Alison J. Clarke

Chair and Head of Department,
Design History and Theory
Director, Victor. J. Papanek Foundation

MA History of Design, Royal College of Art/V&A, London, Distinction (1990)
PhD Social Anthropology,
University College London (2001)


Alison J. Clarke is a design historian and a trained social anthropologist. She joined the University of Applied Arts Vienna as a full-professor having previously held a senior faculty post at the Royal College of Art, London. In 2010, she was appointed Director of the Victor J. Papanek Foundation heading the biennial symposia in contemporary design theory. Professor Clarke has supervised design and material culture at undergraduate and postgraduate level for over twenty years, previous students having taken up major roles in curatorship, academia and design.

Her research uniquely combines historical and anthropological methodology, placing her work at the forefront of explorations in Design Anthropology and resulting in several major ethnographies in design, including co-research with Professor Daniel Miller (UCL) which framed debates within material culture and consumption studies. Her monograph Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America charted the inception and distribution of an everyday design technology and was optioned for a USA Emmy Award nominated film-documentary titled ‘Tupperware!’ Editor of the anthology Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century (Springer 2011), she is currently completing a second edited volume Design Anthropology: Object Cultures in Transition with Bloomsbury Press and finishing a monograph for MIT Press exploring 1970s design activism.

Professor Clarke is a recipient of several competitive fellowships (Smithsonian, Hagley & Winterthur, Botstiber) and has led several major international research projects, most recently Émigré Cultural Networks and the Founding of Social Design funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). As co-founder and co-editorial manager of Home Cultures: Architecture, Design and Domestic Space, she is advisory board member of the Journal of Consumer Culture, and Material World (NYU) and panel member on numerous academic research juries including the Danish Council for Independent Research in the Humanities and Swiss National Science Foundation.

Alison has delivered keynote addresses at major international conferences, most recently NORDES (Stockholm 2015), Design Anthropological Futures (Copenhagen 2015) and Design Culture: Object Discipline, Practice (Kolding 2014). Co-curator with Fiona Raby and Jamer Hunt of the critically acclaimed exhibition How Things Don’t Work: The Dreamspace of Victor Papanek at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Centre New York (2014), and co-director of the film SLOW (2013) with artist David Bickerstaff, Alison contributes regularly to a range of international media including the award winning BBC television series ‘The Genius of Design’.


Recent Keynote Lectures

‘Design as Futurism, and Its Discontents’, Keynote delivered on occasion of award of honorary doctorate, University of Southern Denmark, Odense (October 2017).

‘Chrono-Voyeurism: A Design Anthropology of Retro Food’, Experiencing Food: International Food Design & Food Studies Conference University of Lisbon, (October 2017).

‘Work Activity: The Politics of Work and Design in a Neo-Liberal Economy’, Fair Design, Warsaw (September 2015).

‘The New Ethnographers: Envisaging the Possible’, Design Anthropological Futures, Copenhagen, Denmark (August 2015).

‘Buckminster Fuller’s Reindeer Abattoir and Other Designs for the Real World’, NORDES 2015 Conference, Design Ecologies, Stockholm, Sweden (June 2015).

‘Design Dispersed: The Origins of the Social in Design’, Design Culture: Object, Discipline, Practice, University of Southern Denmark, Kolding, Denmark (September 2015).

‘Design for the Real World’, MICA Baltimore, USA (April 2014).

‘Alternative and Emerging Economies of Design in the City’, UNESCO Summit of Creative Cities, Beijing, China (October 2013).

‘Design for the Real World’, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design Symposium, Royal College of Art, London (September 2012).

‘Creative Transformations: Design as a Force for Social Innovation’, Expert Network Creative Industries, Permanent Representation of Austria to the EU in Brussels (November 2011).


Design for the Real World: Activism in 1970s Design (Cambridge: MIT Press, under contract)

Co-edited volume with E. Shapira, Émigré Cultures in Design and Architecture (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming).

Design Anthropology: Object Culture in Transition, Revised Edition (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming).

Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century (Wien/New York: Springer Verlag, 2010).

Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America (Washington DC: Smithsonian University Press, 1999).

Journal Articles

‘Design for Development, ICSID and UNIDO: The Anthropological Turn in 1970s Design’, Special issue: Design Dispersed: Anthropology and Design, Journal of Design History, Vol.29, No.1 (2016) pp.43-57.
Online Access

‘Theories of Material Agency and Practice: A Guide to Collecting Urban Material Culture’, Museum Anthropology, Vol.37, No.1 (Spring, 2014) pp. 17–27.
Online Access

‘Victor Papanek: Agent Provocateur of Design’, Les Cahiers (du Musée national d’art modern), Editions de Centre Pompidou, No.121 (Spring, 2013).

“Actions Speak Louder’: Victor Papanek and the Legacy of Design Activism’, Design and Culture, Vol.5, Issue 2 (July 2013) pp.151–169.
Online Access

‘Consuming Children, Making Mothers: Birthday Parties, Gifts and the Pursuit of Sameness’ in Horizontes Antropologicos, Vol.13, No.28 (2007) pp.263-287. 
Online Access

Co-author with D. Miller, ‘Fashion and Anxiety’, Fashion Theory, Vol. 6 No. 2 (2002) pp.191–213.
Open Access

Book Chapters

‘The indigenous and the Authochton: Design for the Real World meets Global Tools’, in S. Francheschini and V. Borgonuovo, Global Tools: A Radical Italian Experiment (SALT, Istanbul: forthcoming).

