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

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Sustainability and Ethnography in Business: Identifying Opportunity in Troubled Times


by Mike Youngblood, The Youngblood Group Sustainability—we’re hearing this word a lot these days, even in business (if not, depressingly, in Trump Tower). It’s probably something readers of this post all generally support, and it’s definitely something we’re all connected to in one way or another. Whether we work in tech, consumer goods, education, government, or any other field, it’s pretty easy to see how the products, services, and organizations we serve affect larger social and environmental issues. For most of us in the EPIC community, however, sustainability isn’t in our job descriptions. So how should we understand and act…

“It’s just watching. But it’s billable”: The Challenges and Possibilities of Design Ethnography in Practice


by AnneMarie Dorland, University of Calgary Design ethnography—the term rings with power and potential. Now widely promoted on design studio and agency websites as a core capability, it suggests the melding of design-thinking and interpretive analytical approaches to understanding how people create and make sense of their worlds. But behind the pitch, what are designers doing when they do ethnography? How do they understand the research work they do, their field, their data? When I ask designers about how they conduct ethnography, I hear things like, “It’s just watching them, but it’s billable.” Or, “Oh the Jane Goodall thing! We…

Commit to Critical Understanding

The US election has come and gone and now the world watches as a new configuration of power assembles itself. To us, this transition feels upsetting for many reasons, but first and foremost because so many of the values and behaviors demonstrated by the President-elect and the individuals he surrounds himself with are not values that align with humanity and its diversity. They are not values that correlate in any way with the experience and expertise that would entitle a President-elect and his appointments to speak for others. What is our role, as ethnographers, in this shifting reality? What is our…

Making Change within Complex Systems: Alexandra Mack, a Profile


EPIC Profiles Series by Elizabeth Kaziunas, University of Michigan What do historical landscapes or tacit knowledge have to do with reimagining the future of shipping or location intelligence services? In linking everyday practices with wider forces of complex organizational systems, Alex Mack argues that thinking anthropologically about infrastructure—as both a technical system and a relational process—can help reveal new directions for design interventions. A Senior Fellow at Pitney Bowes and a member of the EPIC Board, Alex’s work has had significant impact in her organization and far beyond. Alex recently sat down for an interview to share insights from her…

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…