"Ethnographers flit forwards and backwards all the time as we create research objectives, wonder whether what we learnt yesterday is really the full story, and create and debate theories."
Ethnographers are not time travelers, but we may be close. Our frameworks and methodologies develop a nuanced understanding of how relationships, processes, and objects evolve over time. This 'temporal expertise' is key to enacting our ethical responsibility to the past and future, says anthropologist Dr. Oliver Pattenden, who will explore these themes in his upcoming EPIC Talk on April 25, 2023: From Complex Histories to Possible Futures: Ethical Practice Across Time. In this Q&A, he discusses the intersection of ethnography, ethics, and time; how to encourage organizations to focus on ethics as a core component of decision-making, and what he's learned from his three-year-old son lately. We hope you enjoy this rich conversation!
When people think about ethics, time probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. What inspired...
"What exacerbates the pain of the job search is how simplistically we define community.... What if we always felt supported by and useful to others, whether in a job or not?"
Ethnographers are pathmakers by nature...but navigating the job market and other work transitions can be grueling and isolating. How can design and ethnographic methods, community building, and personal practices help sustain us? EPIC member, design researcher, and career coach Sarah Malin has some strategies to share with you: she's co-facilitating our next Career Pathmaking Meetup on April 4: Job Search Resilience: A Career Support Event for Ethnographers, Researchers, and Strategists. In anticipation, we chatted with Sarah about how to make the job search less soul-sucking, how ethnography informs her work, and the power of a good question.
For many, searching for a job can be isolating, draining, and demoralizing. What is the role of community in the job search process? How can we make it more human—and community—centered?
I think what exacerbates the pain...
How can we engage improvisation and imagination in digital research?
By PETER SPEAR, Spear
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was pretty sure I was done. I had been a qualitative researcher and brand consultant for 25 years. I had spent the past decade building my practice around an approach that centered contextual and imaginative face-to-face research. I called it brand listening, and it combined ethnographic interviews and free association and projective techniques.
In a 2019 project for Tom Brady’s fitness brand TB12, I tagged along with people as they went to the gym, to a stretching session, even a pole dancing studio. I will never forget what Michael showed me about the burden of masculinity, when he confessed to me he would only do yoga at home, out of embarrassment. Or what Lisa showed me about belonging, when she talked about her “pole sisters.” Working for the mattress brand Leesa Sleep in 2018, I was welcomed into people’s homes and bedrooms to explore rituals and routines around sleep. The ability to connect...
PechaKucha Presentation—In this presentation we argue that in many regulated industries such as banking, finance, and insurance, a post qualitative vs. quantitative world is not yet a reality. In such an environment, advanced analytics could be likened to being in its teenage years, while behavioral research is still in its infancy. Big data primarily drives our metrics, but in such a highly digitized and individualized culture, we know that ethnography is the missing piece of the puzzle. This means that as social scientists we must be the loudest (and sometimes lone) voice calling to leverage employees who are trained in these skill sets and incorporate these methods into our work. Slow and steady wins the race and our wins look different when compared with companies that already have been convinced of the value and don't have to do as much work to incorporate them into existing analysis. We have found that becoming EPIC members has been a turning point for our own...
by FIONA MOORE, Royal Holloway, University of London
“Where is Hassan?” I asked the assembled team of programmers. “And please don’t tell me he’s on the track, running with the automobiles?”
Rose tossed her blonde hair and rolled her eyes like the sorority girl she otherwise completely failed to resemble. “OK, but that’s only because he’s down in the garage in his sleeping bag, recharging with the automobiles.”
“You really should do something about that, Professor Leibowitz.” That’s Ruth, incisive and sharp, perched on the edge of her wire-frame office chair, chin resting on her hand, fixing me with her birdlike eyes.
“Why should he?” Ay shifted his slightly-too-tall frame. “We’re in completely uncharted territory here with these cars. I say, if unorthodox methods work, then use them.”
“Mind elaborating, Atticus?” I said, just to see the tension manifest in a tiny quirk at the corner of his mouth. No, he couldn’t help what his parents named him, but I could never quite resist...
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...
