Jennifer Collier Jennings

Using Employee Opinion Surveys Ethnographically

by MERITXELL RAMÍREZ-I-OLLÉ When my boss asked me to carry out an employee opinion survey in our company, I had to overcome my ingrained prejudices against surveys in general. Once I did, I learned how valuable an ethnographic approach to surveys can be. In my previous academic work, I had embedded myself into a scientific community for more than three years and I disregarded surveys as a comparatively superficial research technique. In my consultancy work, I have also encountered sharp criticism of the way surveys are used in practice: Erica Hall calls surveys “the most dangerous research tool,” and Sam Ladner’s fabulous guide to doing ethnography in the private sector (2012:17), emphasizes the value of ethnography that captures the perspectives of research participants, as opposed to tools like surveys that reflect the “etic” position of researchers. Yet, if there’s something I am learning about my ongoing transition to the private sector, it is that I must be flexible about methods and become more creative about...

Protesting for Change, #BLM

downtown chicago from perspective of driver approaching from south side
by RITA DENNY, EPIC We support the protesters. Black lives matter. Working at my desk in the past few days, a fairly constant thump of helicopters and aggressive wail of sirens has forced me to parse space in new ways. Here, in the US, the rights of protestors to claim space is contested by presidential rhetoric and ruthlessly cynical uses of force for political ends. We are feeling the reverberations wherever we are sitting—in cities or not, in the US or not—as we bear witness. As we act and speak as citizens, families, neighbors and cities, it is worth a moment to be thoughtful about how we, as ethnographers in industries and organizations, choose to participate. As ethnographers we observe life as lived on the ground, as it unfolds, embodied or ephemeral, with affect and purpose, in relation to material systems and systems of meaning. The ground is where change happens—is practiced, performed, and contested in acts small and large, messy and often with contradiction. Our practice is also framed within larger organizational...

Where is Remote Research? Ethnographic Positioning in Shifting Spaces

by JENNIFER COLLIER JENNINGS & RITA DENNY, EPIC “There’s a lot of talk about us ‘being there’, and what that means for our practice and what that means for the type of work that we say we do. The ground has shifted. How do we respond to that? It’s not just, ‘Oh, we’re temporarily working remotely, let’s just gather some new tools.’ We’re actually responding to a shift in the ground underneath us. And we still want to be able to ask questions in depth and gather data in a way that makes meaning for us.” —Nichole Carelock Ethnographers are recalibrating the spaces we inhabit with people. We can’t physically go into homes, workplaces, stores, cars, hospitals; we’re adjusting interview protocols to online environments, exploring software for remote diary studies, and creating virtual workshops. But as we onboard new tools for ‘being there’ with people, let’s think about what it means to be there in the first place. For decades ethnographers have pushed businesses and organizations to pay attention...

Remote Research and the Challenge of ‘Being There’

An EPIC Talk with , , & Overview In our goal to understand meanings and practices, logics and relationships, cultural and social phenomena, our ethnographic practice hinges on ‘being there.’ Now, the coronavirus pandemic has radically restricted our ability to share physical space with research participants, stakeholders, clients, and colleagues. As we adopt new tools…

The Org Chart as Political Map-Making

by JASMINE CHIA & SAMUEL HAGEN A senior leadership team gathers in the executive boardroom. The doors are closed; the glass is opaque. Sparkling water is served. Projected on the conference screen is not a financial statement, or an operating report, but instead, an intricate diagram resembling a map or relational lineage. The subject of the meeting is the company’s reorganization – a “reorg.” Perhaps a desperate cost-cutting measure, or perhaps a tactfully planned efficiency boost, this reorg is led by a team of outside management consultants who drew the diagram slide and now lead the meeting. A confluence of rectangular boxes – “heads” – are organized according to hierarchy, with the CEO (and her board) on top; one notch down are the leaders of each business unit – Product, Sales, Finance, Human Resources. But the way these organizational charts will be re-drawn is not a purely functional exercise – like map-making, it is deeply symbolic and imbued with power. Figure 1 (left): First organizational chart...

