Books on anthropology, The study of Architecture has always been a holistic course wherein anything and everything related to the way humans behave in spaces is taught and learned every day. Anthropology- being the scientific study of human behavior is thus, an essential part of the course. Architects are responsible for crafting spaces that shape the lives of people, and for the same reason the study of ethnography, a branch of anthropology that involves attempts at understanding how people live their lives, is important. 

Following are 10 books on anthropology and ethnography that can benefit designers and architects to understand human behavior and their cultural practices.

1. Design + Anthropology Converging Pathways in Anthropology and Design by Christine Miller (2018) | Books on anthropology

As the title suggests, this book written by author Christine Miller is an exploration of the two disciplines, namely – Anthropology and Design. It also throws light on how these two disciplines are interconnected and have evolved through time to shape communities and settlements. It describes how Anthropology and Design are two dynamic pathways that converge and can be exploited to develop global evolution

Christine touches on the recontextualization of ethnographic inquiry within design and innovations in applications of anthropological theory and methodology.

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Design + Anthropology: converging pathways in Anthropology and Design _©

2. People Centered Innovation by Pedro Oliveira (2013) 

Written keeping in mind a wider audience, author Pedro Oliveira elucidates the importance of innovation research in the corporate world through his book ‘People Centered Innovation.’ The book begins on a biographical note wherein the author recalls his transition from the fields of psychology and anthropology into the world of business and innovation. 

Through this transitional journey, the author introduces the readers to several instances in his corporate life where the study of anthropology has helped him in understanding the needs of the consumers and innovate accordingly.

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People-Centered Innovation _©

3. Design Anthropology Theory and Practice by Wendy Gunn, Ton Otto, Rachel Charlotte Smith

Wendy Gunn, Ton Otto, and Rachel Charlotte Smith are anthropologists who are active participants in the development of the concept of ‘design anthropology’ – which is a new field of inquiry that symbolizes the implications of anthropological approaches in design projects

The book comprises both theoretical reflections as well as real-life explorations in this field and introduces the readers to the methods, concepts, challenges, and practices involved. Architects can benefit from this book in learning how to translate theoretical knowledge of anthropology into design solutions.

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Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice _©

4. Design Anthropology Object Cultures in Transition by Alison Clarke

In this book, Alison Clarke documents various case studies of how product design has evolved. The book explains that from merely depending on basic market surveys and researches designers have started to consider employing anthropological methods such as design ethnography, and culture probing to improve the design of their products. 

This book can be described as a rich representation of how the fields of design, material culture, anthropology, sociology, and architecture intersect with each other.

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Design Anthropology: Object Cultures in Transition _©Bloomsbury Publishing.

5. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz | Books on anthropology

Clifford James Geertz was an American anthropologist commended for his influence on the practice of symbolic anthropology. In his book ‘The Interpretation of Cultures,’ he describes culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life”. 

His insights on how people interpret and relate themselves with various cultures can be an interesting point of view for an architect to understand how designed spaces may be perceived by users.

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The Interpretation of Cultures _©

6. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott

James C. Scott is an American political scientist as well as an anthropologist, and having experience in these two fields he penned down his book ‘Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed’. 

Through this book, the author tries to put forward a critical point of view for the readers to understand how governments or ruling authorities impose certain schemes on citizens that are essentially convenient for them but may not necessarily benefit the citizens. He remarks how taking a census, standardizing weights and measures, or even implying the use of a common language are simple tools for easier governance rather than aiding the growth of the society. 

His critical point of view forces readers, especially architects, to reconsider the implications of the design decisions made in haste according to their convenience.

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Seeing Like a State _©

7. The Modern Anthropology of India Ethnography, Themes and Theory by Peter Berger, and Frank Heidemann

This book can be essentially called a textbook comprising an intensive compilation of Indian anthropology/ ethnography, and post-colonial studies. The book has been structured according to the various states of India and the authors have tried to justify the ethnographic themes prevalent in the country along with the study of how those practices came to be. It highlights the interests of ethnographers and how people, communities, and cultures are represented by them. 

This is a must-read book for architects since it provides valuable insights into the anthropological and ethnographic practices in the culturally diverse country of India. 

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The Modern Anthropology of India _©

8. Patterns of Culture by Ruth Benedict

The Author, Ruth Benedict, believes that the integration in a culture should be credited to its content being arranged into a permanent or semi-permanent design or style which she calls a pattern. This concept has been extensively described in her book ‘Patterns of Culture’. 

Ruth Benedict abstracts the patterns of cultural settlements and their evolution into her concept of ‘configuration’. She describes configuration as the culmination of several small segmental styles – the building blocks of culture as a whole. This methodology of breaking down the structural understanding of cultures is an interesting approach in the study of anthropology.

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Patterns of Culture _©

9. The Savage Mind by Claude Lévi-Strauss

Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss compiles his understanding of structural anthropology into his book ‘The Savage Mind’. Structural anthropology is a school of anthropology based on the author’s idea that every culture has a unique structure but their cultural practices may be homologous to other cultures, concluding that all cultures are similar in one way or another. 

This book is an exploration of this very concept of how two cultures can be dissimilar in the foundation but similar in their practices. This can be an interesting way for architects to reflect upon the understanding of how two spaces may be structurally different yet functionally similar.

The Savage Mind _©<span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span>
The Savage Mind _©

10. Beyond Nature and Culture by Philippe Descola | Books on anthropology

As the title suggests, this book is an exploration of the question: what is the relationship between nature and culture? It defines the premises of the binary relationship of nature and culture in the past, present, as well as probable future. 

Through his thorough understanding of ethnographic examples around the world, cognitive science, and phenomenology the author formulates a new framework which he calls his ‘four ontologies’ – animism, totemism, naturalism, and analogism – to represent how humans relate to nature. The first form of architectural design was inspired by nature and the materials nature provided humans. Similarly, culture is also a reinterpretation of nature and this understanding will benefit the fundamentals of anthropological design.

beyond Nature and Culture _©Amazon
beyond Nature and Culture _©Amazon



Gautami Menon is a final year student at the Institute of Architecture and Planning, Nirma University. As an aspiring architect, she is passionate about expressing design through the written medium. She believes that architectural design is a platform where intellect meets art and her designs are an attempt at justifying the same.