‘Émigré Culture and the Origins of Social Design’ in Design for the Good Society (NAI: Rotterdam, 2015) pp.164–179.

‘1948 Wonder Bowl von Earl Silas Tupper, Der Konsum macho die Ikone, Gesprach mit Alison J. Clarke’ in S. Jung (ed.), 12 Gegenstande, (HfG- Archiv / Ulmer Museum, 2015) pp.68–84.

‘Designing Mothers and the Market: Brands, Style and Social Class’ in P. MacLaran et al (eds.) Motherhood, Markets and Consumption: The Making of Mothers in Contemporary Western Culture (London: Routledge 2013).

‘Design Ethnologist: Ettore Sottsass Jr.’, A. Cole and C. Rossi (eds.) The 1970s Italian Design Avant-Garde, (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013).

‘Socially Responsible Design’ in G. Matzner-Holzer (ed.) Kulturfuhrer Mitteleuropa 2012: Thema Design (Institut fuer den Donauraum und Mitteleuropa Wien, 2012).

‘The Anthropological Object’ in A. J Clarke (ed.) Design Anthropology: Object Culture in the 21st Century, (Wien/New York: Springer Verlag, 2010), pp.74–87.

‘The Second Hand Brand: Borrowed Goods and Liquid Assets’, in D. Wengrow and A. Bevan, Cultures of Commodity Branding: Archaeological and Anthropological Perspectives (CA: Left Coast Press, 2010) pp.235–254.

‘Tupperware: Vorstadt, Gesellschaft und Massenkonsum’ in A. Ortlepp and Ch. Ribbit (Eds.) Mit den Dingen leben, Zur Geschichte der Alltagsgegenstande, (Berlin, 2010) pp. 155-187.

‘The Contemporary Interior: Trajectories of Biography and Style’ in B. Martin and P. Sparke (eds.) Designing the Modern Interior (Oxford: Berg, 2009).

‘Coming of Age in Suburbia; Design and Material Culture’ in M. Gutman and N. de Coninck-Smith (eds.) Designing Modern Childhoods: History, Space and the Material Culture of Children (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2008).

‘Afterword’ in H. Brembeck, K. M. Ekström, M. Mörck (eds.), Little Monsters: (De)Coupling Assemblages of Consumption (Wien: Lit Verlag, 2007).

‘Making Sameness: Mothering, Commerce and the Culture of Children’s Birthday Parties’ in L. Marten and E. Casey (eds.) Gender and Consumption Domestic Cultures and the Commercialisation of Everyday Life (Farhnam: Ashgate, 2007).

‘Window Shopping at Home: Classifieds, Catalogues and New Consumer Skills’ in D. Miller (ed.), Material Cultures, Why Some Things Matter (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) pp.73–103.

‘Tupperware, Product as Social Relation’ in A. S. Martin and J. Ritchie Garrison, American Material Culture, The Shape of the Field (Delaware: Winterthur, 1997) pp. 225–251.

‘Tupperware: Suburbia, Sociality and Mass Consumption’ in R. Silverstone (ed.) Visions of Suburbia, (London: Routledge, 1997) pp.132–161.

‘Maternity and Materiality: Becoming a Mother in Consumer Culture’ in L. Layne, J. Taylor and D. F. Wozniak (eds.) Consuming Mothers (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2004).

‘Taste Wars and Design Dilemmas: Aesthetic Practice in the Home’ in C.Painter (ed.) Contemporary Art in the Home (Oxford: Berg, 2002).

‘The Aesthetics of Social Aspiration’ in D.Miller (ed.) Home Possessions: Material Culture Behind Closed Doors (Oxford: Berg, 2001).

‘As Seen On TV: Design and Moral Economy’ in M. Andrews (ed.) All the World and Her Husband (New York: Cassell, 2000).

‘Window Shopping at Home: Classifieds, Catalogues and New Consumer Skills’ in P. Jackson, D. Miller et al, Commercial Cultures, (Oxford: Berg, 2000).


Co-Curator with Professor Fiona Raby (University of Applied Arts, Vienna) and Professor Jamer Hunt (Parsons the New School for Design, New York), ‘How Things Don’t Work: The Dreamspace of Victor Papanek’, Sheila C Johnson Design Centre, Parsons the New School for Design, New York, (26 September–15 December 2014).

Exhibition Catalogues

‘The Chrome Plated Marshmallow: 1960s Consumer Culture and its Discontents’, You Say You Want a Revolution: 1966–1970, V&A Museum exhibition catalogue (London: V&A Publishing, 2016).

‘Buckminster Fuller’s Reindeer Abattoir and Other Designs for the Real World’, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, Edited by A. Blauvelt, Walker Art Center exhibition catalogue (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2015).

‘Prescription for Rebellion: The Politics and Legacies of Design Activism’, The Future Is Not What it Used to Be , Second Istanbul Biennial exhibition catalogue, (2014) pp.332-338.

‘The Poisoned Heirloom: Unmaking the Family’ in A.J. Clarke, A. K Dankl et al, Familienmacher, Katalog zue Ausstellung im Osterreichischen Museum fur Volkskunde in Wien (Nurnberg: Verlag fur Moderne Kunst Nurnberg, 2012).

‘Not So Brand New’ in G. Williams and J. Pavitt (eds.), Brand New , V&A Museum exhibition catalogue (London: V&A Publishing, 2001).