmental humanities, and the arts. As Lecturer in Design Ecologies in the School of Design at ECA, I principally teach on the postgraduate one-year Design for Change Masters Programme and also as part of the Design and Screen Cultures (formerly known as Context) team within the School.

Trained as a social anthropologist at Goldsmiths College, London and the University of Aberdeen, I research environmental design, building and dwelling in interdisciplinary and creative ways. Before taking up the position of Lecturer in September 2016 here at ECA, I was Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen (2013-16), working on the ERC-funded research project Knowing From the Inside: Anthropology, Art, Architecture and Design (PI Prof. Tim Ingold). I remained affiliated to this research project and team, as an Honorary Research Fellow, until its completion in 2018.

Prior to this I held a number of Postdoctoral Fellowships: at the Insititute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) here at the University of Edinburgh, where I was the Mellon Sawyer Fellow from 2010-2012 organising and running the prestigious John E. Sawyer Seminar Series 'Embodied Values: Bringing the Sense Back to the Environment' and its closing conference and exhibition 'Sensory Worlds'; and at the University of Strathclyde's Business School, working on the interdisciplinary Leverhulme-funded critical market study of marine chemical pollution ‘Sorting Goods from Bads: How Actors Collaborate in Marketing Green Chemistry’ with Professors John Finch and Susi Geiger.


At ECA my teaching and supervision is mostly divided between working on the postgraduate programme Design for Change, and the contextual and critical/cultural studies provided to the whole School of Design (UG and PG) by the Design and Screen Cultures staff.

Design for Change Programme (PG)

Course Organiser and Lecturer/Tutor:

  • dLab(3): Design for Environmental Change (Semester 1)


  • Designing for Change: Projects and Practices (Semester 2)

Dissertation Supervisor:

  • Dissertation: Design for Social, Technical or Environmental Change (Summer Term)

Design and Screen Cultures Teaching


Course Organiser and Lecturer:

  • Environmental Design: Materials, Ecologies, Futures, (Semester 1, for 3rd Year Students)

Course Co-Organiser and Lecturer:

  • Revolutionising Design for the Climate Emergency (New in 2023/24, Semester 1, for 1st Year Students, CO with Emily Ford-Halliday)

Lecturer on Courses run by others:

  • Design and Society (Semester 2, for Second Year Students. CO is Emma Gieben-Gamal)


Course Organiser and Lecturer:

  • Environmental Design: Materials, Ecologies, Futures (Semester 1)


environmentalism, design activism & ecology - materials, meaning & making - building(s) & place - design anthropology & ethnography

In my research and teaching I am interested in learning from people about how they experience, perceive, care for, envision and create their shared environments. To this end, I have worked extensively with ecological builder-dwellers in the USA and Scotland, attending to issues of power, art, labour, value and social imagination. My doctorate, awarded in 2009 from the University of Aberdeen, addresses these subjects and they remain central to my research and teaching.

My more recent work has been concerned with materials and traces, with architecture’s materials and social orchestrations, and the idea of thinking-through-making. I have been considering the vibrant materials that make up the Scottish built environment, and the stories, lives, entanglements and skills that a focus upon them brings to the fore. In other threads of my research I've been looking at ideas of design for degrowth and regenerative design and systems, and also collaborating with colleagues Judith Winter (MMU, Manchester) and Cristián Simonetti (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) on projects to do with concrete and the Anthropocene. At ECA, with Mike Inglis and Cath Keay, I collaborated on research and exhibitions to do with Art Extraordinary and alternative creativities and environments. Throughout, my research methods involve playful experiment and participation in artistic practices of making.

I lecture on my work internationally, publish my writing, and exhibit photographic and installation work. I have produced exhibitions, run workshops and seminars and, in 2011, I organised an international conference here at the Univeristy of Edinburgh funded by the Mellon Foundation on the theme of the senses and environmental values.

Current PhD students

Magdalena Cattan

Unfolding Dichotomies between Craft and Design in the Chilean Context

Sandra De Rycker

Recording Print: Collaboration and Social Exchange in DCA Print Studio 1999 - Present

Scarlett Lee

Flood-resilient Earthen Construction Technology

PhD Supervision Topics

Not accepting applications
  • Ecological/environmental design, politics, (design) activism and the environmental humanities
  • Design's relationship with art and architecture, creativity, imagination, fiction, learning and the art school
  • Non-western and alternative design, design anthropology, ethnography, cultural and oral history, methods/methodologies
  • Materials, labour, the body and the senses, power/politics and craft and technology
  • Phenomenology, New Materialism, Neo-Marxism, Feminism
  • Work situated in Scotland or the US and Mexico

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