What Do Science, Technology, and Innovation Mean from Africa?

a book review by ADERAYO SANUSI, Princeton University What Do Science, Technology, and Innovation Mean from Africa? Edited by Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga 256 pp, MIT Press  "Imagine a positive Africa—creative, technological, and scientific in its own way." (1) Several countries in Africa are in a critical period of expanding tech entrepreneurship and foreign investment. Innovation hubs are proliferating, following decades of rapid local adoption of mobile phones and digital platforms. And in the past three years, top Silicon Valley executives like Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and Jack Dorsey have visited the continent to meet emergent developer communities and learn about new products and ventures. As these developments are documented on various media platforms and business school case books, an emerging group of scholars, practitioners, and activists have begun to critique what they characterize as incorrect, harmful discourses about the technological contributions of Africans. They are typically represented merely...

EPIC2020 Will Be a Virtual Event—Join Us from Anywhere in the World!

→ Submissions Accepted through JUNE 1 → Proposal Review Starts APRIL 1 As the pandemic escalates, we’ve been contemplating the forecasts, listening to our communities, and rejigging our lives. It’s now clear that EPIC’s treasured annual gathering must transform into a virtual event this year. Although it’s heartbreaking to abandon our plans in Melbourne, our conference committee is energized by…

EPIC in Uncertain Times

Hello EPIC friends, As ethnographers we are tenacious, resilient, curious, improvisational, thoughtful, and reflective. It is ironic that the thing we do best—being on the ground with people—is exactly not what we should be doing at this time. For most of us, without doubt, it’s a profoundly disconcerting state. If only that were all. As…

Work/Life in the Pandemic: Strategies and Support

The novel coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered our work and lives in a matter of weeks. Our ethnographic sensibility, which keeps us immersed in the lives of people on the ground, has shifted to meticulous social distancing, or even more extreme isolation. At work, research projects are cancelled or radically altered; teams are adapting to…

Do I Have to #MeToo? The Productivity of Silence in Instances of Sexual Harassment and Assault in Field Research

by TAHNI CANDELARIA - How did you two meet again? - Let’s head back to the yacht club for sunset. - What happened to that bottle of champagne? - Please don’t fall off the boat. - Live music doesn’t have the same raw character here. - Tahni, go deal with your friend. - What happened to that bottle of champagne? - Please stop touching me. - Haven’t you been paying attention to the news? - You really shouldn’t drink anymore. - We would make a beautiful couple. - She’s an influencer in Korea, I hate that shit. - His job is so cool! - What happened to that bottle of champagne? - I used to be polyamorous. - I’ll call you whatever I want to call you. - They act so adventurous, they didn’t even sit in the sand. - You need to get in a taxi, now. - WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE?! What did happen to that bottle of champagne, I wonder. In fact, I never knew of it in the first place. That bottle whose presence, or rather—whose absence—persists months later. That miserable hour, the one which was punctuated...

Agency & Tech Colonialism: Extending the Conversation

“What can those of us who work in, and maybe even love, computing cultures do about computing’s colonial expansions?” Sareeta Amrute’s keynote address “Tech Colonialism Today” opened EPIC2019 in a provocative, mobilizing spirit that inspired discussions on stage, in breakout sessions, and around breakfast tables. Sareeta journeyed across time and territory to explore what characteristics make something colonial to begin with, such as extractive and hierarchical systems. As you might guess, she argued that yes, the tech industry today has core colonial attributes. But goal wasn’t just critique; Sareeta showcased counterconduct—the agency that people, communities, and companies have to build alternatives. If colonial legacies and socioeconomic systems seem a bit “out of scope” as context for standard product or user research projects, check out Sareeta’s award-winning book Encoding Race, Encoding Class. You’ll learn about Meena’s daily tea ritual, hear Bipin describe why he sometimes chooses to write bad code,...

Decoding Organizational Culture: An Anthropological Mindset

An EPIC Talk with (JC & Associates) Overview What is organisational culture and how does it shape how we work? Why does the business world and organisations tend to misunderstand organisational culture? How can an ‘anthropological mindset’ give value to organisations? This webinar will set out to answer these three questions by blending a mixture…