Job title: Lecturer, Design Ecologies, School of Design

Tel: 0131 6515753


Research outputs: Dr Rachel Joy Harkness on Edinburgh Research Explorer

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 teach on the postgraduate Design for Change 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.

I am currently only teaching in Semester 2 as I am on sabbatical in Semester 1:

Design for Change Programme (PG)

Course Organiser and Lecturer/Tutor:

  • dLab3 Design for Environmental Change (Semester 2)

Dissertation Supervisor:

  • Dissertation: Design for Social, Technical or Environmental Change (Summer Term. CO is Arno Verhoeven)

Design and Screen Cultures Teaching


Course Organiser and Lecturer:

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

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 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 here at the Univeristy of Edinburgh 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, 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.