JULIAN GOPFFARTH Stripe Partners REBECCA JABLONSKY Google1 CATHERINE RICHARDSON Stripe Partners Virtual worlds have been central to an imagined future in which advances in technology propel new social practices. The recent focus within the technology industry on the “metaverse” is the latest iteration of imagined, utopian virtual worlds which have continually surfaced in literature, film, product development, and more since the 1960s. One might say that the concept of virtual worlds is resilient—but do these proposed virtual worlds actually make society more resilient? We argue that despite their endurance, these concepts present a deterministic vision of a singular future towards which humanity is inevitably progressing, revoking the agency, desires and resilience expressed by people today in their everyday realities. Building on original ethnographic research conducted with 31 teenagers in China, Germany and the US as well as past anthropological work on using ethnography to anticipate the future and teenage online...
Digital Selves and Distributed Agency: Redefining the Subject of Ethnography
Dhanabir Sharma • 0 Comments
GUNES GOCABAG Independent Consultant PechaKucha Presentation Digital identities are key to almost all aspects of life today. What happens when digital identities grow beyond just being partial, one-dimensional representations of us, but become fully autonomous digital selves who can act on our behalf. Who or what will be the target for businesses trying to capture new customers, and what does that mean for our work as business anthropologists? Through practical examples, I take the audience through a thinking exercise and argue that future ethnographic practice needs to get beyond defending its own domain, open up and seek collaboration with many more disciplines that can complement our work as ethnographers. Gunes Kocabag is a researcher and strategic designer. She has worked with multi-disciplinary teams in projects across industries, and led research expeditions in Europe, Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia, to develop new services, user experiences and business models that provide sustainable value for business...
Designing Queer Connection: An Ethnography of Dating App Production in Urban India
Dhanabir Sharma • 0 Comments
VISHNUPRIYA DAS University of Michigan India is currently at the precipice of immense social and technological change. The proliferation of smartphones and growth of the nation's app economy raise questions about how digital platforms might influence the contours of love, sex, and desire in the region in the coming decades. This paper engages with these concerns by examining what it means to design intimate connection for LGBTQ communities in non-western spaces. Drawing on fieldnotes, app walkthroughs, interviews with mid-level and upper-level professionals in the dating app space as well as audiovisual material from advertising archives, this paper provides readers with a critical analysis of the “problem” of designing queer connection in a digital world of abundant data and transient identities. Carefully examining the production practices of Delta, India's first locally produced LGBTQ dating app I argue that there is a pressing need for scholarship on industry dynamics beyond western technology centers....
Ghostly Spectres: On Ethnography and Identity
Jennifer Collier Jennings • 0 Comments
ES BRAZIEL Greenberg Strategy PechaKucha Presentation Taking Avery F. Gordon's definition of a ghost as a social figure making the unknown apparent as a departure point, the piece dives into the “ghosts” silently present in an ethnography on how parents view gender in media. Through utilizing the image of an ethnographer as a “ghost hunter,” I track what traces of the social spectral remain invisible to everyday life. Occupying the subject position of “ghost hunter” and “ghost” – the subject of research, and subject being denied research – I assert why business ethnography cannot afford to remain objective when personal and political struggles are on the line. Es Braziel is a researcher and designer working at the intersection of emerging technologies and markets. They currently explore questions around how notions of connectivity, belonging, identity formation, and community are changing in the digital age as a Strategist for Greenberg Strategy and Co-founder of Other Futures Design. email@example.com 2017...
Understanding Users: The Extensions of Expectant Systems
Jennifer Collier Jennings • 0 Comments
AMIR-POUYAN SHIVA University of Minnesota-Twin Cities This paper provides an ethnographic understanding of users in the Persian blogosphere through the framework of the carnivalesque. The repertoire of concepts provided by the carnivalesque draws attention to (1) the significance of the material, (2) the dynamic, transforming nature of things, and (3) the possibility of upsetting hierarchies. Drawing upon these insights, ethnographic evidence in this paper suggests that in the Persian blogosphere the material expression of thoughts at times precedes thoughts themselves. The same thoughts may then in turn be used by bloggers in transforming selves. The materiality of the tools bloggers use also contributes to self-fashioning in the Persian blogosphere as the formal properties of blogging services turn users into the instruments of their functionality. Blogs in this sense are expectant systems that demand specific intervention from users so they can function. As such, this paper in the tradition of the carnivalesque playfully turns...
Ethnographers, Bearers of Bad News
Jennifer Collier Jennings
by SAM LADNER, Microsoft Ask any applied ethnographer what is the hardest thing about their work. Go ahead, just ask one. More than likely, she will exhale slowly, slump back in her chair, fix you with a steely stare and say, “I spend so little time on actual research.” Her gaze may drift away at this moment. She might look at her hands and say, “I’m not even sure if I actually do research at all.” She’s not even talking to you anymore, but to some earlier version of herself. “I’m not sure when it happened,” she might say, looking out the window now. “There’s just so much more to do besides research.” Applied ethnography is not for the faint of heart. It is a tireless job, Sisyphean in character. It challenges a researcher’s essential view of herself, and her role not just in her company, but in the world. Applied ethnographers are purveyors of what anthropologist Elizabeth Colson called “uncomfortable knowledge,” or the discovery of knowledge that contradicts, threatens, or otherwise challenges established...
