Perspectives

Perspectives publishes leading global expertise about ethnography in business & organizations. Weekly articles show how integrating theory and practice to understand human societies and cultures creates transformative value for people, businesses and the planet. If you’re interested in contributing, get in touch.

 

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Calling for an End to Sexual Harassment in Fieldwork

by KATHY BAXTER, User Experience Researcher, Google At the AAA conference I attended the roundtable discussion "Getting Anthropology Closer to Zero: Collaborating to Reduce Sexual Harassment in Anthropology." Not being an anthropologist myself, I didn't know that many anthropology programs require students to spend time in the field. Depending on the school/department, students may conduct fieldwork in another country, sometimes in a remote outpost, alone or with a small team (20 or less), supervised by one leader or advisor. I learned that sexual harassment of women and gay men is a shockingly pervasive, long-standing problem in these scenarios. Last year a team of four researchers, including two anthropologists, conducted a survey and series of qualitative interviews to understand the breadth of the problem, what is happening, and why it is so pervasive. The survey data were analyzed and published first (Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault) and a paper discussing the qualitative interviews...

Johannes Suikkanen / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by PHIL BICKERDIKE, Swinburne University I caught up with Johannes Suikkanen after he returned to Helsinki from EPIC2014 in New York City to discuss his career, ethnographic praxis and the future of the EPIC community. Johannes co-founded Gemic, a human-centric strategy and innovation consultancy, about six years ago – and it has been a fascinating journey. Johannes first encountered the intersection between the worlds of business and anthropology as a student. Coming from a family that was deeply interested in humanities, his rebellion against his parents was to go to business school. Originally focusing on economics and traditional management science, he faced a dilemma: “I always felt that in the way economics and management sciences look at human beings, there was something fundamentally wrong in my opinion. The view was of a rational agent that maximizes his or her own benefit and it was always about an individual. At that time, economics that I became familiar with (or management science)...

Elizabeth F. Churchill / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by KATHARINA ROCHJADI, Swinburne University of Technology At 7 am sharp on a Monday morning, Skype broke the silence with an incoming call. On the line was an affable, well-spoken woman with a British accent. It was Elizabeth Churchill, a familiar name in the EPIC community and a founding member of its steering committee. It was a great pleasure to speak with such a prominent figure in ethnographic praxis. Elizabeth is Executive Vice President of ACM SIGCHI and Director of User Experience at Google. Until very recently (in fact, at the time of this interview) she was Director of Human-Computer Interaction at eBay Research, and prior to that founder of the Internet Experiences Group at Yahoo! Research. Elizabeth routinely starts her morning by checking her emails. “I check to see what’s happening in the world, and also to connect with collaborators and colleagues in the research world as well as at my workplace. I like to check in and see if there is anything I need to catch up on as soon as I get up...

Maria Bezaitis / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by AMINA BENHIMA, Swinburne University A PhD in French Literature and Cultural Studies from Duke University (1988-1994), Maria Bezaitis may appear to have a surprising career as a scientist inside Intel’s Interaction and Experience Lab. But as she says, her vast literary studies exploring modernist literary movements in the context of new technological developments, ultimately led her into such a field of work. Bezaitis felt she had learned about “the changing nature of everyday life” and it was this focus that forged her interesting career. Of immigrant parents to the USA, Bezaitis mentions that her background possibly contributed to a core tension that created a sense of “always being on the outside or at the margins”. This fluent speaker in French and Greek as well as English drew her academic attention to language and “writing, writing and writing”. Bezaitis came to see language as crucially important to all endeavours. Language for her was the preferred methodology “to work out problems,...

Models of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Models

by SIMON ROBERTS, Partner, Stripe Partners This is a piece about certain types of objects. Those objects are models. I want to suggest that models are objects that are central to the various practices in which EPIC People are engaged for three reasons. Firstly, they help manage situations of uncertainty. Second, they are tools for communications. Third, they represent technologies of enchantment. Let’s take uncertainty first. Like it or not, life is full of uncertainty. “Given the inherent ambiguity of all reality and the nagging suspicion that we always exist on the edge of existential chaos, objects work to hold meanings more or less still, solid, and accessible to others as well as to one’s self” (Molotch 2003: 11).  The lives of individuals and businesses are plagued by knowledge about what may be and what might become. Both individuals and businesses are always on the look out for anchors in a world of vertigo inducing uncertainty and ambiguity. Models are just such anchors. Providing anchors in an uncertain world...

