a book review by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners
Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life
2021, 304 pp, Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
→ Join Simon Roberts in conversation with Gillian Tett on June 10—register here!
Ulf Hannerz once proposed that “common sense is cultural ‘business as usual’; standard operating procedure, one’s perspective at rest” (127). Gillian Tett’s journalism unsettles perspectives at rest. If there’s one simple message for the general reader in her new book Anthro-Vision it is this: the promise and value of anthropology lies in making visible that which is close to hand but ignored. It offers a means to see the world differently.
There’s also a message for those whose work involves the application of anthropological thinking or ethnography: we should revisit our own assumptions about how we conceive of and communicate our value. The book is a resounding call to arms in a world beset by a ‘tunnel vision’.
What is the basis for Tett’s...
a book review by TABITHA STEAGER, Workday
Move Fast, Break Shit, Burn Out: The Catalyst’s Guide to Working Well
Tracey Lovejoy and Shannon Lucas
2020, 305 pp, Lioncrest
As I write this, we’re just a few months into 2021, and, well, the world hasn’t magically changed. When the clocks ticked over on December 31, it felt as if there was a collective, cautious sigh of relief while we continued to hold space for the grief and turmoil so many of us have experienced in the last year. Instead, we’re still in a sort of stasis globally, waiting for vaccine numbers to reach critical mass and learning how to combat new virus variants, so you’d be excused in feeling like this stasis is the new normal.
Yet the days are getting longer and on my walks I see the snowdrops pushing their way up through the ground. It feels a little corny to write this, but spring is coming. It has been a long, upending year that’s left me on the edge of burnout (fully over the edge of burnout some days if I’m completely honest) and even more...
by TAHNI CANDELARIA
- How did you two meet again?
- Let’s head back to the yacht club for sunset.
- What happened to that bottle of champagne?
- Please don’t fall off the boat.
- Live music doesn’t have the same raw character here.
- Tahni, go deal with your friend.
- What happened to that bottle of champagne?
- Please stop touching me.
- Haven’t you been paying attention to the news?
- You really shouldn’t drink anymore.
- We would make a beautiful couple.
- She’s an influencer in Korea, I hate that shit.
- His job is so cool!
- What happened to that bottle of champagne?
- I used to be polyamorous.
- I’ll call you whatever I want to call you.
- They act so adventurous, they didn’t even sit in the sand.
- You need to get in a taxi, now.
- WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE?!
What did happen to that bottle of champagne, I wonder. In fact, I never knew of it in the first place. That bottle whose presence, or rather—whose absence—persists months later. That miserable hour, the one which was punctuated...
by NADINE LEVIN, Facebook
In the fall of 2016, I made the jump from academia to UX research. As opportunities for permanent employment in the social sciences are becoming more and more scarce, this move is becoming increasingly common. And yet, I made this transition with few resources or mentorship, feeling unprepared and unsupported by my discipline.
During my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, I was self-confident and passionate about my work. But after a couple of post-docs, a handful of scholarships/prizes, several “you were our second choice” responses to tenure track job searches, and a full book manuscript that got rejected by a press (which shall remain nameless), I found myself unhappy and full of self-doubt. Worst of all, I became increasingly pessimistic—not just about academia, but about life. So, I decided to try out industry. I left my NSF postdoc (and bewildered mentor) three months early, and started exploring jobs in the tech sector.
During this liminal time, a friend of mine mentioned...
DONNA K. FLYNN
Vice President of WorkSpace Futures, Steelcase
EPIC2018 Keynote Address
Donna Flynn is Vice President of WorkSpace Futures and Market Insights at Steelcase. She leads a global team of researchers that delve into wicked problems around the future of work and translate those insights to inform the design of strategies, products, and services. Flynn joined Steelcase in 2011 from Microsoft, where she held a number of user experience leadership roles in product groups focused on mobility, healthcare, and consumer strategy. Prior to Microsoft, she led client projects for Sapient in San Francisco, working with technology and telecommunications clients such as Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, and Sprint. Earlier in her career she worked on international development and microfinance with the International Center for Research on Women, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the World Bank. Flynn received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Northwestern University in 1997. She has been a leader in the EPIC...
An anthropologist with a long career at the intersection of social research and business and technology, Melissa Cefkin began working on autonomous vehicles in 2015, fulfilling a life-long love of transportation matters. (Her preferred activity in a new place? Public bus rides.) She works at Nissan Research, where she is a Principal Scientist and Senior Manager. Her work has focused on people’s lives and experiences with automated technology of all kinds, especially those related to mobility, collaboration, work, and lives in organizations.
