Bootcamp #4 - Cross-country, digital, September 2023

During September 2023, the AnthroArt team organised the first ever digital bootcamp with participants from the three partner countries. The cross-country bootcamp had 5 teams of artists and anthropologists working together around a challenge concerning social inclusion. For two weeks, the teams were guided through an intense pressure cooker process that took place online, and on the last day, they pitched their solutions for wicked problems to a panel of the three partners: Antropedia, Ambigrama and Namla. 

On this page, you can learn more about the problems the teams worked on and the solutions they came up with. From a buddy system for mothers of children in schools & kindergartens, to an app that helps elderly people volunteer their time and share their wisdom, to solutions for tackling issues of diversity and inclusion in neighbourhoods and the workplace; every team did amazing work and each presentation at the end was inspiring and insightful. After the bootcamp, artists produced illustrations based on their experience, we interviewed several participants about their experience, and other participants wrote about their time in the bootcamp. Below, you can read, listen and view all these materials.

Scroll down or jump to a topic by clicking the menu below


Smelly Socks Team

Put yourself in someone else’s socks – on how to promote social inclusion in the worlplace via fun and engaging products

Play Video

The Oaks Team

Solutions for non-native speakers in their work environment – a Festival of Languages

Play Video

BML + Team

MotherLink – a ”buddy system” in which migrant and local working mothers (and their kids) are matched and create long lasting relationships based on equal exchanges

Play Video

Team Taste

Unity at the table – Community shared food gatherings to help restaurants integrate local culture so that they become places for community building

Play Video

The Flying Pineapple Team

WOW-lunteering – a volunteering platform for the retired

Play Video


Social inclusion in the relationship between theoretical and practical anthropology – essay by Alexandra Leca

How can we really understand human cultures if we don’t apply academic knowledge to real practice? This idea became clear to me during an anthropological bootcamp with Namla organization. Focusing on social inclusion, the bootcamp stimulated us to go beyond mere theoretical notions and put knowledge into practice in the community context. It was a concrete opportunity to understand how lessons from the classroom can be translated into beneficial actions for the community. This experience not only gave us a practical perspective on anthropological principles, but also highlighted the profound impact of turning knowledge into concrete solutions for community improvement.

Anthropology, at its core, studies how human societies and cultures develop and interact. Although it is deeply rooted in academic research, its true power is seen when it is used in the real world. This article explores how anthropology, particularly when it focuses on social inclusion, can bridge theory and real-world solutions. In short, while we can learn a lot from books and theories, it is the practical application in society, especially in promoting social inclusion, that really makes the difference.

Discussing the role of anthropology in real-world issues such as social inclusion makes me realize how essential the bootcamp is to my professional experience. Attending bootcamp provides more than just theoretical discussions; it places participants in real-life scenarios, allowing them to see first-hand the challenges and complexities of social interactions. Moreover, the bootcamp stimulated me to think critically and apply the knowledge I gained in a practical and effective way. The reality we encounter directly in the field does not always correspond to what we learn from books. This experience gives me the skills and flexibility to evolve as a competent specialist with a deep understanding of the needs of others.

Applied anthropology refers to the use of anthropological theories, methods and data to address practical problems in a variety of fields such as health care, education, environmental management, social services and international development. Applied anthropologists often work in interdisciplinary teams to conduct research, design interventions and evaluate programmes. They also work with community members and stakeholders to ensure that their work responds to local needs and perspectives. Therefore, for 2 weeks we put ourselves in the shoes of applied anthropologists and tried to research, analyse and come up with solutions to a problem we identified in an international context.

Being participants from Portugal, the Netherlands and Romania, in the first discussion sessions, we got to know each other, gave each other information about our professional and academic backgrounds and then chose a topic of common interest. The topic was shaped by the statement made by one participant: “Looking at regional migration patterns shows us how certain foods have shaped history”. We chose food and the relationships that are built around it as the main theme.

All relationships involve some form of work. From relationships with family, loved ones and even pets, they require love, care and communication. This can also be applied to people’s relationship with food. Food not only nourishes our bodies, but is embedded in the habits we have developed throughout our lives. Several factors can influence our food decisions and feelings about food. These may include, but are not limited to: cultural practices, social issues, family and individual influences, socio-economic status and psychological factors. Based on these factors, we set out to find out how immigrants adapt to local food and also how they impact local food. How interactions with the food environment take place is not well understood, in particular the interactions between immigrants, the host country food environment and their potential impact on food purchasing. An important step in characterising these interactions is to synthesise what is known about immigrants and their food environment.

