ethics & values

Time for a Digital Detox: Burnout, Addiction, and Desperation in Silicon Valley

SHAHEEN AMIREBRAHIMI University of California, Davis PechaKucha Presentation There is a crisis brewing in the innovation capital of the world. From protests at Google bus stops, to rallies at San Francisco City Hall over Airbnb gentrification, to a stark increase in homelessness, there is a growing rift between the have and have not's in Silicon Valley. Meanwhile the average tech employee, told they are “making the world a better place,” is faced with escalating labor demands, hyper-connectivity, and a shift from “work-life balance” to “work is life.” The tech worker is in a contentious position – torn between corporate propaganda and the visible externalities of a for-profit business. To understand how this tension plays out for the average techie, I illustrate a “disconnect camp” where the everyday rules of SF techie sociality are inverted – no technology, no names, no discussion of work, no networking. This carnavlesque pacifies postmodern contradictions about “valueless work” by placing...

Doing Good is Hard: Ethics, Activism, and Social Impact Design as Seen from the Grassroots Perspective

JEFFREY GREGER San Jose State University This paper shares the experiences of two teams of design professionals working on parallel grassroots social impact design projects to address poverty and financial precarity in Silicon Valley and London. This paper explores challenges facing these teams as they channel a sense of moral outrage into the research and development of alternitives to high-risk financial services like payday loans. It charts the open, inclusive design process of these teams as they engage community partners and recognize the financial expertise of people getting by on tight incomes. The paper concludes with a discussion of how working slowly and openly through transdisciplinary communities of practice—like the two groups described here, or EPIC itself—can help keep alive conversations around power and activism in the practice of design and ethnographic research. These conversations are essential if social impact design is to reach its transformative potential while avoiding many of the pitfalls that have...

Radicals in Cubicles

by ANNE MCCLARD, Intel “A radical approach specifically aims to uncover root causes and original sources, as opposed to surface level explanations.” —Thomas Wendt Thomas Wendt is one of many eloquent voices urging designers and ethnographers to take responsibility for the social roots and implications of our work. This might mean using participatory approaches, or expanding the scope of our research to understand the larger social implications of a project more fully. It might even mean refusing to work on certain projects all together. Any choice we make about how we work and what we work on will depend on our own beliefs and political commitments, as well as the constraints or freedoms of our workplaces. Those of us working within corporations may have fewer liberties when it comes to choosing and directing the work that we do day-to-day. These are struggles I have had in trying to make a meaningful difference as an ethnographic researcher from within the confines of the various large technology companies in which I have...

Radical Design and Radical Sustainability

by THOMAS WENDT, Surrounding Signifiers Sustainability & Ethnography in Business Series, Mike Youngblood, Editor “Revolution is not about destroying capitalism, but about refusing to create it.” —John Holloway1 Serious designers must be radicals. If we are truly enraged by the political, ecological, and economic challenges we face, and if design is characterized by the envisioning and actualization of preferable futures, then the only choice in perspective is that of radicalism. Otherwise, we are simply maintaining the status quo. To do this, we need to do more than tinker with a different “approach.” Recently at the IXDA’s annual Interactions conference I presented a critique of human-centered design in commercial design contexts. When practiced in the mostly uncritical realm of corporate power, I argued, HCD is unequipped to come to terms with its own paradoxes—it claims to address political and ethical concerns that capitalism purposefully attempts to circumvent. I concluded that HCD within capitalist...

Reaffirming Our Values in Critical Times: How Will the EPIC Community Respond?

Shortly after we opened our Call for Participation for EPIC2017 in Montréal, President Trump ordered a temporary travel ban for many people with joint citizenship as well as a halt to refugees and immigrants from 7 predominately Muslim countries. We’d like to take a moment to reassert the values at the heart of this organization…

Pathmaking, A Dialogue: Keynote Address

JOHN F. SHERRY, JR. Herrick Professor of Marketing, Mendoza College of Business, and Professor of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame JOHN W. SHERRY, Director, User Experience Innovation Lab, Intel Corporation KEYNOTE ADDRESS John F. Sherry, Jr. is Herrick Professor of Marketing at the University of Notre Dame. He has researched, lectured, and consulted around the globe on issues of brand strategy, experiential consumption, and retail atmospherics. He is widely published and a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology. He is a past President of both the Association for Consumer Research and the Consumer Culture Theory Consortium, and a former Associate Editor of the Journal of Consumer Research. His most recent book is Resurgence: The Four Stages of Market-Focused Reinvention (with Gregory S. Carpenter & Gary F. Gebhardt). Read more about John, his take on the future of ethnography in business, and why he thinks pathmaking is more like bushwhacking for academics and...

