fieldwork

Book Review: The Field Study Handbook, by Jan Chipchase

by TOM HOY, Stripe Partners Jan Chipchase has done something few of us would dare: write down his trade secrets and give them away in a book. In The Field Study Handbook he shares hard-earned lessons from running ethnographic research projects across the world. At face value the Handbook delivers on its promise. It lays out, often in painstaking detail, the nuances of how to stage a successful project. Everything from costing a proposal and folder-naming strategies, through to how to seat a team during a fieldwork interview and make an impact with your deliverables. But importantly, it also communicates a human, sometimes esoteric perspective about why we choose to do this kind of work in the first place. And it is this that elevates the book from a useful how-to guide to something more vital and existential. Sharp insights can be found on most pages, particularly in relation to the author’s true passion – running projects ‘off the grid’ in developing countries. The text is at its best when Chipchase relates how...

“It’s just watching. But it’s billable”: The Challenges and Possibilities of Design Ethnography in Practice

by ANNEMARIE DORLAND, University of Calgary Design ethnography—the term rings with power and potential. Now widely promoted on design studio and agency websites as a core capability, it suggests the melding of design-thinking and interpretive analytical approaches to understanding how people create and make sense of their worlds. But behind the pitch, what are designers doing when they do ethnography? How do they understand the research work they do, their field, their data? When I ask designers about how they conduct ethnography, I hear things like, “It’s just watching them, but it’s billable.” Or, “Oh the Jane Goodall thing! We kind of do that.” And even, “Is that even a thing anymore? Isn’t that from, like, with islanders?” I’ve finally perfected a neutral, non-judgmental facial expression to present to designers who tell me in interviews that they really don’t have a clue what ethnography is—and these are creatives with ‘design ethnographer’ in their bio, designers who are tasked with conducting...

Do You See What I See?: Mobile Labs Enrich Ethnographic Nuancing

by APARNA RAY, DINA MEHTA & STUART HENSHALL, Convo We find our clients constantly look for deeper meaning and nuanced user insights to help them innovate, stay ahead and rise to the challenges of business. At the same time, cross-functional teams within the organization want research to throw light on their focal paths. Add to this the ever-increasing role of technology and digitization in the lives of users, real-time play and social media engagement, and you have a heady mix that calls for new approaches and tools for ethnographic research. “The relations between social life and its analysis are changing in the context of digitization… the means by which social life is performed and the devices through which it is recorded, observed and interpreted are increasingly the same or similar. Among many other things, this makes possible different ways of deploying social technologies in social and cultural research.” (Noortje Marres, What is Digital Sociology? CISP Online, 21 January 2013) Over the last few years, we...

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...