Faculty Clarke

Alison J. Clarke

Professor and Head of Department,
Design History and Theory
Director, Papanek Foundation

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

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Professor Alison J. Clarke is a design historian (RCA/V&A) and a trained social anthropologist (UCL). She joined the University of Applied Arts Vienna as chair of design history and theory having previously held a senior faculty post at the Royal College of Art, London. Her most recent monograph, Victor Papanek: Designer for the Real World (MIT Press, 2021) offers a critical perspective on the rise of the social design movement, and the shift towards transdisciplinary design research. Her recent major research project ‘Design Anthropology: Industrial Design and Development’ FWF (Austrian Science Fund) 2024–2027 explores the legacies and histories of Cold War experiments in social science and design.

Clarke’s approach uniquely combines historical and anthropological methodology, placing her work at the forefront of design anthropology research, and of early debates within material culture, design and consumption studies. Her monograph Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America (Smithsonian Press) charted the inception and reception of an everyday design technology in the context of the ethnic and gendered social relations of postwar US culture, and was optioned for a USA Emmy Award nominated film-documentary.

Other recent publications include the anthology Design Anthropology: Object Cultures in Transition (2017) and the co-edited volumes, Émigré Cultures in Architecture and Design (2018) with E. Shapira, and International Design Organizations: Histories, Legacies, Values (2021) with J. Aynsley and T. Messell. Her latest book project explores the historical intersection of design and social science.

As Director of the Victor J. Papanek Foundation, Clarke heads the biennial symposia in contemporary design theory and recently initiated and co-curated, with Vitra Design Museum, the international travelling exhibition Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design co-editing the accompanying exhibition catalogue. She has supervised design and material culture at undergraduate and postgraduate level for over twenty-five years, previous students having taken up major roles in curatorship, academia and design practice.  

She is a recipient of a numerous competitive fellowships and awards (Smithsonian, Hagley & Winterthur, The Graham Foundation, USA;  Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK) 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). She is co-founder (with Victor Buchli, UCL) of Home Cultures: Architecture, Design and Domestic Space, and editorial advisory board member of Design and Culture, the Journal of Consumer Culture, and Material World (NYU), regularly acting as a panel member on international academic research juries and external doctoral committees. She was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Southern Denmark in recognition of her research in the area of design and anthropology and is expert advisor to the Royal Danish Academy Research Project Spaces of Danish Welfare. She contributes regularly to a range of international media including the award winning BBC television series ‘The Genius of Design’.

Selected Keynote Lectures

‘Design as a Political Force’
Design History Conference, UCA, UK 
(September 2024).

‘Myths of the Circular Economy’
9th Bienial Iberoamericana de Diseño (BID), Madrid 
(November 2021).

‘Design Anthropology: Legacies and Futures’
Chilean Design Week, Santiago
 (October 2021).

‘Beyond Interiority: The Design Politics of Normativity’
Royal Danish Academy, Copenhagen (
April 2021).

‘Politics of Design: Manufacturing the “Undeveloped Peoples”’, Design and Authority, 4T Design and Design History Conference, İzmir, Turkey (May 2019).

‘The Other Way: Designing a Sustainable Tomorrow’, London Design Museum, UK (February 2019).

‘Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design and the Role of Design Education’, Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (March 2019).

‘Design Anthropology and Spatial Relations’, Keynote Lecture, Bauhaus Dessau, Germany (October 2018).

‘Victor Papanek: Design, Ecology, and Global Activism, Keynote Lecture, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), USA (October 2018).

‘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).

Selected Publications


Victor Papanek: Designer for the Real World (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021).

Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design, co-edited with Amelie Klein and Mateo Kries, (Vitra Design Museum, 2018).

Émigré Cultures in Design and Architecture, co-edited volume with E. Shapira, (London: Bloomsbury, 2018).

Design Anthropology: Object Cultures in Transition, Revised Edition (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).

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

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

Book Chapters

‘The Absent, the Virtual & the Immaterial’, in K. Klaus & R. Bittner (eds), Design Rehearsals: conversations about bauhaus lessons, (Bauhaus Dessau, Germany, 2019).

‘The Indigenous and the Autochthon’, in V. Borgonuovo & S. Franceschini, Global Tools: When Education Coincides with Life 1973–1975 (Salt, Istanbul, 2019).

‘Victor Papanek: Agent Provocateur of Design’, in Alison J. Clarke, Amelie Klein, Mateo Kries Eds.) Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design (Weil Am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum, 2018) 24–47.

‘Design, Development and Its Legacies: A Perspective on 1970s Design Culture and Its Anthropological Intents’, in Kerstin Pinther and Alexandra Weigand (eds.), Flow of Forms: Forms of Flow – Design Histories between Africa and Europe, (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag 2018), 110–124.

‘L’Indigeno e L’Autochono’, in, Global Tools (1973–1975): Quando l’educazione coinciderà con la vita, (Rome: Produzioni Nero, 2018) 134–140.

‘The Politics of Design in Post-Work Culture’, in (eds.) K. Kasia and M. Kochanowska Warsaw, Fair Book: Activity, Akademia Sztuk Pięknych (2017), 154–161.

‘Radical Italian Design: The Exhibition as Trojan Horse’, in Zoe Ryan (ed), As Seen: Exhibitions that Made Architecture and Design History, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2017.

‘How Things Don’t Work: Design as Futurism and its Discontents’, in Jan Boelen, Ils Huygens, Heini Lehtinen (eds.), Studio Time: Future Thinking in Art and Design, London: Black Dog, 2017, 27–40.

‘The Humanitarian Object: Victor Papanek and the Struggle for Responsible Design’, in Marjanne van Helvert (ed.), The Responsible Object: A History of Design Ideology for the Future, (Amsterdam: Valiz Publishing, 2016).

‘Victor Papanek and the Emergence of Humane Design’, in Penny Sparke and Fiona Fisher (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Design Studies, (London: Routledge, 2016), 373–383.

‘Émigré Culture and the Origins of Social Design’, in Max Bruinsma and Ida van Zijl (eds.), Design for the Good Society, Utrecht Manifest (Rotterdam: nai010, 2015).

‘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).

‘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.

‘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).

‘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).

‘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).

‘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.


Exhibition Catalogue Essays

‘Victor J. Papanek: Agent Provocateur of Design’, in Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design, exhibition catalogue (Vienna and Weil am Rhein: Papanek Foundation and Vitra Design Museum, 2018) pp. 26-48.

‘The Chrome Plated Marshmallow: 1960s Consumer Culture and its Discontents’, in 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.

Exhibitions Curated

‘Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design’, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein (28 September 2018–10 March 2019), co-curated with Amelie Klein at Vitra Design Museum.

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