Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Ethnographic ‘Weirdness’: Attending to Indicators of the Unfamiliar


Cite this article:

2019 EPIC Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918,

This presentation begins with ethnographic research of an Indonesian tuna fishery in which a field partner describes unfamiliar cultural behavior as ‘weird’. Using that moment as a starting point, the paper then undertakes a reflection on the usage and meaning of the term. It explores ‘weirdness’ through a range of core tenets, like cultural relativism, empathy and ethnocentrism and then plays with the meaning of weirdness across a number of disciplinary and market lenses. The talk builds to a provocation about the ways in which ‘weird’ can serve as a call to action. It concludes that researchers should use ‘weird’ as an indicator that helps them know where they need to dig deeper, in search of empathic understanding and where they need to reconcile their biases. By doing so, the talk argues, we are giving agency to the data which we don’t yet understand.

Charley Scull is a visual anthropologist, ethnographer, insight strategist and UX researcher. He has worked in consumer insights, design and innovation, and product development across a range of industries and global marketplaces. Key areas of his work have explored healthcare, brands and advertising, green place-making, sustainable seafood supply chains, and the future of mobility. His camera remains an important tool in his ethnographic toolkit, which he uses whenever the budget allows for it and sometimes when it doesn’t! Charley holds an MA in visual anthropology and a PhD in cultural anthropology from University of Southern California.