William Thomson is an ethnographer and theorist of design working at the intersections of architecture and anthropology. He holds a PhD in socio-cultural anthropology from New York University (2015). He is currently a Lecturer in the Architecture Department at Taubman and a Research Fellow in Chinese Studies. Since coming to the University of Michigan in 2016, he has taught courses in architecture history, led the Anthropology Department’s Honors Research and Writing Workshop, and has introduced a series of interdisciplinary seminars at Taubman that include Design & Power; Encountering China as Architectural Object, Theory, and Method; and Detroit/China Connections. His research and teaching explore how social and ethnographic methods can contribute to design practice and to expand architecture’s analysis of the built and social worlds. He co-leads the Architectural Collaborative in Chinese Theory, a new initiative to discuss and contribute to the global Mandarin-language production and dissemination of scholarship on architecture.
His current book manuscript project, “China Constructs” investigates relations of design and labor on China’s contemporary building sites, where projects of global capital, labor migration, and architecture converge. The work draws on two years of intensive fieldwork with rural construction workers on sites in the city of Xi’an, in local architecture studios, and through extended visits to workers’ home villages in the Qinling mountains of Shaanxi Province.