Although our enthusiasm had grown, we realised that time was limited for such research and that it would be difficult to get in touch with respondents. Having a guide for next steps changed our strategy and we looked for an issue in the local community that was common to the team members, and that would fit into the time frame of the research.

The applied anthropologist tries to solve practical human problems through anthropological methods and techniques. They seek to raise technical skills and standards of living. For example, they first visit a place, then see the health, education or environmental problems of the people there and try to help them by providing the necessary solutions. They offer any suggestions that may be helpful in solving these problems. Applied anthropology is largely concerned with planned cultural change. The major concern in the work of applied anthropologists is whether the change is beneficial to the target group.

With this information from the training sessions and from our intercultural exchange of experiences, we asked ourselves the question: how can restaurants accommodate people with locomotor disabilities? The next step was to come up with a context and the problem identified: accessibility for people with locomotor disabilities in restaurants.

Dining out is an important part of our culture. There’s a reason people love it so much – it’s the best way to socialise with loved ones, connect with the community and, of course, eat a delicious meal. Unfortunately, people with disabilities tend to face many obstacles when trying to eat out. Reading menus, navigating the restaurant and drinking from a cup may seem like second nature to many people, but can actually hinder the experience for people with mobility disabilities. Lack of accessibility in restaurants can lead to frustration, sensory overload and physical barriers.

Our field research into the challenges faced by people with mobility disabilities, particularly in terms of their access to restaurants, was revealing. Initial observations and interactions with study participants revealed the difficulties faced by people with disabilities. Two major barriers became apparent: structural barriers, which relate to the physical aspects of a building, interior design and accessibility, and the issue of distance. Many people with mobility disabilities often limit their options to nearby restaurants simply because it is more convenient for their relatives or friends to accompany them.

To collect the data, we chose participatory observation and semi-structured interviews as our research method, specifically we visited the most popular restaurant in the vicinity and spoke to the restaurant manager, if we did not have access to the restaurant owner. This experience highlights the very essence of anthropology in action. Facing these challenges nuanced our study, highlighting the everyday realities faced by people with disabilities and showing how crucial it is to approach these issues from an anthropological perspective. Research that focuses on the real difficulties faced by people with disabilities is exactly the kind of applied experience that builds a bridge between what we study and the reality we aspire to influence.

Access for people with disabilities to restaurant space is about social inclusion, so we expanded our study to include people with pets. From the research, we found that the 4 restaurants targeted did not have tables and chairs adapted for use by people with locomotor disabilities, the space between tables was too narrow for movement, and pets were not welcomed. To address these issues, we did an exercise in imagination and came up with an applied solution to raise awareness of these community inclusion issues: a community dinner.

Communality (the act of eating together) is studied in a number of disciplines and is often considered important for social communion, order, health and well-being, while at the same time tend to be in decline (especially family meals). Eating together is one of the most common practices shared by human beings, both spatially and temporally. In fact, food sharing is described in evolutionary anthropology as a fundamental part of human evolution as a means of mutual cooperation that we share with other primates (Jaeggi et al., 2013). Furthermore, from a bioarchaeological perspective, food sharing and participation in communal meals have been analyzed as acts that link the human being as a biological organism to a social person (Jones et al., 2008). Understood in this way, communal eating is a fundamental part of our social nature.

While theoretical knowledge of community problems gives us a foundation, being directly on the ground and interacting with these difficulties gives us a unique and extremely valuable perspective. The goal was clear: to explore how community culinary experiences can be redefined to be more accessible, inclusive and enjoyable for all.

The research focused on a number of key issues: welcoming pets, offering a varied menu, making the aisles accessible for people with disabilities, and introducing adjustable tables for more flexible seating. Most regular tables did not fully meet these diverse needs. So the team set out to find ways to make these meetings more accessible and welcoming for everyone.

When organised with such attention to detail, community meals have the potential to unite and make everyone feel welcome. By focusing on issues such as pet access, menu diversity and improved accessibility, we set the stage for an environment where everyone can enjoy themselves. Proactive staff engagement and the adaptability of adjustable tables further enhance the experience. This bootcamp and subsequent research highlights the significant impact of practical anthropology. It is a testament to how simple, yet effective solutions can cultivate a community where every individual feels valued and included.

