epistemology

Clear Theory for Clear People: Three Ideas for Advancing Theory in the EPIC Community Written in a “Non-theoretical” Way

by PEDRO OLIVEIRA, Independent Research Consultant As a young social scientist I used to be incredibly attracted to dense theoretical texts in anthropology, psychology and the social sciences in general. I equated thickness of language to complexity of thought. I no longer do. When I truly disowned the belief that obscure language hides complex thinking, I had two choices—either let go of theory altogether or develop a different appetite for it. I developed an appetite for clear theory and clear language. Theory in business research, even when informed by the social sciences, demands clarity. At this point in our development as a business research community informed by social sciences, new theory is essential. If we are to overcome the still-dominant view in academia that our work is merely a practical “derivate” of more erudite scholarship in universities, we should invest in our own theory. Many of us are doing this work: it is showcased every year at EPIC and collected online in EPIC’s Intelligences [www.epicpeople.org],...

Reflections on Positionality: Pros, Cons and Workarounds from an Intense Fieldwork

EDUARDO GONÇALVES and MARCELO FAGUNDES During a project an ethnography team immersed itself in the lifestyle of lower socio-economic class women. From the different worldviews between these groups, we discuss positionality and access to data, i.e. the ways characteristics such as socio-economic, education, social status, and gender influence the research. The idea is not to set ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’, but to ponder on how successful (or not) were our attempts and reflect on unforeseen effects of our own work....

Big Data or ‘Big Ethnographic Data’? Positioning Big Data within the Ethnographic Space

JOHN CURRAN This paper offers a cultural analysis of the different narratives that currently frame the concept of Big Data. With specific attention to how the ethnographic community has approached Big Data, I will make the point that the ethnographic community needs to rethink what its offer is within the business world. Instead of trying to position ethnography as a discipline that provides deep insights to human behaviour (which we often call ‘the why’), while Big Data offers broad accounts based on large data collection, I make the case that both approaches should be seen as being positioned within an ethnographic space. This is because both ethnography and Big Data are interested in human behaviour and the cultural field and both are interested in generating insights. We should therefore situate Big Data and ethnography as a relationship that exists in a new epistemological field, a field that is both interpretative and data driven. This field I call 'Big Ethnographic Data'....

The Conceit of Oracles

TRICIA WANG Good morning, I am really excited to be here for my first EPIC conference. There are just so many amazing people in the audience as I look at you guys, and so many of you guys I've been following on blogs and Twitter and especially Natalie Hanson’s anthrodesign listserv. I can’t wait to talk to you guys all afterwards. Just as a reminder, I don’t know if Simon already said it, but if you’re tweeting or instragramming—use the conference hashtag EPIC 2013. If throughout the talk you have any questions, or if anything resonates with you, this is my Twitter and Instagram handle.For over twelve centuries in Ancient Greece in consulting oracles, a person who could predict the future was a part of everyday Hellenistic life. People—poor, wealthy, slave and free—asked oracles for them to answer important life questions such as should I get married, or will I come back from war alive, or questions related to business matters. Should I invest in this voyage? There were questions related to political affairs like should...

If These Walls Could Talk: The Mental Life of the Built Environment

NEAL H. PATEL Renewing Henri Lefebvre’s unfinished and overlooked science of ‘rhythmanalysis,’ I propose physical space becomes meaningful to us to the extent that it provides refuge from the ravages of time—specifically, the intersecting rhythms of everyday life. In other words, we develop affinity with space based upon its restorative function. Conflict between overlapping rhythms is mentally exhausting. There are cognitive costs associated with the work day’s intrusion upon our sleep cycle, or extension into our evening leisure time. I will contend that we love our local bars, coffee shops, and hangouts because they are intermediary spaces, situated between cycles, thereby easing our transition and restoring our mental energy. I conclude with some examples of these dynamics at play in the urban life surrounding two peculiar Polish sausage stands on South Side of Chicago....

For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing: Rebellion Against the Quantitative-Qualitative Divide

NEAL H. PATEL While research practitioners remain deadlocked in old debates about the incompatibility and validity of qualitative versus quantitative research, streams of real-time data are overwhelming leading companies with individual-level insights at a scale and velocity impossible to achieve with traditional methods. Remaining relevant in the age of analytics no longer depends on the perfection of either methodology, but on the evolution of a creative, inter-disciplinary combination of both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Nevertheless, until we are done with the past, the past is never truly done with us. This paper establishes a new inter-disciplinary epistemology by tracing the historical development of the current qualitative versus quantitative divide. In so doing, I aim to discredit the assumptions underpinning the current debate, and illustrate how the shared epistemological origins of both statistics and ethnography inform the empirical formulations behind new “hybrid” quantitative-qualitative methods....

Consumer Fetish

ERIC ARNOULD and JULIEN CAYLA Commercial ethnography has become an important activity for accessing the lived experiences of consumers that are constructed as “others” that firms have to discover and manage. In organizational contexts where the necessity to accumulate organizational knowledge about markets have become paramount, the figure of the “consumer” has become a quasi-magical object bestowed with the aura of the real, a fetish that comes to stand for the market, and symbolizes the firm’s effective orientation towards the market. In this paper we demonstrate how the anthropological concept of the fetish may be usefully employed in understanding the nature of this process, whereby the voices and images of consumers are endowed with power within organizational contexts. Consumer fetish is at once a quasi object and a manifestation of analogical knowledge....

Design Rituals and Performative Ethnography

JOACHIM HALSE and BRENDON CLARK This paper proposes a course for ethnography in design that problematizes the implied authenticity of “people out there,” and rather favors a performative worldview where people, things and business opportunities are continuously and reciprocally in the making, and where anthropological analysis is only one competence among others relevant for understanding how this making unfolds. In contrast to perpetuating the “real people” discourse that often masks the analytic work of the anthropologist relegating the role of the ethnographer to that of data collector (Nafus and Anderson 2006), this paper advocates a performative ethnography that relocates the inescapable creative aspects of analysis from the anthropologist’s solitary working office into a collaborative project space. The authors have explored the use of video clips, descriptions and quotes detached from their “real” context, not to claim how it really is out there, but to subject them to a range of diverse competencies, each with...