Ethnography as Executive Exposure – Spectacle or Higher Education?

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This paper reports and reflects on a perhaps new development: A rise of projects where the ethnographic experience of clients moves to the center. With these projects, often for higher level executives, the exposure by clients to real people becomes the main selling point. The paper discusses two recent projects–a workshop for a media company and a study trip for management of a pharmaceutical company–to reflect on the challenges and opportunities of this species of corporate ethnography where experience production outweighs knowledge production. Is the result a spectacle or higher education? A return to capitalizing on the exotic, or a much needed learning experience for high-level decision makers? The paper suggests that the emphasis on ethnographic experience offers an opportunity to engage our clients more deeply but also entails the danger of losing control over the results of ethnographic research without adequate analysis.

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