SUZANNE THOMAS

Contributed Articles

From Field to Office: The Politics of Corporate Ethnography

SUZANNE L. THOMAS and XUEMING LANG Critical corporate ethnography does not stop at the field or our reports but extends into our day-to-day work in the office. Using the example of internal research conducted for next generation internet Café (iCafe) product development in the PRC, we will argue that corporate ethnographers must go beyond self-reflexive fieldwork to tackle the organizational and cultural politics of our domain expertise. In this latter context, we become conflated with “the field” and, indeed, our corporate value is equated with the veracity of our field representations. The situation becomes eminently more complex in MNCs where in-depth ethnographic research is analyzed and acted on in multi-national teams and where internal cultural differences and professional disagreements parade as divergent corporate interests....

Skillful Strategy, Artful Navigation & Necessary Wrangling

SUZANNE L. THOMAS and TONY SALVADOR This paper addresses three main issues: the fixation on the individual in corporate research, the emic need to privilege and represent relationships driving the political and cultural economic lived experience and the pressing need to find useful, effective ways engage corporate structures that otherwise are impervious to “views of the collective”. That is, we argue for a reframing of ethnographic work in industry (in some instances) from that of the individual to that of sufficiently contextually complete relationships people have with other people and institutions, especially when working with “emerging markets.” We rely on data and sources from comparative ethnographic work over time in several countries to identify what we need to study and to suggest new, more powerful directions for our research. We also suggest implications for how to navigate within corporate structures in order to liberate ourselves and our work....

The Martial Ethnographic Arts

SUZANNE L. THOMAS There is longevity to the ethnographic arts: a report referred back to over years, an image that captures a resiliently fresh insight. In crude words, ethnographic analysis has a longer shelf life than traditional market research. The latter requires tending to keep its categories replete with a fresh cast of characters. The former is distinguished by a methodological practice that keeps it fresh and truthful without the necessity of being, for the moment, a truth. There is a mastery of the ethnographic arts. For twenty years, I have practiced as an academic ethnographer, private sector consultant and now corporate practitioner. I now hire ethnographers. (I have become an armchair anthropologist.) To do so, I must discern what makes some ethnographic practitioners better than others. I compare along three practices: documentary finesse, journeying and discipline (the latter more yogic than Foucaultian). I hire for the longevity and truthfulness of their work....

Taking the Driver’s Seat: Sustaining Critical Enquiry While Becoming a Legitimate Corporate Decision-Maker

ROGERIO DE PAULA, SUZANNE L. THOMAS and XUEMING LANG Staying relevant (to the business) is at the heart of career-advancement and (increasingly) job-security, particularly, in a business unit. It embodies a number of different meanings to the different players in corporate—from supporting product definition to creating strategic plans to making the appropriate business decisions. Rather surprisingly, though, we find EPIC talking about it with a certain discomfort, particularly when it comes to affect our identities as social researchers. On the other hand, we, in the industry, have little choice but to “play the game” and find ways whereby we can best utilize our knowledge, experiences, skills, our unique perspective to endow us an edge—creating interesting possibilities to stay relevant. This paper investigates our own trajectories in the past few years in a product group at Intel where we suddenly found ourselves increasingly more involved with decision-making, taking actions that would ultimately affect the course of the...