professional issues

The EPIC 2013 Conversation

MELISSA CEFKIN, MARIA BEZAITIS, ALEXANDRA MACK and KEN ANDERSON Oracles, fear, wonderment and magic graced the Faraday Theater of the Royal Institution of Great Britain once again. They appeared, appropriately, intertwined with the story of the advancement of science, and of technologies of knowledge. At the 9th annual Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, the very fundamentals of humanity, from senses to mediation, were explored and questioned. What an honor to be hosted at this esteemed organization to engage in the exploration of ethnographic praxis in industry!Experimenting with a theme-less program, the conference exposed the breadth and range of current ethnographic practice. In this year’s conversation we note just some of the threads and themes we observed to play out. But before that, we want to offer a reflection on the very existence of EPIC and its mission at the cusp of its 10th birthday. The ethnographic marketplace matures with new challenges ahead A couple of years ago we realized the Board faced a rather...

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Ethnography and Selective Visibility in the Technology Sector

LAURA GRANKA, PATRICK LARVIE and JENS RIEGELSBERGER As ethnographers practicing within an engineering driven industry, we often struggle with visibility and its effects. Exposing the methodological and technical underpinnings of ethnographic practice can bring us closer to the teams we work with, but it can also draw attention to the ways that engineering and anthropology clash. In this brief paper we describe the rationale for deliberate and highly selective visibility in our engineering-driven workplace. We will draw on our experience as anthropologists “embedded” in teams of engineers to discuss our own claims to authority and examine how legitimacy is conferred upon ideas and actions in a technology-driven environment....

What European Businesses Expect from Us

FILIP LAU This paper presents considerations of strategies for communicating the value of ‘business anthropology’ and ‘insights’ to sceptical business audiences, based on a number of studies with a total of 47 interviews with executives in 27 large companies in mainly Europe, but also the US. The paper will present four major insights deriving from the research and suggest how ‘insights’, ‘business anthropology’ and ethnography can potentially be applied to new areas within business in dire economic times, including, but also going beyond, the traditional areas of application, i.e. ‘innovation’ and ‘marketing’. I argue that the Practice can be expanded by moving beyond the identification of potential areas for innovation (the so-called unmet needs of users/customers/consumers/citizens), for instance to the identification of areas suitable for simplification: where users are currently having ‘over-met needs’, i.e. areas the user perceive as irrelevant and of little value. The paper will also explore the role...

Drawing from Negative Space: New Ways of Seeing Across the Client-Consultant Divide

MICHELE FRANCES CHANG and MATTHEW LIPSON Focusing on the client-consultant relationship, well honed, but perhaps overly so, this paper aims to shed light on the conditions that at once streamline and challenge our collaborations. To do so, we borrow a page from the visual arts; namely an experimental method of representation called negative space drawing. In both its aim (to create a picture from a new perspective) and challenge (to shake off the preconceived notions that limit us) drawing from negative space reflects a similar dynamic to our own. By way of a case study commissioned by one author and conducted by the other, we sketch a framework of negative space which examines our respective biases and agendas and our endeavors to resolve them....

“Let’s Bring It Up to B Flat”: What Style Offers Applied Ethnographic Work

RICK E. ROBINSON Ethnographic and design work share, deeply, the challenge of conveying the truth of the work we do to interlocutors from very different backgrounds. Writing is hard work even with the shared culture that an academic discipline or a single firm can draw upon. How, then, to write well for broad and varied audiences? By writing like novelists. Literary critic James Wood encapsulates the central tradition of the novel as: “Truthfulness to the way things are […] Life on the page, life brought to different life by the highest artistry.” (2008:247) It is hard to conceive of a better description of what most of us would like to achieve. “Truthfulness to the way things are” gets nicely to all of the important moments of what we do—observation, description, interpretation, inscription. In this paper, I try to move ‘style’ up the ladder of importance in how we think, write, and talk about the work we do....

Ethnographer Diasporas and Emergent Communities of Practice: The Place for a 21st Century Ethics in Business Ethnography Today

INGA TREITLER and FRANK ROMAGOSA Do no harm; communicate and collaborate; keep learning, keep teaching; instigate meaningful change; make theory action. —Designers Accord code of conduct (designersaccord.org) Every profession bears the responsibility to understand the circumstance which enables its existence. —Robert Gutman1 For an exile, habits of life, expression or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of these things in another environment. Thus both the new and the old environments are vivid, actual, occurring together contrapuntally. There is a unique pleasure in this sort of apprehension. —Edward Said, Reflections on Exile (1984) INTRODUCTION What kind of times are these we live and work in? Last October, many of us left the EPIC2008 meetings with a drive to apply “sustainability” thinking to our research and design. It is no coincidence that those meetings were hosted in Copenhagen, a city in a region where design is an unabashed element of all public decision making and environmental...

Close Encounter: Finding a New Rhythm for Client-Consultant Collaboration

HEINRICH SCHWARZ, MADS HOLME and GITTE ENGELUND In the current economic uncertainty ethnographic consultants are asked to intensify their client focus and to demonstrate and improve the relevancy and impact of their work. This paper reports on a case of close collaboration between client and consultant during an ethnographic consulting project. It discusses three crucial challenges: the challenge of aligning expectations and clarifying roles, the challenge of cultural differences and confusion over ethnographic methods, and the challenge of finding the right rhythm between close interaction and useful separation. Written from both the consultant and the client perspective we describe how similar situations were experienced differently by both parties, analyse what underlies some of these tensions, and suggest some lessons for ethnographers and clients alike for future close encounters. The paper suggests that the central challenge lies in finding the right balance between client-emic and client-etic positions and in inviting clients...

Taking the Driver’s Seat: Sustaining Critical Enquiry While Becoming a Legitimate Corporate Decision-Maker

ROGERIO DE PAULA, SUZANNE L. THOMAS and XUEMING LANG Staying relevant (to the business) is at the heart of career-advancement and (increasingly) job-security, particularly, in a business unit. It embodies a number of different meanings to the different players in corporate—from supporting product definition to creating strategic plans to making the appropriate business decisions. Rather surprisingly, though, we find EPIC talking about it with a certain discomfort, particularly when it comes to affect our identities as social researchers. On the other hand, we, in the industry, have little choice but to “play the game” and find ways whereby we can best utilize our knowledge, experiences, skills, our unique perspective to endow us an edge—creating interesting possibilities to stay relevant. This paper investigates our own trajectories in the past few years in a product group at Intel where we suddenly found ourselves increasingly more involved with decision-making, taking actions that would ultimately affect the course of the...