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...
by MICHAEL THOMAS, Ford Motor Company
User Experience (UX) Research and Design is a dynamic and diverse domain where designers, social scientists, and hybrids of all sorts are putting theory to work. It has successfully advanced a more holistic framing for human-centered design intervention, ideally keeping our attention on the user as the key unit of analysis at every stage. But we’re also discovering that herein lie potential opportunities for further refinement.
UX has familiar practical limitations, and we debate these continually—the best way to measure, how to communicate, appropriate sampling, sample size, methods, protocols, metrics, and so on. Its fundamental limitations, by contrast, are inherent theoretical assumptions and biases. It is critical to innovate at this level of UX’s underlying principles; to move beyond the generally unspoken assumptions that the user is necessarily an individual and that the user’s perceptions about discrete temporally and spatially bounded experiences are authoritative.
As a case...
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...
EPIC Profiles Series
by CHARLOTTE HOLLANDS
Simon Roberts, a founder of Stripe Partners, is an expert at using the power of ethnography to drive strategy and innovation by continuously unveiling the 'black magic' of people's worlds. He has crafted a pioneering career, compelled by intense curiosity and key moments of serendipity. His illustrated journey begins with his discovery of anthropology at Edinburgh University... (please click on illustrations to enlarge)
EPIC Papers & Posts by Simon Roberts
Knowing That and Knowing How: Towards Embodied Strategy (free article, sign-in required)
Making the Case for Cases, Part 1: EPIC Case Studies 101 & Part 2: Pathmaking
Bring Back the Bodies
Models of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Models
Putting Mobility on the Map: Researching Journeys and the Research Journey (free article, sign-in required)
Charlotte Hollands is a freelance ethnographer, sketch-noter, and illustrator. She is currently researching the production-of-creativity through...
by LAITH ULABY, Shyp
Conducting research with small businesses can pose many challenges, but these same dynamics also make ethnography one of the most rewarding and potentially impactful ways to study them. I have worked with small businesses in academic contexts as well as with a UX research consultancy, a big tech company, and now a startup, and I hope these perspectives and tips will be useful if you find yourself conducting ethnography with small businesses.
Why Small Businesses?
By some estimates there are over 28 million small businesses in the USA today, which compose over half the nation’s economic output and are the leading creators of jobs. They are also an important vehicle for economic empowerment and mobility for women, immigrants, and communities of color.
The importance of small businesses is not unique to the USA: Facebook, Google, and other companies are working overtime to capture the small business market in so-called “emerging markets”. In India alone, small businesses employ close to 40% of the workforce....
by ED LIEBOW, American Anthropological Association & EMILIE HITCH, Rabbit; EPIC2016 Papers Committee, Ethnography/CSR Curators
Business interests often claim that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is ‘the right thing to do’ and that acting responsibly is ‘good for business.’ Multinational firms have come together to create international conventions and business associations that establish and abide by audit standards for fair wages, safe working conditions, and they support the development and maintenance of public facilities and services necessitated by the additional local demands created by local operations. Out of an enlightened sense of self-interest, small and medium-size enterprises may also look out for their employees and suppliers, invest in their communities, protect the environment, and pave the way for a sustainable future.
Yet many skeptics place firms’ CSR activities in a broader historical and cultural context, and argue that these firms have prospered greatly in lax compliance regimes, where they...
by MARTHA COTTON, GARY GEBHARDT, TRACEY LOVEJOY, ABBAS JAFFER — and you!
How have professional skills & requirements for ethnographers and other human-centered researchers changed over the last 10 years—and where are they headed? How can you evaluate the confusing terrain of position titles and descriptions, as well as assess the organizations offering them? Post your questions, insights & ideas!
EPIC people gathered for an online discussion with Martha, Tracey, Gary & Abbas. Here are the introductions.
Martha Cotton, Partner, gravitytank
Back in the mid-90s when I was at eLab, researchers went through a brief period where our business cards said “Understander.” As a word, it fit to describe what I did for a living. But as a job title to communicate my role to others outside of my small ethnographer community, it was very hard to, well, understand. I have a memory of handing my business card to the store manager of a Boston area sporting goods store where I was to spend the day observing people...