Scurvy and the Practice of Insights Research

by PETER LEVIN, Intel Corporation I. Intel recently ran an internal marketing conference, where a research firm shared with us a dozen or so technology trends, each with potential to “disrupt” our business. To narrow down discussion about these trends, we were asked to “vote” on which of these trends we thought were most important. And then we could focus our attention on those. While the conference ended up being interesting (maybe more for the networking than the content), I left wondering things like why voting would matter for determining the consequences of future shifts on our markets. And I left wondering about the kinds of insights work we need to produce in corporate environments and the deep challenges we face in producing those insights. In my previous life as an academic sociologist, insight really means a search for foundational causation and theory. For academics, foundational theory matters so much more than discovering the “next big thing.” Moreover, one can be a successful academic by doing all root-cause...

Surfing a Wave, Passing it Forward: Marketing & Management at SDU / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series By ERIC ARNOULD, Southern Danish University Culturally inspired and often ethnographically informed research has constituted a consistent thread of output from faculty in business school marketing departments for over thirty years (Arnould and Thompson 2005, 2007; Sherry 1991, 2014; Thompson, Arnould and Giesler 2013). This long wave of research has produced an impressive froth of ideas concerned with consumption (identity, community, ideology, ritual, etc) and many other marketplace phenomena such as branding, servicescapes, and market formation processes. This long wave accounts for a disproportionate share of top cited papers in the major marketing and consumer research journals, and has been spearheaded by a handful of terminally qualified anthropologists, sociologists and fellow travelers (Holt and Cameron 2012; McCracken 1988; Sherry 1995, 1998, 2014; Sherry and Fischer 2009; Costa and Bamossy 1995). While not lacking a critical edge, this work sometimes has included private or public sector consulting...

Researchers @ hackathon

by JEFF DAVISON, Microsoft I spent 44 hours with hackers to learn that everything I thought I knew about hacking was wrong. In the process, I learned that events like hackathons represent a similar social hub to those Jan Chipchase identifies in his book Hidden in Plain Sight. These hubs help researchers find their feet quickly in new cultures. As a research community, we can help one another by sharing details of these hubs and some of the reasons we have for choosing them. Hackathons attract lead users, which makes them useful to people tasked with delivering formative research. If you work in the tech field, they should be on a list of essential events to attend together with Maker Faires and the various gatherings of the ever growing Meet Up culture. They represent a strategic starting point for field inquiry. My own journey went something like this… Misconceptions Hacking culture has a special place in the hearts of the West’s techno-literati, and carries with it all the cultural relevance and formative...

Friday in Tokyo: Co-creation – Ethnographer to Change Agents

by STUART HENSHALL & DINA MEHTA – Convo How can we move from observation to co-creation? Or, from observer to co-conspirator and change agent? This post shares part of a project design that took that journey. It was Friday in Tokyo. We had been there just six days and this was the second country in thirteen. It was Friday, almost 1:00pm and the Co-creation Workshop with 18 young mums, our clients (8 attending) translators (4) and ourselves (3) was about to begin. We were in a large room. A part had been screened off earlier for “baby care”. The majority of the room was filled with three large stations (large round tables and rolling whiteboards and a large U for 18 people with whiteboard and instructions up the front. Planning: We’d planned the Co-creation Workshop to follow a series of days immersed in-home. We ran a prototype workshop that morning with the local moderation team and translators. After four hours they remained skeptical and not 100% confident about the instructions. We apparently were about to break...

Accounting for Value Salon at EPIC2014

by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners and RITA DENNY, Practica Group What's our worth? What are the rhetorics of value? This question is never far from the minds of individual practitioners and this diverse community. Value takes many forms and is denominated in many currencies. The worth of these currencies changes in time and space as business environments change, and in response to changes our own practices in and with organizations. So how do and should we talk about ourselves now into the future? In putting together this Salon, Rita and I were conscious that we were taking on tensions that sit at the heart of the EPIC world. These are tensions and questions that have arisen at every EPIC over the last 10 years. And likely for the next ten years too. Thirty diverse and brave folks attended the Salon at Fordham. They helped us think about accounting for our value. [With Chatham House rules in effect, people spoke freely!] 1. “Accounting” is retrospective justification! Attendees contested our muse from the outset:...

