reflexivity

In Defense of Personal Bias in Ethnographic Research

by ANNA ZAVYALOVA, Stripe Partners Past midnight, I’m shivering outside a pub in Shoreditch, the rain beginning to drizzle ever so viciously. It has been fifteen minutes since I left my friends and ordered an UberPool home. As I watch yet another cab drive by, I think about the millions of factors that make one choose how to get around a city. I think about comfort, cost and convenience, space, speed and safety. Earlier this year I was involved in a study of pooled mobility in the UK, India and Brazil, where we tried to make sense of car sharing ‘grammar’ across these dramatically different cultural landscapes. The project, which came to an end in March, and the subsequent paper I wrote for EPIC a few months later, should feel like a closed chapter. Yet as I traverse cities, home and abroad, during the day and late at night, I never stop noting, observing, collecting data – often without realising I’m doing it. Even after a night out, I am still an ethnographer, fascinated by how people and vehicles, cultural values...

“Understanding the World through Engagement”: Jeanette Blomberg, A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by CHRISTINE T. WOLF, IBM Research How can risk-taking propel an ethnographic career? Just ask Jeanette Blomberg, who is no stranger to professional risk-taking. Her career journey, including major contributions at foundational tech giants in Silicon Valley, has centered on making participation in various forms core to ethnographic work. Jeanette is Principal Researcher at IBM Research – Almaden Research Center (ARC), where she has been for 13 years. Previously, she was Director of Experience Modeling at Sapient, Professor at the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden, and founding member of the Work Practice and Technology group at Xerox – PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). I’ve gotten to know Jeanette over the past year, working as an intern and student researcher in the area of work practice analytics under her guidance at IBM. We set aside time to discuss her professional experiences on the occasion of her recent induction into IBM’s Academy of Technology, a high honor within the corporation...

Creating Ethnography

by NEAL H. PATEL, Google What is an anthropologist? What does an ethnographer actually do? I used to believe that my own answers to these questions were sufficient. In reality, however, the existential dilemma at the foundation of any institution—academic, professional, or otherwise—is a socially constructed affair. In other words, whether I want to admit it or not, my answers are partially your answers—for that matter, all of our collective answers. Indeed, the very existence of a mutually shared set of practical assumptions about ethnography is what makes these questions so important. Meanings are contested, negotiated, and (if you believe Berger and Luckmann1) thereby constitutive of the agreed-upon fiction we call “reality.” Most of us might agree that we are, more or less, the biographers of that fiction. We are interested in how it comes into being, what sustains it, what motivates it, and how it responds to challenges. We pluck assumptions from reality and sell them to clients. Together, this activity constitutes...

Becoming the Subject: A Comparison of Ethnographic and Autoethnographic Data for New Product Development

KEREN SOLOMON As companies become more interested in innovation, design, and the creation of experiences, they are increasingly utilizing ethnography as a way to understand their customers and potential customers. However, for most companies ethnography is still conducted in the classical sense, with researchers observing and talking to participants in order to draw out insights about the “other.” Few consider the use of autoethnography, that is, having people deeply and rigorously study themselves in order to produce a richer description of the problem space and of how new products might potentially solve those problems. This paper draws on two research projects conducted by the author, compares the data collection methods and research results obtained with both approaches, and suggests some ways in which using an autoethnographic approach could lead to more insightful research results. It also raises questions about how we as researchers can increase our understanding of and respect for what it really means to be a research subject....

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 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....

“Ethnography of Ethnographers” and Qualitative Meta-Analysis for Business

JOSH KAPLAN and ALEXANDRA MACK The use of meta-analytic studies has grown steadily in recent decades as a means of establishing greater confidence and robustness of social science findings, but such approaches remain rare in the business world. This paper offers two inter-linked qualitative meta-analytic approaches for business: one that both draws on pre-existing data to gain insight into new strategic questions and reaches across multiple studies to achieve greater generalizability and robustness, and a second that studies researchers and research practice as a means of reflecting on and improving methodology in particular organizations or research groups. Drawing on an in-house study the authors conducted for a Fortune 500 corporation, this paper articulates these two approaches and points to potential dangers and opportunities in applying them in other settings. In a moment in which researchers are increasingly called upon to do more with less, our approach provides flexibility and adaptability to environments inhospitable to marshalling...

Mapping the Loss of Reflexivity in the Age of Narcissism

BRIDGET WALSH REGAN and AJAY REVELS PART I: AN EXPLOSION OF VOICES, BUT LITTLE SENSE-MAKING With the rise of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, as well as YouTube, and the popularity of blogs, there has been no other time where so many voices are being heard on so many topics. Personal blogs, many of which contain writing and photos and video are kept by 12 million Americans and are read by 57 million Americans. (Brown 2007) YouTube is a beacon site on the Web, a much-touted success story since it’s $1.6B acquisition by Google in November 2006. At the time of its acquisition 100 million videos were being watched on the Web every day. A BBC report in June of 2007 stated that “every minute of every day, six hours of fresh video are uploaded.” These numbers point to an explosion of personal stories, in text, pictures and video, available for any and all to digest. The ability to wander from one person’s story to another linked story to another and so on is infinite. It is easier than ever before to join in the...