The best collection of global expertise in ethnography in business, including papers, PechaKucha, keynotes, tutorials and video.

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Performing Magical Capitalism

Moeran Magic

by Brian Moeran (University of Hong Kong) and Timothy de Waal Malefyt (Fordham University) Systems of Magic at Work Today Central Bank capitalism, Islamic finance, World Economic Forum meetings, contracts, profit ⎼ these are not the themes that generally come to mind when we think about magic. In industrialized societies we tend to believe that we’ve “outgrown” it; in 1929 anthropologist E.B. Tyler called magic “one of the most pernicious delusions that ever vexed mankind” (11). In fact, it is alive and well in contemporary societies. Magic is at work in all sorts of modern practices from central banking to…

Pathmaking, Bushwhacking—Wisdom from EPIC2016

state fair

In the weeks following EPIC2016 our community has been reflecting on the inspiring presentations we heard, building on the new connections we made, and incorporating the exciting ideas and techniques we learned about into our work. (Some of us are also working off the fried-everything-on-a-stick Minnesota State Fair extravaganza.) If you participated, but especially if you didn’t, don’t miss these round-ups: 1. Reve Consulting offers Seven Takeaways from EPIC2016, from moving quickly while providing value, to using our everyday work as a vehicle for social change. We agree with Reve that the EPIC2016 prize for “what you didn’t know you needed to know” goes to Adina Daar: “Knowing about…

Our Collective Project of Change

EPIC2016 stage2

EPIC2016 at the University of Minnesota was wonderful for all sorts of reasons—in particular, the hard work of our fabulous organizing team and the fact that our community is more diverse than ever. EPIC People are practitioners in technology, consumer product, work process and healthcare, working in industry as well as consulting. With backgrounds ranging from the social sciences and design to computer science, business and everything in between, you come to EPIC with tremendous interest to network and expand your awareness, skills and capabilities. Today there are more options than ever for ethnographic work across industries and yet change remains…

“In the Age of Data, Businesses Can’t Forget about Observation”


Last week at EPIC2016, award-winning business journalist Lee Schafer of the Star-Tribune joined EPIC Members and distinguished guest panelists in pre-conference sessions to tackle core strategic issues in our field: How do we convince corporate executives that ethnographic insight is valuable to business strategy? How do we do rigorous work in an environment that constantly demands “better-cheaper-now”? One challenge, Schafer observes, is that ethnographers do “the kind of in-depth research that doesn’t easily lead to a full database of numbers or series of elegant charts. The boss knows what ‘market research’ is, yet that doesn’t quite describe what they do, either.” Panelists and EPIC Members shared tactics—from storytelling and video, to facilitating immersive…

Riding with Heidegger: A New Perspective on the Premium Vehicle

ahnert square

by Benjamin Ahnert, ReD Associates The car has been the subject of social scientific research for decades. Scholars have described the empowerment people feel through the physical sensations of speed and acceleration. The ability of the premium vehicle to express status has been a staple of literature on signaling and social stratification. These days, even in emerging markets, premium vehicles are no longer scarce. In 2013 the German and British premium brands already operated 1,085 dealerships in China; by 2020 an estimated 300 million Chinese will be able to afford premium vehicles. Meanwhile, congestion is increasingly severe. Between 2005 and…