Mahmoud Keshavarz

Short presentation

I work at the intersection of anthropology, design studies and border studies. My research addresses the role of materiality, technology, and designing in mobility, migration, and bordering with a particular focus on the question of race, colonialism, and coloniality.

I have published widely on materialities of border and nation-state, people smuggling and passport forgery, coloniality of border technologies, politics of participatory and humanitarian design, and decolonial knowledge generation.


  • anthropological theory
  • borders
  • colonialism
  • critical border studies
  • decoloniality
  • design anthropology
  • design studies
  • materiality
  • migration
  • mobility
  • multimodal ethnography
  • science and technology studies
  • visual culture


I am Associate Professor (Docent) in Cultural Anthropology (2020, Uppsala University) and hold a PhD in Interaction Design (2016, Malmö University) with a thesis specialization in design studies and ethnography which won the award for best dissertation at Malmö University for the academic year of 2016–2017.

Between 2011 and 2023, I held teaching and research positions at Malmö University, Linnaeus University, Uppsala University, Stockholm University and University of Gothenburg both in design studies and anthropology. In 2014, I was a visiting scholar at The New School University in New York. Between 2017 and 2020 I was a postdoctoral researcher at the Engaging Vulnerability research program at Uppsala University.

From 2019 until 2023, I was co-editor-in-chief of the internationally peer-reviewed journal Design and Culture. I was a member of Artistic Research Review Panel at the Swedish Research Council (VR) between 2022-2023. I am also co-founder of Decolonizing Design collective and Critical Border Studies network.


Border Situations: Essays on Designing, Politics, Anthropologies
Currently I am working on my second monograph. A series of structured, short, and polemical essays thinking across the anthropologies and politics of borders, this book discusses border materialities as designed situations and situations of designing to imagine possibilities of a world without borders.

The Missing Traveller: Absent Presences at the Border (2025-2029)
My current research project focuses on those who go missing in their attempt to enter Europe by transgressing European borders. Based on the fieldwork among relatives, activists, forensic experts and humanitarian organizations, this project examines how the presence of these missing persons are constructed by different actors and practices. In doing so, it explores the social, technological, material, visual, and political practices that shape particular kinds of presence of individuals in the social world due to their absence caused by borders.

Placed: The Colonial Imaginaries of Humanitarian Good(s) (2020-2023, Financed by Formas)
In this project I examined the material politics and imaginaries of humanitarian design in relation to borders and othering of refugees. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among a group of designers based in Sweden, I looked at how different design and technological interventions and solutions emerge from certain imaginaries and give shape to new imaginations about the future of what it means to be human.

Smuggling as a Material Critique of Borders (2017-2020)
My second research project and during my postdoc fellowship was an ethnographic inquiry into smugglers’ knowledge of borders as a form of what I call a material critique of borders. I focused on specific material and technical forms of knowledge that emerge in the space of (in)formality around borders.

Design-Politics (2011-2016)
My doctoral dissertation, Design-Politics: An Inquiry into Passports, Camps, and Borders (2016), based on ethnographic fieldwork among undocumented migrants and migrant smugglers in Europe and drawing on theories from critical border studies and design studies, shows how the politics of movement in general, and migration politics in particular, is articulated, performed, communicated, and contested through specific, historical material and design practices.


Selection of publications

Recent publications

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Mahmoud Keshavarz