The conclusion of this bootcamp was the realization that in order to bring about meaningful change within our community, it is essential to identify a problem that can be addressed through anthropological research. This approach allows us to explore in depth the needs, values and cultural structure of the community, ensuring that the proposed solutions are not only relevant and sustainable in the long term, but also deeply tailored to its social and cultural specificities. By adopting this perspective, we take on the role of bridging anthropological theory and practical applicability, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life of the community through carefully considered interventions tailored to its unique characteristics.

Furthermore, we have produced a short best practice guide for restaurant owners to build an inclusive space:

“Stairs, narrow hallways and heavy doors can be major problems for people with reduced mobility. Try to make the restaurant building as physically accessible as possible – try to implement wheelchair ramps, handrails and power-assisted doors. You should have at least one wheelchair accessible table on the premises so that all guests can dine in comfort. For more information about the physical accessibility of the building, read our blog.” This is one of the sub-items of the guide we worked on in bootcamp. Most of these best practices were built upon as we delved deeper into the research, so solutions emerge immediately once you identify the problem.

Applied anthropologists are key to connecting anthropological ideas to real-world applications. Using their deep understanding of human societies and cultures, they can effectively address many practical problems faced daily by local communities, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses. Applying anthropology across sectors enables the development of innovative solutions that take into account the complexity and cultural nuances of the issues. The work of applied anthropologists is essential to creating a more inclusive, empathetic and informed world, where the rich perspectives of anthropology foster positive change and build a deeper understanding of the human experience. The Bootcamp was a real success for me, allowing me to better understand how we can use anthropological research and tools in practical matters, giving them added value.

Jaeggi, A. V., & Gurven, M. (2013). Natural cooperators: food sharing in humans and other primates. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 22(4), 186-195.
Jones, M. (2008). Feast: Why humans share food. OUP Oxford.

Interview with Alexandra Leca

A journey towards human-centred desing – animation by Cristina Labo with music by Rui Leitão

Play Video

Cristina Labo (NiZNAiU`)

Cristina is a visual artist living and working in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, mainly focused on using art to enhance communication between people. Practicing art both as performance and as service, most of her activity consists of graphic recording, visual facilitation and illustration, using drawing as a tool to get messages across. With a degree in visual arts and experience as a trainer, she also develops and implementscreative exercises for therapy groups. 

Rui Leitão

Rui was born in 1979. Graduated in Anthropology in 2004, from Fernando Pessoa University, where he defended the monograph “Theatrical Anthropology – An Anthropological Study on the Art of Representation”. He is co-founder and artistic director of Fértil Associação Cultural since 2010, where he currently works. He was the author and director of several Fértil plays. His shows stand out for the relationship between anthropology and the creative process. He is responsible for Fértil’s community projects, not only as an artist, but above all in managing and liaising with communities. He has worked as a researcher at the Centre for Applied Anthropology of Fernando Pessoa University on projects related to ethnography, rural world, and legends.

Illustration by Lucian Barbu

Made after the September AnthroArt Bootcamp, the illustration is meant to depict my team’s journey into fast ethnography. Our focus for the research was exploring the language barriers that migrant working mothers may face when confronted with rigid and inaccessible information in their everyday lives, in their new country of settlement. Throughout our research we’ve uncovered a hidden, deeper problem, the yearning that migrant mothers have to connect with local mothers and form bonds that complement their children’s bonds with friends from school/kindergarten. Many many thanks to my teammates: Beatrice Mosseri and Marta Lemos for their support, and to Rosalie and Corina for their guidance.

Lucian Barbu

Lucian Barbu explores artistic themes related to dreaming, our collective childhood, coming of age and processing trauma through visual storytelling in the form of comics and drawings. He collaborated with several romanian magazines, such as Gen, revistă, POC! and Decât o Revistă. Aside from his editorial work, he is focusing on creating artworks and independent publications that surpass formal conventions. He is part of the ArtiViStory Collective and is currently an artist in residence at Balamuc’s Make a Wish Residency, as part of the Art Encounters Bienalle in Timișoara.

Interview with Lucian Barbu

Illustrations by Kseniia Gorshkova

By People with People for People – Team Work on Inclusion – essay by Elena Lefter

After 2 weeks of `fast cooking` in a virtual laboratory of digital AnthroArt bootcamp, I questioned myself about what happened during this experience, how I was at the beginning, what happened there and how was I at the end?

