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"Discursive design makes us think, talk, and question. This fascinating book offers designers both a theory and a tool for exploring what and how to communicate. I love this book!"  

Ellen Lupton  Writer, designer, curator, critic

"At a time when design is becoming increasingly eclectic, expansive, and ambitious, Discursive Design makes a timely and constructive contribution to the debate about its future by charting the opportunities and challenges that designers will face as they engage with ever more complex and urgent social, political, and environmental issues."

Alice Rawsthorn  Design critic and author



Discursive Design:

Critical, Speculative, and Alternative Things


632 pages
311 color images

ISBN: 0262038986

As design’s role in society has expanded, various "conceptual" design practices have emerged like critical design, speculative design, design fiction, and adversarial design.


With their unique qualities, these forms of discursive design are all tools for thinking. Rather than utility or aesthetics, their ultimate aim is to inspire reflection upon substantive socio-cultural discourses such as climate change, gun control, genetic engineering, immigration, & animal rights.

Despite growing interest over the past two decades, there is scant literature that helps designers actually create discursive things. Discursive Design, however, is structured around nine distinct facets that inform the production and dissemination of more effective and defensible work.


With its practical emphasis, the book offers frameworks, tools, terms, case studies, and hundreds of images of new and historic projects. And while discursive design has largely been used as a form of social engagement (similar to forms of conceptual art), the book imagines and articulates new applications within research and practice.

Written through the lens of product design, Discursive Design also has direct relevance to theorists, practitioners, and other stakeholders within graphic design, interaction design, service design, architecture, strategic foresight, conceptual art, and any creative field where physical artifacts deliberately embody and engender discourse.


Ultimately Discursive Design is a project of expansion—articulating processes and possibilities for greater collaboration, relevance, and service as design becomes involved in more complex, contested, and crucial domains of individual and social life.





The MIT Press

Ascetical Value:

Consumption and the Materiality of Spirituality among the Old Order Amish


360 pages

ISBN: 9783639102567

This is the book version of my anthropological dissertation studying Amish material culture and consumption. Amid socio-economic challenges with traditional farming and increasing acceptance of factory work, this ethnography is based on over two years living in the community and theorizes the negotiation of their religious values with the value of material products—those Amish and non-Amish that are produced and consumed.


The Old Order Amish of Elkhart-LaGrange, Indiana are distinctive in their acceptance of and reliance upon employment in local (non-Amish) industrial factories, which provide greater disposable income and leisure time than their dwindling farming brethren have. Wealth, not only from these factories, but also from entrepreneurial ventures and tourist-related enterprises, is affecting material expressions of Amishness. For example, contrary to romantic notions of Amish ascetical life, these Amish increasingly ride in automobiles, eat in restaurants, shop at Wal-Mart, and use some electrically powered products.

In this study I investigate (1) the notion of asceticism and the Amish reconciliation of their religiously-grounded tenets of industry, frugality, and the separation from worldliness, with an increasingly pervasive and seemingly persuasive "culture of consumption;" (2) the construction of value surrounding actual household possessions; and (3) their understanding of what the material sphere and its expansion means in terms of Amishness and its future.

Unlike idyllic depictions of static and unadulterated Amish material culture, here, the dynamics of their worldly ascetic project is emphasized and understood as a natural state, where the Elkhart-LaGrange Amish, like all other Amish, are not "fallen" or "aberrant" for valuing objects beyond the realms of simplicity, utility, and thrift. A key aspect of Amish life is the articulation (material and otherwise) of an individual ascetical posture within the larger social order. Importantly in addressing the paradoxes of Amish consumption, the foundation for individual ascetical motivation is presented as being primarily rule- or socially-based rather than specifically religiously- or ethically-based. And at the collective level, their distinction between possessions and possessiveness illustrates an overwhelmingly nonformal, subjective notion of value. Amish ascetical life is emphasized as a nontotalizing condition in which both instrumental materialism and episodes of terminal materialism coexist, allowing the emergence and active negotiation of individual desire as something that must be controlled in culturally specific- and socially-recognizable ways.
















Sosa-Tzec, O., Bruce M. Tharp, Stephanie M. Tharp. “Discursive Design and the Question of Impact: Perspective, Pedagogy, Practice,” in Dialogue: Proceedings of the AIGA Design Educators Community Conferences: Decipher, Vol. 1. Michigan Publishing. 199–206.


Tharp, Bruce M. and Tharp, Stephanie M. “Discursive Design Basics: Mode and Audience.” Nordic Design Research Conference (NORDES). Experiments in Design Research. Copenhagen, Denmark. (June)

Tharp, Bruce M. and Tharp, Stephanie Munson. “Discursive Design:Beyond Purely Commercial Notions of Industrial and Product Design.” IDSA National Education Symposium Proceedings. Phoenix Arizona. 237–245.