Five Misconceptions about Personal Data: Why We Need a People-Centred Approach to “Big” Data
Susan Faulkner • 0 Comments
ABBY MARGOLIS We produce vast amounts of data in our daily lives. Email, text, search, check-in, photos, payments – all these activities create a trail of digital exhaust. This personal data has been triumphantly declared a “new asset class” by the WEF, compared to oil as the world’s newest economic resource, and sparked a big data race to gather it. This paper argues that this gold rush can obscure the real value of personal data by forgetting a fundamental rule of innovation: start with the person. The paper draws on global ethnographic research with data-driven individuals, experts, and start-ups to address five common misconceptions about personal data. It concludes with a set of simple principles and business case examples to bring a human-centred, small data perspective to life....
Keitai, Blog, and Kuuki-wo-yomu (Read the Atmosphere): Communicative Ecology in Japanese Society
EPIC People • 0 Comments
TADAMASA KIMURA In mobile communications studies, Japan is known for its “keitai culture.” However, the actual use of keitai among the Japanese is anything but glamorous. On the other hand, strong preference of online diary and diary blogs among the Japanese is remarkable. What is puzzling, however, is that the Japanese online diarists and bloggers have been astoundingly self-effacing. What communications are they engaged in, with providing little information about themselves? Relying on and advancing the methodological perspective of “communicative ecology,” this study discusses the way online diaries and blogs are intertwined with mobile communications, embedded in the communicative ecology. It also reveals the way “kuuki wo yomu” (read the atmosphere) motivates people’s expectations and actions in social communications, contributing to the formation of the communicative ecology....
The Politics of Visibility: When Intel Hired Levi-Strauss, or So They Thought
EPIC People • 1 Comment
ROGERIO DE PAULA and VANESSA EMPINOTTI This paper examines the politics of visibility – the ways in which the work of ethnographers is positioned inside and outside organizations not only as means of unpacking the “real-world” but often as means to create business and marketing differentiation. We contend that the institutional embeddedness of ethnographic practices shapes “the where,” “the who,” “the what,” “the how,” and “the when” of doing ethnography. Thus, the choice of sites, who and what researchers choose to make ‘visible,’ the narratives about the field, and how and when they tell them are not without political and business weights. To examine visibility as this political question, we shifted our gaze from ethnography as a methodology and practice to ethnography as a part of a broader business and marketing discourse and strategy. Specifically, we explore a few particular encounters with the field and the organization that took place in course of two studies conducted in Brazil....
Tracing the Arc of Ethnographic Impact: Success and (In)visibility of Our Work and Identities
EPIC People • 3 Comments
DONNA K. FLYNN and TRACEY LOVEJOY This paper explores ways in which ethnographic impact in a large technology corporation is perceived, re-defined, and recognized – by both practitioners themselves and corporate stakeholders. The authors trace a history of ethnographic successes and stumbles, and ways they have confronted a strong usability paradigm that has shaped organizational assumptions of impact and value for product research. They then identify ways in which contextual analysis of their own practice in the corporation led to the successful creation of a strategic engagement model for ethnography, resulting in its growing influence. Through critical analysis of the conditions of influence in their own organization, the authors’ propose some broader frameworks for ethnographic impact and raise some questions for the EPIC community regarding business value, ethnographic identity, and organizational authority....
Strangers or Kin? Exploring Marketing’s Relationship to Design Ethnography and New Product Development
EPIC People • 1 Comment
SARAH JS WILNER Marketers represent a particularly significant class of colleagues that corporate ethnographers must engage with, with a central role both in commissioning fieldwork and converting its findings into marketplace offerings. This paper explores the interaction between the two functions, asking, “What is the relationship between marketing and design ethnography and how does each function inform—or inhibit—the other?” A review of the various streams of academic literature related to marketing’s role in product development and innovation is presented, with particular emphasis on scholars’ growing attention to the cultural context(s) of consumption as well as the use of ethnography in consumer research. Consonant with the 2008 conference theme of (In)Visibility, the paper considers how the divergent perspectives of marketers and corporate ethnographers create mutual tension and can render each discipline “blind” to the value of the other’s work....
The Cackle of Communities and the Managed Muteness of Market
EPIC People • 2 Comments
JOHN W. SHERRY Researchers at EPIC face something of a trap. Situated in an ethos of twenty first century consumer capitalism, our professional duties overemphasize individual consumers, and the products of our research always diverge towards our respective corporations’ interests. As a result we have little basis for collective enterprise as a discipline. However, if we remember that human beings are always part of naturally occurring social systems (communities, work organizations, etc.) we might find we have more to say, both to our corporations and among ourselves. When we shift our perspective this way we find our work is as much about catalyzing human social systems as it is about understanding “the consumer.” This paper uses three examples from my own experience at Intel to explain, and highlights some implications of this shift: we must adopt multiple levels of analysis, attend to the fact that structures emerge from human interaction, and account for divergent interests, needs and abilities as these networks form....