Sensemaking in Organizations: Reflections on Karl Weick and Social Theory

by Laura A. McNamara, Sandia National Laboratories Sensemaking is a term that gets thrown around a lot without much consideration about where the concept came from or what it really means. If sensemaking theory is democratizing, that’s good thing. Most anthropologists recognize that ethnography is a joint co-creation with our interlocutors. Our accounts, as well as the theory, framework and methods underlying those accounts, should be accessible to the people who help us create them. Sociologists recognize this principle, too: in his gorgeous essay Social Things (which you should read if you haven’t already), Charles Lemert reminds us that social…

Ethnographers, Bearers of Bad News

by Sam Ladner, Microsoft Ask any applied ethnographer what is the hardest thing about their work. Go ahead, just ask one. More than likely, she will exhale slowly, slump back in her chair, fix you with a steely stare and say, “I spend so little time on actual research.” Her gaze may drift away at this moment. She might look at her hands and say, “I’m not even sure if I actually do research at all.” She’s not even talking to you anymore, but to some earlier version of herself. “I’m not sure when it happened,” she might say, looking…

Beyond the Toolbox: What Ethnographic Thinking Can Offer in a Shifting Marketplace

by Jay Hasbrouck, Hasbrouck Research Group Lufthansa flight 490, Seattle to Frankfurt Dinner just served, everyone was settling in, each in various stages of preparing their coping mechanisms for the painfully long flight. Laptops, eye masks, charge cords, earphones, earplugs, slippers, hand cream…they were very busy. The woman next to me popped a sleeping pill and was situating her blankets. I began my own ritual of scanning the entertainment channels to plan my movie lineup. As I was flipping through documentaries, I unexpectedly ran across an educational featurette titled “Design Thinking in 30 Minutes.” Yes, 30 minutes! The more I…

EPIC is Our Community

Maria Bezaitis, EPIC Board President I entered the field of applied ethnography in the mid-90s. For me the point was never about practicing my academic training, or having a career that academia couldn’t provide. The point was always about who I got to work with and the dynamism we experienced doing the work because we were inventing it together. For better and for worse perhaps, that spirit has stayed with me, motivating my career choices after E-Lab and anchoring my work at Intel. One of the most important lessons I learned at E-Lab, which flew in the face of my…

Yes, Virginia, We “Do Ethnography” in Business Schools

by Gary F. Gebhardt, HEC Montréal One of the most common questions I get at EPIC is, “You do ethnography in business schools?” So ken anderson invited me to write a response to this recurring question. I’ll break the response into three topic areas: (1) the use of ethnography and its status vis-à-vis research on management; (2) where, why, and how we teach ethnography in the classroom; and (3) some of the challenges and opportunities of ethnography in management research and business school education. Ethnography and Research on Management First let’s consider some history. Oxford University was founded in 1096.…