I started the journey with hope and the personal objectives to enjoy this experience, working in an international team, with anthropologists and aspiring anthropologists like me. I wanted to see how it goes. After 2 years of reading theories in anthropology and only some limited fieldwork, I felt I was more and more apart from the street’s reality and somehow, I thought, maybe, applied anthropology will remake this connection.

The beginning of the bootcamp was full of emotions, we had the freedom to choose our team’s name. I ended up in a team of four anthropologists, two from Romania, one from Portugal and one from Holland, based in Tanzania. We had just met and knew nothing about each other. We spoke 3 different languages and we tried to communicate in English. We had different backgrounds, different current jobs, and work availabilities. However we were lucky, all four stayed until the end of the event.

First thing we had to do as a team was to choose a research question on the Social Inclusion theme. Under time pressure we started to share our thoughts and from the multitude of words we choose we chose the one that best suited us. The question checked some criteria: it had to be relevant for all of us and  we had to be able to do fieldwork related to it. Considering that we all had international experiences coming from different countries, we choose Linguistic diversity. Our  research question was: How does HR make sure they can value future employees for their qualities and look beyond the (native) language skills? The question was changed a few times during the workshop until it ended up in this shape.

One part of the team works or worked previously in the HR field or had connections with HR, the other part adapted to the fieldwork. We conducted interviews with people who were Candidates in the past for a job in an international team, Recruiters part of the same experience, and Hiring Managers. The interviews took place in Romania, Portugal, and Tanzania. Unfortunately, the short time for fieldwork made this phase very challenging. However, we managed to have eight  interviews. Somehow the time pressure kept us focused and reminded us of what we need to achieve at the end of each stage.

The data analysis was again done under a lot of pressure, as the results of the interviews were not quite what we expected in the beginning. Considering the premise that there is an acceptance issue and bias related to people with a non-native English language accent, we found out that this aspect can have many consequences. From then on, identifying the problem was very difficult and even now when I write this, I’m tempted to go back and have further considerations and reflections on the subject. We tried as much as possible to identify a real problem and avoided to fall under the trap of misconception. The recurring questions like How might we…? even if they were far away from the problem and even from the solution, they were the starting point of narrowing the scope of the work.

The Design Day was a time to generate ideas without labelling them. In the first part we brainstormed leaving room for questions such as: How might we…? breaking the big research question into small questions. Then we organized them based on the impact and level of difficulty criteria. All these steps continued to narrow the scope of the research leading us to questions that were more concrete and with potential to make an impact. We also investigated what would happen if we would not intervene, what would the consequences be. Question-answer and back to the previous phase for changes, this cycle repeated few times. At the end of the design phase, we concluded with the question How might we create a workspace culture where diversity in language capabilities are appreciated? and as solution we proposed a Languages Festival Celebrating the Diversity. 

For the prototype testing we went back to our previous interviewers with the proposed solution including also details of the festival, the target group, and our desired impact. We also extended the testing including people in decision making positions in the corporate environment who can influence such a decision of implementing the solution. We incorporated their feedback and prepared the materials for the next phase.

After preparing the presentation we rehearsed it, incorporated the feedback and then the pitch concluded the bootcamp experience.

The applied anthropology methodology phases are all important and so is their succession and the coordination of the team. For me the most important part was to identify the real problem and understanding that it is worth going back to this point as much as needed. Otherwise, the design can become a fantasmagoria.

I had previous experience with the rigours of the research, but to be under this kind of time pressure was completely new for me: to understand, to have new ideas, to create space for others to express their views and at the time not to forget the research question in a such a short period of time – this was a new challenge.

Sometimes I felt I have lost the meaning of the discussions, my colleagues also looked confused. Few times we lost the main road and the main topic, but we recovered or somebody was there to help us. At the end of the day, we had some results which looked like intermediate work. The constant pressure was the engine, and the work collaboration was the catalyst. Sometimes I wondered Do I know what am I doing? Somehow due to the force of the team we kept ourselves standing, like a sports team, when one is hurt or takes a break to drink water, the ball keeps running and always there is someone there to take it and move it further.

