professional issues

Toward Industrialization of Ethnography

TAKANORI UGAI, KOUJI AOYAMA and AKIHIKO OBATA This paper explores a way to expand business using ethnography as an industrial service or product. First, a challenge that companies are facing and trying to deal with, which is industrialization is described. In the software industry, as computer prices go down, the requirements for software development involve accurate estimates of the cost, the time and the resources involved in the process. Due to these new market demands, software development reached a level of maturity, which required a new approach to product development. Likewise, as ethnography grows into more intricate realms, there is a need for a more robust approach to ethnography application in business to help it achieve the right maturity level of industrialized processes. In this context of complexity, case studies from Fujitsu and examples from literature were used to test the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) framework to use to evaluate the practice of ethnography in business. As a result, a brief assessment...

Listening with Indifference

ALEX S. TAYLOR, LAUREL SWAN and DAVE RANDALL In the following, we suggest that the product of ethnographies undertaken for commercial and industrial purposes is under threat of losing its integrity. The sorts of results furnished through ‘applied ethnography’ and those resulting from methods like focus groups, interviews, questionnaires, etc. appear largely of the same kind; they describe and codify the members of a setting and their behaviours, and differ, if at all, in terms of depth and detail. In short, it is not easy to distinguish between the product of applied ethnography and that produced from the many other methods available. This apparent dissolution begs the question ‘what’s left’ for applied ethnography and, indeed, for its practitioners? We report on our efforts to take this question seriously and reflect on how ‘the ethnomethodological policy of indifference’ has offered a useful starting point. Having situated this policy in a disciplinary context, we offer brief examples of how its insistence on a distinct...

The Dō and Jutsu of Strategic Ethnography: Balancing the Way and the Art of Understanding

LUCAS MCCANN, CORIN LUDWIG and MATT MULLINS In Japan, martial arts emerged from a long period of violence. Once warring ceased, philosophical practices formed on this foundation of efficacy. These martial arts are called by names ending in –jutsu (“technique”) and –dō (“way”), respectively. From ethnography’s rich tradition of understanding grew the practical art of understanding as a means to an end. But strip portions of the practice from the way, and problems sprout. For social research to remain relevant, practitioners must strive to embody the essential spirit of ethnography - understanding people. In the martial arts, Dō and Jutsu practiced by masters are identical. In the field of design research, we similarly balance understanding and application to deliver strategic outcomes. However, external factors push this practice to become more predictable and thereby threaten the balance. Using the analogy of Dō and Jutsu in the martial arts, we explore the challenges that strategic ethnography faces today....

The Martial Ethnographic Arts

SUZANNE L. THOMAS There is longevity to the ethnographic arts: a report referred back to over years, an image that captures a resiliently fresh insight. In crude words, ethnographic analysis has a longer shelf life than traditional market research. The latter requires tending to keep its categories replete with a fresh cast of characters. The former is distinguished by a methodological practice that keeps it fresh and truthful without the necessity of being, for the moment, a truth. There is a mastery of the ethnographic arts. For twenty years, I have practiced as an academic ethnographer, private sector consultant and now corporate practitioner. I now hire ethnographers. (I have become an armchair anthropologist.) To do so, I must discern what makes some ethnographic practitioners better than others. I compare along three practices: documentary finesse, journeying and discipline (the latter more yogic than Foucaultian). I hire for the longevity and truthfulness of their work....

Making Silence Matter: The Place of the Absences in Ethnography

BRIAN RAPPERT Professional and organizational attention in recent years to what ethnographers can and cannot disclose as part of their research accounts has extended the range and relevance of concerns pertaining to the relation between investigators and those they study. When researchers are working under conditions characterised by secrecy and a limited access to information, then the difficulties faced in offering accounts are all the more acute. This presentation examines the political, ethical, and epistemological challenges associated with how we manage what is missing within our writing. The argument is based on an ethnographic-type engagement over a five-year period. I want to consider the representational implications of the disclosure rules, confidentiality agreements, informal arrangements, etc. associated with contemporary research; in particular their implications for how knowledge claims are substantiated and reproduced. I also want to go further though to ask what novel writing strategies and methods could enable us to...

A Little Humility, Please

RICK E. ROBINSON “Things, not, mind you, individual things, but the whole system of things, with their internal order, make us the people we are.” Danny Miller, Stuff (p. 53) The fall of Icarus—wax melting, loosed feathers eddying as he plunges from the sky into the Aegean— is a central image in western mythology. A metaphor for the risks of hubris, it is also a provocative figure through which to think about the value which ethnographic research claims and the range of reactions to those claims. In 14th and 15th century painting, the Fall of Icarus was a relatively common theme for artists (and their patrons). But it was commonly related with a different emphasis than the way we recount the myth today: in the great Italian and Northern Renaissance paintings, it is Daedalus, father to Icarus, who is the sympathetic center of the tale. As inventor of both the fabulous wings and the labyrinth from which they enabled father and son to escape, Daedalus the craftsman, architect and inventor was resourceful, competent, and –except...