A long-time observer and participant in the growth of anthropological research in and with business, Melissa is the author of numerous publications including the edited volume Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter. She has served as president and conference co-chair for EPIC and recently on the US National Academies of Science committee on Information Technology, Automation and the Workforce. A frequent public and academic speaker, the work she...
by SALLY A. APPLIN, PhD
Anthropology and its methodologies cannot easily be automated. However, both design and engineering based organizations are attempting it. I argue that this is based in part on historic legacy systems, a misunderstanding of the ethnographic toolkit, and an over-reliance on the principles of Bauhaus, Six Sigma, and Science Fiction.
Quantifiying and Automating the Qualitative
After interviewing at several other engineering focused companies in their User Experience groups, I recently interviewed for a job at a renowned design firm. The design firm advertised for a "Director of Insights and Strategy," a job I’m well suited for. However, after I travelled to their offices, gave a presentation and spoke with them, it became apparent that what they really wanted was probably just a Research Manager (e.g. someone to provide a checklist of conventional methods that can be replicated, and someone who would guide others to use them as well). Prior to my arrival, the company had said that they wanted...
University of California Davis
This paper examines how ethnographic praxis as a means for driving social change via industry, went from a peripheral, experimental field, to a normalized part of innovation and product development – only to be coopted from within by a new language of power. Since the 1980s anthropologists have used their work to “make the world a better place,” by leveraging their tools of thick description and rich contextual knowledge to drive diversity and change within corporations and through their productions. As ethnography-as-method became separated from the field of Anthropology, it was opened to new collaborations with adjacent fields (from design, to HCI, to psychology, media studies, and so on). This “opening up” had a twofold effect, on the one hand it enabled greater “impact” (or influence) within institutions, but simultaneously subjected the field to cooptation. Recently, the practice of ethnography came to embrace the terminology of User Experience (UX) – though...
Upwork Download PDF
PechaKucha—This talk is an illustration of my journey from being a dejected, sole researcher in a chaotic 300 person startup to a place where I learned not only how to be a better interviewer, but also a more effective and influential employee.
Shipra Kayan has over a decade of experience as a User Experience professional. She has spent the last six years at Upwork helping the product and engineering teams understand user needs, and make empathy based design decisions. She lives in San Francisco, and writes on medium.
2016 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, p. 551, ISSN 1559-8918,
Context-Based Research Group Download PDF
PechaKucha Presentation—The Full Epiphany suggests that epiphanies are the real metric for ethnographic success. An epiphany is an out of this world understanding for how humanity works. When you have an epiphany you might simultaneously feel the following: 1) believe you see something so seemingly obvious that you can’t believe you never saw it before, 2) find yourself saying “my head just blew off” or “my mind just exploded” or make that motion where you put your fists up to your head then slowly move them into the air opening them palm first and make that silly explosion sound, and/or 3) leaves you breathless and at peace and thankful for getting just a peek into the ethereal elegance for how life on earth works. The Full Epiphany suggests that the first ethnographies (think Malinowski and Mead) had built in success factors for reaching epiphanies, and that the current level of epiphanies is lower. Our ability to reach an epiphany, however, has not disappeared....
by MIKE AGAR, Ethknoworks LLC
[22 May 2017: We are deeply saddened to learn that Mike has passed away. If you don't know his work, we invite you to dive into Mike's website and learn about his tremendous research, writing, and impact. —ed.]
I finally seriously joined EPIC. By "seriously" I mean "sent them money." It was high time. I'm a creole with academic, applied, and practitioner ancestry. As a practitioner over the last several years, I've been wildly successful working on a specific local problem and a spectacular failure at approval for the results of that work from higher levels of the bureaucracy. Most of this work was in the area of social services. There is a correlation here between local success and distant failure that’s fairly typical of social services. It might be that a social services focus differentiates the work I do from the usual EPIC project. More on that in a moment.
First some background on the “I” in EPIC. It stands for "industry." My work in the world of commerce is limited, to put it generously....
As a working mother it’s important to me that my 5 year old knows what I do. This isn’t just so that she understands where mommy goes all day. It’s also because I feel that it is critical that I provide her as many examples as possible of women who are taking leadership roles and making an impact in the world. And I know that, as her primary role model, it’s important to both of us that I include myself among those impactful women. So without any hesitation when the form came home from my daughter’s elementary school asking for volunteers for career day, I filled it out. In the field for occupation I wrote “Ethnographer.” A few weeks later I received a formal invitation telling me that I would be giving a half hour presentation to two classes about what I do for a living.
That is when panic struck. Everyone in this room knows how difficult ethnographic praxis can be to explain. In fact, sometimes I feel like I’ve spent my entire professional career as a researcher trying to explain–mostly...
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...