A Graduate Student’s Perspective

Published on: June 12th, 2012

Here we introduce Barbara Adams. She is a PhD candidate in sociology at the New School for Social Research and has been teaching at Parsons and the New School for the past four years. Below are her responses to our questions.




What kind of projects have you worked on that combined your discipline with design studies?

In his discussion of the sociological imagination, C. Wright Mills argues that the intellectual craftsperson’s foremost task is “to make clear elements of contemporary uneasiness and indifference.” He underscores the importance of political and intellectual critique that diagnoses social and cultural problems while articulating alternate pictures and other possibilities. Although Mills is thinking about the work of the sociologist, I would argue that designers also possess the sociological imagination.

Much of my work has been located in the area of urban studies with a particular interest in urban experience. A few years ago, I developed and taught a course at the New School/Parsons (The City through the Body) that explored sensuous encounters with the city and I have coordinated events that explore the corporeal poetics and politics of being in the city. I’ve collaborated on research with squatter communities in Amsterdam with an interest in how the spaces they create reflect and enable political, social and cultural processes. Also in Amsterdam I studied how adolescent girls use and give meaning to urban space. I’m now working on my dissertation in the sociology department at the New School for Social Research. My project focuses on work that engages social critique and research while also being concerned with the aesthetic, the experiential, and the poetic. I’m thinking about what it would mean for sociologists to, at times, be more engaged with social aesthetics than social science. This might expand our methodological repertoire in ways that could facilitate the sharing of knowledge (with other disciplines and with the public) while considering new ways to present and engage social critique.


Which of the courses you teach might be of interest to students in the design studies program?

In the fall semester I will be teaching the graduate recitation for Global Issues in Design and Visuality in the 21st Century. In the spring I will teach the course From People and Design, to People as Design. The course begins with a theoretical examination of the dialectics between people and the designed world. Using case studies, we will look at how people design the world and how that world, in turn, designs our experiences, behaviors, social relations, and values. The course then asks what might be learned if we think not only about the relationship between people and design, but also about people as design. How might we understand social actions and assemblages as design? As people negotiate the complexities of contemporary economic, political and cultural configurations, they perform subjectivities in a variety of ways. How might these performances be understood as design? How can we think about people as design in a way that, rather than objectifying, promotes agency? Course material will be drawn from a variety of fields. Together, the class will develop a body of final work that can be presented at an event, exhibition, conference or other public format of their choosing.


As a New School graduate student yourself, what advice do you have for incoming students about navigating the University? About life in New York City?

Go to talks, conferences, openings and other events. This will help in developing ideas and placing these ideas in conversation with the ongoing dialogue in various disciplines. Meet with professors whose work interests you. Get to know your cohorts—read each other’s work, talk about coursework, and go out for drinks once in a while (even if you don’t think you have time). Use your time on the train to read. Get a bicycle and join the American Association of Museums for free admissions to museums.

Program Contact

Caroline Dionne, Program Director

Program Update

Parsons is not currently admitting new students to this master’s degree program. Parsons is now offering a Graduate Minor in Design Studies that is designed to complement the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies and other graduate programs across the university in design, liberal arts, and social research.