Renewing Our Practice: Preparing the Next Generation of Practitioners

SUSAN SQUIRES and ALEXANDRA MACK A key aspect of renewal is disciplinary renewal though the addition of new practitioners, who can bring revitalization to our practice. To successfully land their first job, today’s new practitioners need practical, relevant basic skills and knowledge, which they can acquire through a range of training programs. In this paper, we reflect upon the significant methodological, interpretive, ethical implications of such training programs for ethnographic praxis in industry. How they evolve and change the work, how new knowledge is created in the field and what that may mean for the future renewal of our practice begins with how they are trained....

Flux: Creating the Conditions for Change

MARIA BEZAITIS and KEN ANDERSON To start to shape directions for new business opportunities, and to remain attentive to changing business landscapes, ethnographic practice must produce knowledge about the social world by looking at relevant shifts in social frames and then use this knowledge to shape the informed fictions that will move business climates and interests. Flux is an approach that demonstrates one way to evolve the work from its traditional focus on design and making good products to the development of new business models. This approach emerges from very specific sets of changes taking place presently in the technology sector and the desire to apply ethnography, interpretive work, theory to figure more explicitly as the central mediation between businesses and the social world....

Enabling Our Voices to Be Heard

RICH RADKA Identifying differences in how ethnography is practiced in academia and in business is the key to successfully developing ethnography further as a business discipline. In the following paper, I propose that the key difference between the practice of ethnography in academia versus business is the purpose of the ethnography, and that all other questions we struggle with in the transition from academia to industry clearly flow from this difference in purpose. Addressing this difference honestly is the key to being heard correctly, even to being heard at all. By describing how business disciplines are conceptually structured and by exemplifying analogous disciplines, I will provide thoughts on how we might shift the way we think and talk about business ethnography. I believe this shift will enable us to find common ground with other disciplines, be recognized for delivering clear value to the businesses we work for, and create opportunities for making positive contributions to society at large. Finally, I will conclude by summarizing...

The ‘Inner Game’ of Ethnography

STOKES JONES Ethnography’s external outputs such as contextual photos, process models, and personas have overshadowed the actual ‘way’ of practicing ethnography (which has remained largely immune to normative standards). This paper will argue the time has come to re-embrace a sense of craft and that renewal can be catalyzed by putting individual performance at the center of ethnographic practice. Beginning from practitioners’ typical feelings of discontent with the lost potential inherent in most ethnographic encounters, this paper will look for the embodied foundations of a more disciplined way forward. Drawing on awareness techniques from the human potential movement, (that have themselves been adapted to concentration-intensive sports like tennis) this paper proposes a turn towards the ‘inner game’ of ethnography. As this leads practitioners to tighten norms on today’s unseen ethnographic practices, it can end the double-game between inner and outer standards and increase the discipline’s authority....

The De-skilling of Ethnographic Labor: Signs of an Emerging Predicament

GERALD LOMBARDI An oft-stated rule in design and engineering is, “Good, fast, cheap: pick two”. The success of ethnography in business has forced this rule into action with a vengeance. As a result, ethnographers now face a threat experienced by many categories of worker over the past two centuries: job de-skilling. Some mechanisms of de-skilling in business-world ethnography are reviewed, including: simplifications that invert the conventional depth-vs.-breadth balance of ethnographic knowledge; standardizations that permit research to be distributed among workers of varying cost; the rise of ethnographic piecework suppliers who rely on pools of underemployed social scientists. I argue that pressures leading in this direction must be contested, and that only by altering the cost-time-quality paradigm that controls our work can we restore its value to our employers and clients....

The Politics of Visibility: When Intel Hired Levi-Strauss, or So They Thought

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....

Sustaining Stories: The Versatile Life of Sustained, In-house, Ethnographic Practice in a Global Software Company

NATALIE D. HANSON and JOHANN W. SARMIENTO-KLAPPER Ethnographers, in a sense, play the role of story creators, storytellers, and, often, preservers of such stories. The narratives produced and the fieldwork from which they emerge make visible trajectories of practice—for both subjects and researchers— which can be traced both retrospectively and projectively. For “in-house” ethnographers engaged in the sustained work of making sense of and contributing to organizations, a unique challenge emerges: discovering and managing the retrospective and prospective meaning of their storytelling and its visibility. Here we reflect on the challenges and opportunities of sustaining ethnographic inquiry in a large global software company. Reflecting on close to ten years of participant observation, we outline some of our practices related to positioning, re-framing, and expanding the visibility of our work and our organizational roles; a dynamic that continues to shape our practice and its relevance within this corporate environment....

Evolving Ethnographic Practitioners and Their Impact on Ethnographic Praxis

ALEXANDRA MACK and SUSAN SQUIRES As we reflect on the evolving nature of our practice, it is timely to consider how these individual evolutions impact the broader field of ethnographic praxis in industry. First, we look at the career paths of senior members of the EPIC community to chart key transitions in their individual careers. We observe that their career paths have moved them away from fieldwork, and into management where they shape projects, mentor staff and participate in decision-making. Thus, a key aspect of evolution for the EPIC community lies in how senior members are influencing what industry expects from ethnographic praxis. In a second intersecting theme we review how these individual career evolutions collectively influence the EPIC Community of Practice. We discuss how our field continues to evolve both on an individual level and within the Community of Practice to which we all belong....