The 2 weeks experience of the bootcamp is unique. The process itself, behind the result of the research and collaboration is precious for me: from the vulnerability of the beginning, the attempt of understanding the methodology in short time, the confusion of the field work, the darkness of the design when we had to create something in a short time, the testing of the solution and preparations for the pitch. I cannot say that I know how to run an applied anthropology project by myself tomorrow, but what I know for sure that it is the power of teamwork and collaboration among people which was – and remains – a real force.

Interview with Marloes Hamelink

Comic strip by Maria Simina Dimancea

Retired people often feel like they are no longer part of society. Being useful and contributing to society is linked wit ones self worth. Loneliness soon follows. A solution might be a volunteering program that makes old people use their skills, stay active and connected to society.
Maria Simina Dimancea

Maria Simina Dimancea works as a freelancer, collaborating with editors and film directors to bring artistic visions to life, whether it involves an illustration for a magazine or the visual development of an animated film. Her personal approach and artistic sensitivity are reflected in her ability to translate light and the drama of shadows into everyday subjects. She graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the National University of Fine Arts in Bucharest, majoring in graphic arts, and later pursued a master’s degree in Animated Film Direction at UNATC. Currently, she collaborates with various publications, both Romanian and international.

Visual Explainer of the bootcamp process by Cristina Labo

Anthropology from theory to practice. From social inclusion to anything – essay by Otilia Man

How was the bootcamp?

I have participated with curiosity in the AnthroArt digital bootcamp for two weeks. It was an intensive experience in which we learned how to apply elements of anthropology in practice. Based on theoretical elements and examples from past projects, we worked in five teams on topics related to social inclusion. We used anthropology and design thinking, first to gain understanding of the chosen topic and then to find a solution to the identified problem.

I was part of a team alongside colleagues living in Portugal, Romania and Tanzania. Our initial task was selecting the topic for our mini-research, one that resonated with all team members and related to social inclusion. Inspired by the international context of the interaction and our professional background, we chose the theme of accent when you speak foreign languages or even when you use your native language, but in another country, within work context.

During the two weeks, always keeping in mind the need for pragmatism, we discussed the topic, researched it, developed a solution, which we then presented to our bootcamp colleagues and the AnthroArt team. In real life, things usually happen at a different pace, although often those who need answers and solutions to a problem want fast results.

How is real life?

Even if elements of anthropology, as well as those of design thinking, have been applied in business for some time, there are also areas where they have not yet penetrated. In order to increase the usage of applied anthropology, I think one needs to talk in simple terms about anthropology, about how it can be used. Often, it matters more what you do with an idea, than having it. It matters how you communicate your idea, how you sell it, how you persuade your colleagues, partners, customers to use is, how you convince them that ideas and knowledge can be transformed in a successful approach that gives results.

The access to information within companies has become increasingly easier in recent years, aided by technology, shifting attitudes, growing awareness of various types of research. Information comes from many sources, from various functions inside a company. Sometimes, managing the large volume of data, interpreting it, and establishing connections can pose a significant challenge. In this context, promoting and using a method that needs time for results may be even more difficult.

In the end, understanding customers, consumers, beneficiaries, partners etc. is an ongoing process that never truly ends. It demands sustained effort, information discipline, and a genuine commitment to building knowledge about those you work for, work with, about <the other>. This knowledge about others – needs, motivations, desires, way of life – should be a concern for any company, NGO, or public institution. With this knowledge as foundation, organizations can develop solutions, services, and products that make people’s lives better and also better fulfil the mission of that organization.

Where does the solution come from?

I have come across various perspectives on this question. Some companies expect the solution directly from those who have the problem or need. Others look to the researcher for the solution. Collaborative methods for finding solutions, such as design thinking, when the researchers work together with the organizations and sometimes even with the beneficiaries, have proven to be more effective compared to individual or mono-team efforts.

What are we doing with social inclusion?

I previously mentioned that the theme of the bootcamp was social inclusion. The forms of social inclusion and exclusion are diverse, more or less visible – fundamental rights of citizens, work, participation in social life, involvement in civil society. These forms of inclusion and exclusion impact various categories of people.

It is easy for us to notice a person in a wheelchair, and instinctively, several situations of exclusion come to mind. However, how can a company or an institution improve their lives? The answer lies in understanding the life of people in such situations, how they live their lives, how they negotiate various situations. Applied anthropology can contribute to this. By observing real-life situations, one can uncover how the access ramp of a medical rehabilitation clinic is too steep for easy and independent access, or sidewalks made of tiles shake the body of the person in the wheelchair in an unpleasant and unhealthy way.