A Right to Ephemerality

by TONY SALVADOR, Intel Corporation Seems that everyone’s recording everything all the time – so much so, that people and some governments are asserting a “right to forget”. But the act of recording at all in any instance also is, significantly, an act of control: the more recording, the more control such that “recording everything” would, arguably, lead to the total control. And total control would lead to a de facto, if not actual global authoritarian regime. And despite the dystopian nature of this account, this is precisely the direction we are heading. Therefore, a “right to forget”, while a delightful, human-emotional analogue – and therefore readily relatable and marketable – is merely an insidious illusion, a misdirection, a sleight of thinking. This is because there are no controls sufficient to protect the individual in society if a recording occurs. A right to forget requires the recording entity to take positive action against their own interest. This is untenable in the long run and frankly just...

You Can’t Be Serious?! – LEGO® Serious Play® – Serious Solution Crafting for Kids aged 3 to 103.

by DORTE TOLLNER and CORI MOORE EPIC2014 Workshop: You Can’t Be Serious?! – LEGO® Serious Play® - Serious Solution Crafting for Kids aged 3 to 103. Well the excitement of last week has taken its toll – or perhaps that’s just the jet lag. Now back in Berlin, I’m reminiscing our epic week, uploading pictures and re-reading scribbled notes – it’ll no doubt take me a lot longer to absorb it all. I’d like to thank all of those who made it to my LEGO® Serious Play® Workshop on Sunday. I had the pleasure of welcoming ethnographers, anthropologists, designers and researchers from India to Adelaide to exchange ideas in the form of those little colorful bricks we all loved so much as kids. For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) is one of our favorite hands-on methodologies, designed to stimulate and empower participants to use haptic thinking for inspirational problem solving. Developed as an in-house strategy tool in the nineties, LSP builds upon an inclusive and participatory...

Studying In and Studying Out

by ELIZABETH BROIDY and KEN ERICKSON An EPIC 2014 Workshop: Studying In and Studying Out: Linking Organizational and Consumer Ethnography The big idea here is this. Most anthropologists are working either in the organizational space or in the consumer space and no one is looking at the interface between these two cultural domains. Sharing what we have learned after years of practice in organizations and for consumer product and services companies, Erickson and Briody engaged workshop participants in sharing tips for bringing an understanding of organizations into so-called consumer research, and vice-versa. We told some stories, some tales of the field that pointed to difficulties within organizations that inhibited their ability to respond to consumer needs or to bridge the internal silos that limit the effectiveness of organizations in doing their work. The fun part was finding how much the participants shared. We found a range of tips and tricks for learning about the organization--internal clients if you work “inside”...

You too can collect big data!

by KATHY BAXTER, Google EPIC2014 Workshop by Anna Avrekh, Kathy Baxter, & Bob Evans At the EPIC 2013 Keynote, Tricia Wang observed that, if you are not working with “Big Data,” the implication is that your data are “small.” Although the number of data points or participants may not be in the millions or ever thousands, the data we gather is actually far richer. As our community knows, web analytics or logs can tell us WHAT people are doing but never WHY. We may attempt to infer it based on what we see but unless we ask our users why they are doing something that we have recorded (with or without their knowledge), we can never know for sure. Later in the conference, I hosted a Salon on “Big Data” with discussants Jens Riegelsberger (Google) and Todd Cherkasky (SapientNitro). The interest in the salon far exceeded the space available. One key theme that emerged was a desire to learn how to incorporate “Big Data” into their work. Few of the participants had the means to pull logs and do deep statistical analysis...

And now a word from the EPIC2014 co-organizers . . .

by TIMOTHY DE WAAL MALEFYT, Fordham University and ROGERIO DE PAULA, IBM The practice of ethnography can be described, among other ways, has having the emergent qualities of relationality, fluidity and creating a sense of place. These qualities also inform who we are at EPIC, our growing community and our location in NYC for 2014. Moreover, ethnographic practice necessitates these qualities to foster and develop ‘value and values,’ the theme of this year’s EPIC conference. Relationally, ethnographers are ‘outside others’ who relate to and with other local subjects, learning from them and often informing third parties of acquired knowledge. This knowledge is constructed of pre-existing agendas, the ethnographer’s experience, and multiple other known and unknown agents. Our relationality to others brings enlightenment and adds value to the various projects we work on. Simmel noted one hundred years ago, that ‘value’ motivates and sustains exchanges between two or more distinct parties, of which all business professions...