Arlene Oak

Associate Professor of Material Culture & Design Studies, Human Ecology, University of Alberta

Arlene Oak’s interests are focused on the connections between the material and social worlds. She examines how the buildings, products, clothing, etc. that make up our material environments are produced, mediated, and consumed through social interaction. Using methods associated with ethnography and conversation analysis, her studies include investigations of how urban planners justify their decisions, how product designers work in cross-cultural settings, and, how architects use drawings and models as tools of persuasion. Her contexts for data collection have ranged across reality-TV shows and popular films, to classrooms, design studios, business meetings, and construction sites. As a Co-Investigator on the SSHRC Research-Creation Partnership Grant project “Thinking While Doing: Exploring Insight and Innovation in the Construction Sector”, Oak led a team of social scientists and humanities scholars on a longitudinal study of design-build architecture education in Canada and the USA. Her scholarship can be found in the journal Design Studies, Design & Culture, Discourse and Society, Journal of Design History, Co-Design, and the International Journal of Art & Design Education. Current projects include work on the complex collaborations that underpin sustainable social housing in Edmonton.