An Ethnographic Inventory

Workshop à la carte: Academic Expansion (2019)

An academic fork of the Workshop à la carte‘s cardboard set for an egalitarian reading group methodology

The cards were put to use as part of the regular reading seminars of the summer semester 2019 MA course Design Anthropology: Practicing Anthropology of / for / through / as Design at the Institut für Europäische Ethnologie, Humboldt University Berlin. The seminar had around 14 sessions, and 5 to 10 people were regularly attending.


The reasons for deciding to do so were the following:

i. Even though this was a very different context from the original one in which the cards were developed, the group size allowed to experiment with it (with more people it would have been utterly impossible). From the pedagogic design there was an attempt at building alternative classroom atmospheres, where the teacher/student breach could be levelled; perhaps not fully nor totally, but at least allowing an understanding of and enabling a discussion on the types of venues for discussion and learning that academic institutions afford, many times traversed by an asymmetric logics (for both potentially relevant pedagogic, and many more times very problematic and sterile power-related reasons).

ii. Building from that, the cardboard methodology was received as creating a platform so that we could form a public arena, getting to know one another: it’s incredible how many times we sit together to people we’ve been frequenting for a long time in an educational setting that we know nothing about; but also how to host and think together with someone who has just landed into this space coming from somewhere else.

Using the cards, hence, was an attempt at experimenting with the atmosphere of a seminar. This was considered relevant mostly when attempting to grasp the peculiar modes of knowing of design practice by a group of people interested in design affairs but in a predominantly discursive-oriented institution.

Hence, the cardboard methodology, in rarefying and making explicit the complex conditions to have a conversation on a topic we usually don’t talk about, operated as a device allowing us to think and talk ‘differently’:  eliciting lateral connections or weird examples, but also helping us evoke experiences, and teaching us to learn to remain in time-regulated silence, which was sometimes productive to find connections and common threads, and some other times, well… less so.

In any case, using the cardboard method was a relevant experience, or so it was believed, to create the conditions of appreciating a topic and a mode of knowledge that is usually suffocated by highly-structured sediments and layers of scholarly discourse.


However, in putting the cards to work both in the particular context of this seminar and in an explicitly academic context required tweaking many things: the appropriate time and the speed of the seminar was constantly an issue each day;  as it may have happened in any context, learning to play and talk to one another required us to develop some adaptations, and we explored tentatively the prototyping of some additional cards. Put otherwise, these cards were developed collectively when learning to play and trying to make the Workshop à la carte relevant in such a context.

These were our particular ‘additions’

(1) Tell me more: In many circumstances, we felt the need for people to be able to express themselves more freely, breaking with the strict time-regulation of speech that the methodology entails. For this, we developed a card anyone could use at the end of another person’s turn, so as to give them more time–there were freer and more time regulated versions of this throughout the seminar–to expand and unfold.

Usually, this card was used when people were elaborating on an example but were abruptly cut by the timer. But it was also used to mobilise the particular expertise on a particular topic from anyone in the room (we temporarily played with a potential different card having similar functions to this one, which we called Who’s the expert here? but the practical effects were the same, although this one was many times used to mobilise the teacher into a more lecturing position).

If getting too long, anyone could stop this moment by using the Shut up, you are driving me crazy! card from the original set.

(2) Free riding: Some other times, we felt that the strict clockwise manner and time regulation of the methodology were, well, far too rigid. And for this, we conceived a card allowing a looser and more informal way of people just talking, respectfully but also allowing them to have chats, or to enjoy the moments of wild conversation and crazier connections that sometimes the readings or the examples or the experiences shared made emerge.

If getting too long, anyone could stop this moment by using the Shut up, you are driving me crazy! card from the original set.

(3) Get to the point: Some other times, even following the strict sequence and time regulation of the methodology–mostly when dealing with more thorny texts or when one was having a bad day, or simply lacking coffee–it was any of us who, in their talk, would be a bit too thick or airy, or whatever… It happens when we think aloud, you know? Well, in those kind of conditions, people were surprised by the timer telling them to stop, perhaps when they were about to say something that seemed crucial, very relevant, or simply interesting. For those moments, we developed a card, allowing 10 seconds more, so as to be able to wrap up properly (or at least try).


Free ridingTell me moreGet to the point


CC BY NC ND 2019 Jens Bergener, Tomás S. Criado, Agnieszka Dragon, Kristiane Fehrs, Joram Gruenenberg, Nicole Hecht, Marianne Syvsig, Lea Traeger, Katharina Weiss & Cleo Wächter


To check the original game in Spanish, as well as the Catalan and German translations, check the website: https://workshopalacarte.wordpress.com/