Sustainability and Ethnography in Business: Identifying Opportunity in Troubled Times

by MIKE YOUNGBLOOD, The Youngblood Group Introduction to the Sustainability & Ethnography in Business Series, Mike Youngblood, Editor Sustainability—we’re hearing this word a lot these days, even in business (if not, depressingly, in Trump Tower). It’s probably something readers of this post all generally support, and it’s definitely something we’re all connected to in one way or another. Whether we work in tech, consumer goods, education, government, or any other field, it’s pretty easy to see how the products, services, and organizations we serve affect larger social and environmental issues. For most of us in the EPIC community, however, sustainability isn’t in our job descriptions. So how should we understand and act on this issue? What are our perspectives, capabilities, opportunities, and responsibilities with respect to sustainability? Are we actively addressing sustainability in our work, or is it properly “someone else’s job?” This post introduces an EPIC discussion on sustainability. Over...

Something More Persuasive than Fear

by ED LIEBOW, American Anthropological Association What’s the first thing to do if, at the end of your work day, you come home to your apartment and see a river of water flowing out from under the washroom door, threatening to harm your home and your downstairs neighbor’s? Do you start to clean up the mess while the water keeps flowing? No, you shut off the water first. Only then do you attend to the damage. Ninety-two people are killed by firearms each day In America, a flood of deaths in the US each year that rivals the number of deaths from traffic accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Japan, and in the UK as well as elsewhere in Western Europe, you are considerably more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed by a gun. There are plenty of people everywhere who have issues with anger management, macho crises, impulse control, or more severe mental health problems. But if the most lethal weapon they have at hand is a rolling pin, or even a kitchen knife, and not a firearm,...

Why EPIC Needs Ethical Guidelines and Why You Should Care

by KATHY BAXTER, SalesForce "The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces." —Phil Zimbardo No one reading this article conducts research with the intent to cause harm to others. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would—research is more regulated now, and those egregious stories of unethical work are a thing of the past, right? In fact, unethical research happens today despite protections that have been put in place to protect participants, and even despite researchers’ good intentions. The classic example is Phil Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo had the noble goal of understanding why good people do evil things, but his study had to be stopped after six days because it was causing good people to do evil things. How do well intentioned researchers end up conducting studies that seem so obviously unethical? What Is Ethical? If researchers can be unethical despite their best intentions, how can we understand what being ethical...

Standards of Practice for Ethnography in Industry

by ALLEN W. BATTEAU, Wayne State University, & ROBERT J. MORAIS, Weinman Schnee Morais, Inc. Ethnography is at a crossroads. A methodology that was once the exclusive preserve of anthropologists, with its precursors found among a few colonial administrators, intrepid explorers, Indian agents, and their academic advisors, and, at least in the eyes of anthropologists, “owned” by anthropology, has in the past fifty years been embraced by numerous academic disciplines including sociology, education research, design research, and management studies. The founding and ten-year growth of the EPIC conference is recognition within numerous quarters that ethnography matters. Central to EPIC is “the view that theory and practice inform one another and that the integration of rigorous methods and theory from multiple disciplines creates transformative value for businesses.” Overlapping with ethnography’s evolution, during the last several decades, the application of anthropology in business has gained increasing recognition; although,...

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...

Community Centered Design: Evolving the Mission of the Creative Industry

JACQUELINE WALLACE Focusing on the mid-20th century, this paper explores the relationship between design and economics. Then, through the postwar emergence of user-centered design, it explores the positive and negative outcomes that this dominant approach has had on larger social relations, specifically asking: How are the motivations influencing user-centered design processes inherited by its products and their users? Using case studies and insights from design theorists, historians and practitioners, the paper calls for a new approach to industry lead design research and practices that evolves the question “how does this work for me?” to include “how does this work for us?”  ...

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....

Ethics in Business Anthropology

LAURA HAMMERSHØY and THOMAS ULRIK MADSEN Solely protecting research subjects undermines ethical business anthropology practice. In this paper, we argue that a negative definition of ethics, manifest in the primary focus of “doing no harm” to research subjects, undermines a concern for the potential of business anthropology to do good in a broader sense. Alain Badiou’s concept of truth procedure gives, we argue, an actively responsible and necessary direction to ethical business anthropology in its complicity with constructing new subjectivities within contemporary society....

Limitations of Online Medical Care: Interpersonal Resistance and Cultural Hurdles in the Face of Technological Advances

PENSRI HO In 2009, a health care service organization in Hawaii launched a online medical consultation program intent to serve the needs of clients in rural Oahu and the neighboring islands, which faced increasing shortages of primary care clinicians. Patients could go online for medical advice from on-call Hawaii based clinicians. However, physicians and statewide medical agencies were critical of the program due to ethical concerns, medical licensure and insurance coverage, and deviation from socio-cultural practices specific to Hawaii. This empirical paper traces and examines the legal and medical ethics of telemedicine in the face of Hawaii's socio-cultural orthodoxy of interpersonal engagement and obligation called the ohana (Native Hawaiian for “family”), and the implications for telemedicine as a medical care resource for the state and nationally....