When the cause for a potential exclusion is not immediately noticeable from the first interaction, it can be more difficult to understand the broad spectrum of social exclusion situations. Usually, food brings people together, but it can also be a source of exclusion. Dietary restrictions, allergies, food intolerances often result in various forms of exclusion, visible or invisible.

Though the state mandates educational institutions to cater to the dietary needs of children with special requirements, the reality does not always align. The reasons can be varied, such as structural issues, insufficient number of employees to prepare the food, inadequate space, or lack of funding. Lack of inclusion can be observed in simple activities, such as a school trip, where the children participate in a pizza-making workshop, and the one with special dietary needs to wait outside until the activity is finished. In professional settings, individuals with food restrictions face choices that involve either publicly declaring their restrictions and potentially encountering explicit or unspoken judgments from colleagues or choosing not to disclose their situation, thereby exposing themselves to risks

What is the solution for such situations? Whose problem is it? Whose responsibility is it? Who should address it, and how?

These questions are relevant for NGOs, public institutions, and private companies, each of which, in its respective domain, can contribute to understanding the problem and finding solutions. And using an anthropological approach proves very valuable in ensuring that the voices of those in social exclusion situations are heard.

What’s next?

Beyond social inclusion and exclusion, any theme can be deeply understood using an anthropological approach. Through observations, interactions, and analysis of diverse sources of information, we can deconstruct, contextualize, and compare data to gain a deeper understanding of others’ perspectives. In theory, such an approach sounds promising, and the experience of the bootcamp shows that it is also achievable in practice. Inspired and more confident after the bootcamp, I am seeking suitable situations in which to practice applied anthropology.

Interview with Sander Bauer

Illustration by Yolanda van Ede

Sharing food is the ultimate token of social inclusion. It signals trust, respect, and generosity

Yolanda van Ede

Yolanda (Yo) van Ede is an anthropologist and visual artist with a passion for ecological materials and slow art methods. Anticipating long-term consequences of the rising sea level, her sculptures, paintings, and installations serve as an invitation to imagine the idea of a retrovolution – that is, a human evolution back to an aquatic life. After years as a dancer and actress, she started studying anthropology and received her PhD at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her dissertation, titled ‘House of Birds: an ethnohistory of a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Nepal’, was based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork. She became assistant professor in anthropology at her alma mater, specialized in qualitative research methods and ethnography, as well as creative writing. Reaching back to her past as a dancer, she conducted ethnographic, sensorial research particularly on flamenco dancing in Tokyo, Japan, and ballroom dancing in Manilla, the Philippines. While remaining a passionate lecturer at the UvA, she attended night school at the Gerrit Rietveld academy, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and recently graduated in visual arts. A forthcoming chapter titled ‘Dancing Clay: on kinaesthetic experience and tactile materialisation’ in an anthology on dance and visual arts brings art and anthropology together. However, she longs for the beach and her seafigurines.

My bootcamp experience – essay by Ana-Maria Despoiu

I was in a restaurant, in a beautiful and quiet garden, in Bucharest, waiting for my tomato soup. I felt out of place, dining alone, but I was enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. I was scanning my surroundings, watching closely the people around me, listening to the sounds, the murmur of the conversations. Near my table, a big group of people was seated. There was a sense of uneasiness in the air, they were unusually quiet and a bit awkward – it seemed that a meeting was just starting. Two older women joyfully walked in and sat at a smaller table further away, joining someone who was waiting for them. One of them had a walking cane, that she leaned against the neighboring tree before sitting down. A younger couple walked in with a small dog on a leash, and sat at one of the many free tables available.

I was there looking to spot a problem – an outsider looking for a fault. I was second-guessing myself this whole time, jumping from question to question, taking notes and photos. Together with my team, we approached the discussion of whether the restaurants were appropriately designed to accommodate the various social groups living in a neighborhood.

I met my team online – this was how we were going to interact for the duration of the bootcamp. It all started from a discussion around a social inclusion issue to address, from which the following steps ensued: formulating a research question, doing fieldwork, analysis of produced data, designing the solution, testing, and pitching. The fieldwork proved to be tricky for various reasons, one of them being the fact that our team was scattered across three different countries (Romania, Portugal, and the Netherlands), each with its own socio-cultural markers.

