anthropology

Reconsidering the Value of Wearables

by SAKARI TAMMINEN, Gemic These days a wide range of new digital products are being lumped together in the much-hyped category ‘Wearables’—heart-monitoring shirts, shoes that monitor muscle fatigue, smart watches of all sorts. What’s new about these products is their digital characteristics, but what's really interesting about them is that the category itself is actually very old. The essence of wearables lies not in their new digital functionalities, but in the social relationships they mediate and the behaviours they celebrate. They touch on ideas of what it is to be properly ‘human’ and where the boundaries of humanity lie. Even very basic wearable technologies—clothing, jewelry, a wooden tooth or prosthetic leg—have always been bound up with the art of technique: ideas, behaviours, and materials come together on our bodies so as to mediate our human condition. Each has its own evolving cultural norms: just think of variation across time and culture of tattoos and body piercings, the favorite paper topic for...

The Anthropology of Wearables: The Self, The Social, and the Autobiographical

SAKARI TAMMINEN Gemic ELISABET HOLMGREN Gemic A wide range of new digital products lumped together under the category of ‘Wearables’ or ‘Wearable Technology’ raises fundamental questions about the way we think about our individual bodies and the species Homo Sapiens. This paper traces three different relationships to what are called the ‘wearables’ and extends the notion to cover all material technologies that mediate our relations between various embodied practices and the world, and beyond pure ‘hi tech’ products. Therefore, this paper develops a general cultural approach to wearables, informed by empirical examples from the US and China, and ends by mapping valuable design spaces for the next generation of digital technologies that are getting closer to our bodies and our skin, even venturing beneath it....

The Rise of the User and the Fall of People: Ethnographic Cooptation and a New Language of Globalization

SHAHEEN AMIREBRAHIMI University of California Davis This paper examines how ethnographic praxis as a means for driving social change via industry, went from a peripheral, experimental field, to a normalized part of innovation and product development – only to be coopted from within by a new language of power. Since the 1980s anthropologists have used their work to “make the world a better place,” by leveraging their tools of thick description and rich contextual knowledge to drive diversity and change within corporations and through their productions. As ethnography-as-method became separated from the field of Anthropology, it was opened to new collaborations with adjacent fields (from design, to HCI, to psychology, media studies, and so on). This “opening up” had a twofold effect, on the one hand it enabled greater “impact” (or influence) within institutions, but simultaneously subjected the field to cooptation. Recently, the practice of ethnography came to embrace the terminology of User Experience (UX) – though...

Cultural Change Management in Organizations from Competing Perspectives

ALLEN W. BATTEAU Wayne State University GLADIS CECILIA VILLEGAS Universidad de Medellin Since the 1980s, it has generally been accepted that corporations have cultures, and that corporate culture bears an important, if poorly understood, relationship to corporate performance. Figuring out how to measure, fine-tune, and adjust corporate culture has been a cottage industry within management consulting ever since, employing numerous psychologists, sociologists, management theorists, communication specialists, and occasionally anthropologists. Corporate cultures have been variously characterized as strong, weak, open, closed, flexible, rigid, innovative, traditional, or (more typically) some mélange of all of these. To better understand the relationship between corporate culture and corporate performance, perhaps it would be better to understand culture as a living, breathing entity, not a museum specimen to be examined under laboratory conditions – ethnographically, that is, in a natural rather than artificial environment. In...

Media, Mediation and the Curatorial Value of Professional Anthropologists

MICHAEL G. POWELL Shook Kelley This paper seeks to broaden the discipline of professional anthropology by considering the role of the anthropologist as a curator and a guide for the mediation of cultural symbols, artifacts and products in and among the organizations we work for or with. It employs two case studies of product curation activities, guided by strategic insights shaped in part by a professional cultural anthropologist. The paper builds on prior discussions and insights within the EPIC community to suggest potential new directions for professional anthropologists to pursue, alongside and/or outside of ethnographic research projects....

