Job title: Lecturer, Design Ecologies, School of Design

Role: Director of Ethics

Tel: 0131 6515753


Research outputs: Dr Rachel Joy Harkness on Edinburgh Research Explorer

I work at the intersection of design, social anthropology, the environmental humanities, and the arts. Since September 2018 I have been a Lecturer in Design Ecologies in the School of Design at ECA, and since November 2018, also ECA's Director of Ethics. I teach on the Design for Change Programme and also as part of the Design and Screen Cultures (formerly known as Context) team within the School of Design.

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

At ECA my teaching and supervision is mostly divided between working on the new postgraduate programme Design for Change, and the contextual 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:

  • dLab3 Design for Environmental Change (Semester 2)


Design and Screen Cultures Teaching


Course Organiser and Lecturer:

  • Environmental Design: Materials, Ecologies, Futures, 3rd Year Elective (Semester 1)
  • Design in Action, 3rd Year Elective (not currently running)

Lecturer on Courses run by others:

  • Design and Society, Second Year Elective (Semester 2, CO is Emma Gieben-Gamal)
  • Design Context 4 (Dissertation) (Full Year, CO is Jonny Murray)


Course Organiser and Lecturer:

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



Lecturer on Courses run by others:

  • Material Exigencies (Semester 2, ESALA, CO is Remo Pedreschi)

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 recent work is 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 newer threads of my research I've been looking at the architecture of art schools for thinking about place and community and creativity, 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 am collaborating 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 funded by the Mellon Foundation on the theme of the senses and environmental values.

Current PhD students

  • Trading Design Education: A Critical Study of Transnational Education Partnerships
  • Unfolding Dichotomies between Craft and Design in the Chilean Context
  • Recording Print: Collaboration and Social Exchange in DCA Print Studio 1999 - Present
  • Flood-resilient Earthen Construction Technology

PhD Supervision Topics

Accepting applications.

I'm interested in supervising topics (theory and practice) including various combinations of the following:

  • Ecological/environmental design, (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, Marxism.
  • Work situated in Scotland or the US and Mexico.