While we were excited about the idea, the practicalities were of course much more complicated. My team debated on whether restaurants could play a role in community-building and in bringing people from the same neighborhood together, regardless of age, gender, beliefs, ethnicity, and ability. The aim was to combat social exclusion on the basis of one or more of the previous factors. However, through the process and following the feedback we received, many questions remained unanswered: What was exactly the problem we were trying to solve? How can we frame it as precisely as possible? How can a solution addressing this be implemented successfully? Whose issue or problem will it solve? Who will it actually benefit and how? and many others.

The pressure of time caused many doubts to surface. I was afraid of not being able to get to the heart of the problem we were working on. I would often feel the need to do more fieldwork or produce data, to browse and collect as many articles and books on a research topic, to understand and get to an ideal comprehensive overview of an issue. I felt like changing the research topic numerous times, with the hope that it would be better or bring more clarity. Looking back now, I don’t think it would have changed much, especially when faced with a close, hard deadline.

Eventually, there was no other choice than to fight through the uncomfortable feeling that I was doing something wrong or not enough. I am sure this feeling will still accompany me in the future, but following the bootcamp, my perspective has shifted. I was often told to be precise and clear about what the actual problem is and who is at a disadvantage because of it. It is not about being less ambitious or dismissing other groups or layers, but about building a clear and steady foundation for the solution ideation process. I have come to appreciate the value of an anthropological approach when faced with challenges, such as feeling stuck in the process of developing a solution.

During the last couple of years, I became increasingly drawn to applied anthropology, as I started paying more attention to how research insights are being used and what is their impact. I wanted the outcomes to lead to positive change, to give something back to the communities or groups that were generously sharing parts of their lives with us. “What happens next?” was a question that I was often thinking about. This is how I stepped into this challenge.

At first, aiming to address social issues using applied anthropology seemed intimidating to me. It felt like it is not enough to focus on a particular manifestation of a social issue when there are so many, larger or systemic, interconnected, dependent on factors that seem out of our control. Now I understand that issues are not so overwhelming when you start smaller, or when you are flexible to redirect and reformulate questions and simplify. Moving on to implementing some ideas and seeing where that takes me might be more of a learning experience than trying to figure it out from a distance. Finally, the repetition of this process will bring me closer to what I’m aiming for.

In addition, I got to thinking that we could be more realistic in the work we are doing to target social issues and not be afraid to acknowledge that our efforts might actually benefit only a very small number of people in the beginning. The impact of development and social innovation projects is often ambitious in the planning phase, but in reality, is often difficult to ascertain. I feel that it is easy to get tangled in abstract notions, ideals, what we would like to achieve or what others expect from us, our responsibilities, our struggles, and so much more. Going back to fieldwork and reconnecting to our goals and the core problem can bring clarity, open new pathways, and be humbling, bridging the gap that sometimes forms when we assume a position of power in providing support to a group.

Our personal projections and emotions fuel and push forward a process of discovery and innovation, but they might also get the best of us as well. I personally went through a rollercoaster of emotions in the short time we were working on our project and pitch, from a perspective of feeling insecure to proud, from confused to inspired, from overwhelmed to optimistic. I learned that it is useful to acknowledge that we have our own filters through which we process our experiences. It takes time and experience to keep a balance, but we can learn to listen to ourselves in such processes and see where our intuition takes us.

I think anthropology invites us to adopt a perspective that weaves our humanity, with both our imperfections and strengths, into our observations and actions. This is something that should be celebrated and that is necessary in any kind of work, whether it confronts social issues directly or shapes the small facets of our daily lives.

Mural painting by Andreea Moise at the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, University of Bucharest

Play Video

This painting was inspired by the AnthroArt digital cross-country bootcamp. The mural was the initiative of Antropedia in partnership with the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, University of Bucharest. We were lucky to collaborate with artist Andreea Moise, we love the concept that she created and we thank her for all her hard work! Here you can see 5 days of work compressed in under 3 minutes.

Andreea Moise

Andreea Moise is an illustrator and graphic designer, but she believes that “visual explorer” describes her better. She keeps her eyes wide open, collects fragments of reality and her inner world, distills them and transforms them into something new. Her work is primarily conceptual, but she also experiments with textures, colors and composition. Common themes in her illustrations include the unconscious, identity, and self-discovery. You can view her work on Instagram and at

Scroll to Top