Tutorial: Anthropological Theory in Business Ethnography

Tutorial Instructors: KATHI KITNER Intel Corporation JAMIE SHERMAN Intel Corporation TUTORIAL SUMMARY Anthropological theory deepens and extends the impact of ethnography, adding significant value to the companies, organizations and communities we work with. Because professionals who use and execute ethnography in business come to the job from varying backgrounds, many ethnographers are seeking to extend their training in theory and research. And when we do engage more deeply with theory, many of us find that the epistemologies that drive research in business contexts are often in tension with anthropological understandings of research, knowledge, data, and evidence. As anthropologists working in a corporate setting, we sometimes struggle to reconcile these tensions and maintain an anthropological perspective in the rush of everyday productivity and work objectives. In this tutorial, participants collectively explored what we saw as foundational theoretical perspectives that, historically, have shaped ethnographic method. observation...

Making Change within Complex Systems: Alexandra Mack, a Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by ELIZABETH KAZIUNAS, University of Michigan What do historical landscapes or tacit knowledge have to do with reimagining the future of shipping or location intelligence services? In linking everyday practices with wider forces of complex organizational systems, Alex Mack argues that thinking anthropologically about infrastructure—as both a technical system and a relational process—can help reveal new directions for design interventions. A Senior Fellow at Pitney Bowes and a member of the EPIC Board, Alex’s work has had significant impact in her organization and far beyond. Alex recently sat down for an interview to share insights from her career. She reflected on how early ethnographic field work studying ancient urban landscapes as a PhD student helped shape her research sensibilities and worldview. In transitioning from academia to industry, this deeply social way of seeing the world continues to influence her work at Pitney Bowes, both for addressing immediate client needs and in developing strategic...

“Culture Matters More than We Think”: Eric Weiner / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by TAMARA HALE, Effective UI EPIC2016 Keynote Speaker Eric Weiner is a veteran foreign correspondent and New York Times best selling author. Join Eric at EPIC2016! In an interconnected, technology-driven world, does culture still matter? Can there really be “best practices” to be drawn from the vast range of human experiences? These are some of the questions driving Eric Weiner’s influential writing and thinking. I spoke with Eric about his career trajectory and the inspiration he has drawn from the discipline of anthropology. His award-winning journalism and critically acclaimed books, The Geography of Bliss, Man Seeks God and The Geography of Genius all use cross-cultural and historical comparison as a strategy to make key concepts intriguing for the general public. After writing his first two books, explains Eric, “I realized that I’ve really been engaging in amateur cultural anthropology.... I believe that culture matters more than we think.” Eric’s interest in culture, his deep appreciation...

“Ethnography is Fundamental”: John F Sherry, Jr / A Profile

john f sherry jr
EPIC Profiles Series by PAUL OTTO EPIC2016 Keynote Speaker John F. Sherry is the Raymond W. & Kenneth G. Herrick Professor of Marketing in the Mendoza College of Business and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. Join John at EPIC2016! I caught up with Dr. John F. Sherry, joint professor in Marketing and Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, in late spring, right after exams. John has had a prolific career in ethnography as a practitioner and theorist, with 10 books, over 100 articles, and numerous consulting engagements to his name. He is a collaborative scholar, and quick to point out others’ influence on his work—Sidney Levy, Joel Cohen, William Wilkie, H. Russell Bernard, Marvin Harris, and more. In addition to his work on brand strategy and consumer behavior (among his many distinctions, John is past president of the Consumer Culture Theory Consortium), John has had “a long term investment in placeways—retail, atmospherics, that kind of thing,” which he says resonates with...

Ethnographer on Wall Street: Karen Ho / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by RACHEL C. FLEMING, University of Colorado at Boulder EPIC2016 Keynote Speaker Karen Ho is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and author of the widely acclaimed book Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street based on three years of fieldwork among investment bankers and major financial institutions. Join Karen at EPIC2016! What do sentiments and ideologies have to do with Wall Street? Karen Ho would argue they are key for understanding and changing Wall Street’s institutional culture that generates and justifies a focus on the short-term. From working in a firm to interviewing workers and studying corporate publications, Karen’s insights into how particular mindsets come to dominate corporations or whole industries—in this case, the culture of liquidity—can help us transition from a culture of shortsightedness to one of creating long-term value. Karen did not originally aspire to become an anthropologist, but her upbringing shaped her anthropological...