Tharp, Bruce M. “Valued Possessions: Expanding Amish Material Culture and Consumption,” in The Journal of American Culture. Monroe Friedman (Ed.) Blackwell: London. 38–53. (March)

Munson, Stephanie and Bruce M. Tharp. 2006. “Designerly Research and Problem Definition—Information vs. Inspiration.” Educating Designers for a Global Context. Hadley’s Limited. USBN 0-955-3942-0-1. 317–22.

Tharp, Bruce M. “Value in Dispossession: Rejection and Divestment as Design Strategies,” in 2004 National Education Conference Proceedings. Industrial Design Society of America: Virginia. 209–214.

Tharp, Bruce M. “Adventures in Value: Some Axiological Contributions to Conceptions of Products and Design,” in 2003 National Education Conference Proceedings. Industrial Design Society of America: Virginia. 239–244.


Tharp, Bruce M. “Value: Conceptions in Design and Anthropology,” in 2002 National Education Conference Proceedings. Industrial Design Society of America: Virginia.

Tharp, Bruce M. “Commodity Fetishism and Identity Formation: Michael Graves’ Housewares for Target,” in 2000 National Education Conference Proceedings. Industrial Design Society of America: Virginia. 393-402.

Tharp, Bruce M. “Design and Humanity: An Expansion of Professional Boundaries,” in 1999 National Education Conference Proceedings. Industrial Design Society of America: Virginia. 


























Wrote or co-wrote 17 web articles on current themes and events involving discursive design, e.g., “What is Discursive Design?”, “Discursive Design’s Reflexive Turn?”, “Drones: Designers Respond to Possession, Privacy and Permission.” [international]

Tharp, Bruce M. and Stephanie M. Tharp. “Integrative Design: Thinking Big.” Innovation. Winter 2014. Vol. 33, No. 4, Pp. 12–13. [national, editor-invited]

Tharp, Bruce M. and Stephanie M. Tharp. “Tools for Thinking: Discursive Design.” Innovation. Spring 2014. Vol. 33, No. 1,

Pp. 44 49. [national, editor-invited]

Tharp, Bruce M. “Opening the Kimono: Confidentiality and the NDA.” Core 77 (January 7). [web document] IiInternational, editor-invited]

Tharp, Bruce M. “Product Licensing 101: So Let’s Talk Money.” Core77 (September 11). [web document] [international, editor-invited]

Tharp, Bruce M. “Product Licensing in an Era of Open Innovation.” Core77 (July 29). [web document] [international, editor-invited]

Tharp, Bruce M. and Tharp, Stephanie Munson. January. “The Four Fields of Industrial Design.” [web document] Identified as one of the site’s most popular articles. [international, editor-invited]

Tharp, Bruce M. “Do It Thyself: Amish Tenets of Separation and Community,” in Pass It On: Connecting Contemporary Do-It-Yourself Culture. Annedorothee Boheme, Lindsay Bosch, and Kevin Henry (Eds.). Columbia College. 32–36. [regional, editor-invited]

Tharp, Bruce M. “Thoughts from Gravity Free 2007: Chicago.” Core77 (June). [web document] [international]

Tharp, Bruce M., Ed. “Ethnography and Design: Resources for Teaching and Research.” (Contributions from PHD-DESIGN listserve). The University of Chicago: Chicago, IL. [international]

Tharp, Bruce M. Ascetical Value: Consumption and the Materiality of Spirituality Among the Old Order Amish. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology. The University of Chicago; Chicago, IL.

Munson, Stephanie and Bruce M. Tharp. September 21. “Exploring Design in China” [web document] (way back machine) [international]

Tharp, Bruce M. and Munson, Stephanie. August 2005. “Exploring Design in China.” [web document] [international]

Munson, Stephanie and Bruce M. Tharp. February 2005. “Design Education Today.” [web document] [international]

Tharp, Bruce M. “Diagnosing Organizational Culture.” Industry White Paper. Haworth, Inc.: Holland, MI. [international]

Tharp, Bruce M. Four Organizational Culture Types.” Industry White Paper. Haworth, Inc.: Holland, MI. [international]

Tharp, Bruce M. “Defining ‘Culture’ and ‘Organizational Culture’: From Anthropology to the Office.” Industry White Paper. Haworth, Inc.: Holland, MI. [international]

Tharp, Bruce M. “From Knowledge Workers to Knowledge Athletes: A Baseball Analogy”. Industry White Paper. Haworth, Inc.: Holland, MI. [international]

Munson, Stephanie and Bruce M. Tharp. October 2004. “Cultural Constructs.” [web document] [international]

Tharp, Bruce M. “Book Review, The Amish Riddle of Culture (revised edition) by Donald Kraybill” in Mennonite Quarterly Review, January 2003. V. LXXVI, 1. Indiana: Goshen College. [international, editor-invited]

Numerous solely authored online design editorials and conference/ trade show reviews for Core77 Design Network ( [international]

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