William O. Beeman / A Profile

william beeman
EPIC Profiles Series by FRANCESCA SWAINE, University of Minneapolis Strike up a conversation with EPIC2016 Conference Chair Bill Beeman and you might be treated to his deep expertise in Iranian politics or pragmatic philosophy...or theater and art history, or smart service systems in product design. He truly is a Renaissance man. Trained as a linguistic anthropologist at Wesleyan University and the University of Chicago, Bill is a distinguished anthropologist, renowned author, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, opera singer, actor, and consultant to industry. A pioneer in establishing the value of ethnography in Industry, he forged a partnership between the Department of Anthropology and the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, co-hosts of EPIC2016. Pathmaking Ethnography for Transformative Innovation Bill’s masterful orchestration of art, science and industry are embodied in the conference theme pathmaking. His commitment to pathmaking is based on...

EPIC Screening in Melbourne

Friday, April 29, 2016, 5:30–8:30 PM Loop Project Space & Bar, 23 Meyers Place, Melbourne, Australia RSVP Here! We’re excited to partner with Melbourne Professional Design Anthropology to offer a screening and discussion of selected videos from our annual conference—the premier international gathering on ethnography and design in business. Two hours of highlights will include keynote,…

Why the World Needs Anthropologists

by META GORUP (Ghent University) &DAN PODJED (University of Ljubljana) ‘The bad news is that anthropology is never going to solve the global crisis,’ professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen provoked, ‘but the good news is that without us, nobody is going to because our knowledge is a crucial piece of the jigsaw puzzle.’ The EASA Applied Anthropology Network’s symposium ‘Why the world needs anthropologists’ in Ljubljana, Slovenia, was a journey that traversed critical issues from climate change to the refugee crisis, fear of robots, the role of anthropological and ethnographical approaches in a globalized world, social entrepreneurship, and the meaning of nation states, security, and sustainable mobility. Coverage of this vast terrain by keynote speakers Genevieve Bell, Joanna Breidenbach, and Thomas Hylland Eriksen, as well as Lučka Kajfež Bogataj and a moderated panel, had clear common denominators: interdisciplinarity is crucial; anthropologists should make their research more inclusive and their findings widely...

Melissa Cefkin / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by MOLLY SHADE, Hach Many of us have a kind of conversion story—that enlightening moment when we discovered anthropology at university or even later in our careers. But Melissa Cefkin knew she wanted to be an anthropologist by the age of fifteen. The daughter of a professor and raised in a college town, she was introduced to the discipline by a coworker studying to be a survey archaeologist. Recounting the experience, she remarked, “My first thought was, oh my God, if I study anthropology then I don’t actually have to choose between different disciplines! It’s a little bit of everything!” She was hooked. She obtained her B.A. in anthropology from the University of California Santa Cruz and went on to earn her Ph.D. at Rice University. Since 2006, she has played a major role in the development of EPIC, serving in multiple positions including President, Secretary, and Co-organizer. Melissa is currently Principal Scientist for Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley (NRC-SV). Anthropology complemented...

What Anthropology Brings to Innovation: John Sherry / A Profile

John Sherry
EPIC Profiles Series by HEATHER S. ROTH-LOBO, University of North Texas John W. Sherry, Director the Experience Innovation Lab at Intel Corporation, is a Keynote Speaker at EPIC2016—join us! “Anthropology is really undersold.” Dr. John Sherry’s words carry weight—he is Director of the Experience Innovation Lab at Intel Corporation. In addition to discovering ways to power innovation in this major multinational technology company, he works in Portland leading Oregon Smart Labs, an external business accelerator. I recently talked with John about innovation, big data, and lean startup. He has made it part of his life´s work to interpret the way markets move and ideas shift around, and his intimate understanding of these dynamics has been driven by his passion for solving social problems with a creative imagination. The mixture of these elements paved John’s successful career as an established anthropologist in a company known for and reinventing computing around the world. Anthropology is not only undersold,...