representation

Expedience, Exigence and Ethics

by ELIZABETH CHURCHILL, Vice President, ACM This is a cautionary tale featuring a well-structured memo and an effective, carefully designed infographic. Both of these artifacts could be considered excellent examples of their respective crafts—the first of technical communication, and the second of graphical information design. Both are also examples of how ethics can be subsumed to expedience, and how the everyday practices of their production were subject to the exigencies of locally acceptable rhetorics and social order. I believe the stories of these artifacts are cautionary tales for us and our own work. Through the (admittedly dark) cautionary tales of these artifacts, I invite us to consider the conditions in which we, EPIC attendees and our international community, produce artifacts that convey “evidence”. I invite us to question the milieux and “atmospheres” in which we work, the sources from which we collect data, our practices and processes when producing evidencing rhetorics, and the role of such evidence in...

Semiotics: A User’s Guide to Seeing Differently

In this course, you’ll learn how to use the deep insights of semiotics as a powerful tool for innovation, design, communications, and brand strategy. Instructors: CATO HUNT & JAMES WOODHEAD, Space Doctors Enrollment: 20 max Schedule: 7 live online sessions + reading assignments, February 13–March 27, 2018. Full schedule Registration: $500 (See Terms) REGISTRATION IS CLOSED. To…

Tell Me Why You Did That: Learning “Ethnography” from the Design Studio

ANNEMARIE DORLAND University of Calgary This paper questions the role and form of ethnography in the studio setting through a comparative analysis of interviews with service and brand designers, and the promotional rhetoric of the studio organizations in which they work. It proposes that the way in which designers practice ‘ethnography’ consists of an adapted and hybrid methodological approach based not on theoretically informed data collection, analysis and interpretation, but instead of an assemblage of embodied research approaches. The ways in which designers substitute proxy audience membership, performance and praxiography for traditional ethnographic methods in their creative work and their acts of negotiation between the structural expectations of the studio organization and their own practice of cultural production are considered. Keywords: Design Ethnography, Design Research, Methodology, Practice...

Understanding Users: The Extensions of Expectant Systems

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...

Tutorial: Semiotics – A User’s Guide to Seeing Differently

Tutorial Instructors: CATO HUNT Space Doctors CLEM MCCULLOCH Space Doctors Download PDF SUMMARY Semiotic insight powerfully complements ethnographic approaches. Semiotics, the study of signs and cultural meaning, has been gaining ground in the world of commercial research. Semiotics has also been successfully melded together with ethnographic and other cultural approaches, especially in the UK and Europe. This tutorial equipped participants with the tools, techniques and hands-on experience needed to begin their own semiotic research endeavors. Opening with a grounding in semiotic theory, we then focused on building practical skills through ‘live decoding’ of a cultural theme. We began by learning how to ‘decode’ – exploring how a semiotic close read analysis can reveal a deeper understanding of what is really being said. Crucially, we discussed the chasm that often appears between intended meaning and received meaning, especially within brand communication. We then introduced the idea of codes (themes, or clusters...

Moments of Disjuncture: The Value of Corporate Ethnography in the Research Industrial Complex

SHAHEEN AMIREBRAHIMI University of California Davis This paper seeks to examine some of the underlying tensions that shape how and why ethnographers in industry often find their efforts devalued or not realized by stakeholders – i.e. “moments of disjuncture.” I argue that in many large corporations there is a separation between the stories anthropologists tell about themselves and those which are told about them, which mutually constitute an “informed fiction.” This fiction acts as a catalyst within a broader cycle of knowledge exchange (the industrial research complex) that demands a fast paced churning out of “newness” in insights before they grow old. These two processes often come to a head, creating a “seen it before” phenomena which risks devaluing timely and important work. To understand this I examine a case study of smart and automated technologies and offer potential solutions....

Radical Insights: Towards a Critical Hermeneutic

KARL MENDONCA University of California Santa Cruz In this paper, I will use an ethnographic research project to develop a set of foundational personas to work through the process of formulating insights that challenged the core epistemological assumptions of our stakeholders. Drawing on a rich body of discourse within postcolonial theory, I will highlight the concept of critical hermeneutics that emphasizes thinking about the conditions under which knowledge is produced over the “facticity” of the research artifacts, shifting the focus from “how objective is the information” to “what assumptions are driving research.” Put simply, critical hermeneutics can be seen as a method that uses reflexivity to explain how meaning is not absolute or empirical, but rather emerges from active interpretation that is informed by context. With this theoretical framework in mind, I will describe the methods used to include our stakeholders in the process of engaging with research data and ultimately derive the epistemological cores of the...

Sales-Driven Soothsayers: Corporate Anthropologists as Trending Trope in Today’s Public Imagination

by SARAH LEBARON VON BAEYER, ReD Associates My colleagues and I at ReD Associates, New York, nearly elbowed each other out of the way trying to snag our office’s copy of Tom McCarthy’s sleek new novel, Satin Island. Beyond making sense of the colorful oil or island-like blobs on the cover, we wanted to know: Is U., a “corporate anthropologist” tasked with writing an ethnographic report on our current era, anything like us? Most people take at least a passing interest in how others perceive them, and corporate anthropologists are no exception. While forensic and medical anthropologists are arguably the most conspicuous kind of anthropologist in America’s public imagination today, corporate anthropologists are increasingly visible in everything from fiction—à la Satin Island—to popular media outlets, such as The New York Times’ recent coverage of Genevieve Bell or Danah Boyd. Does it matter how corporate anthropologists or, for that matter, any other kind of anthropologist, are popularly perceived? In a recent issue...

Consulting against Culture: A Politicized Approach to Segmentation

Because market segmentations are a familiar managerial artifact, it is easy to overlook the assumptions teams make as they construct these representations. Segmentations have become entrenched within companies because they are useful in navigating the complexity of the real world, but this generalizing tendency can also lead to stasis and misguided decision-making. As ethnographers we…

Understanding Mediated Practices: Combining Ethnographic Methods with Blog Data to Develop Insights

JONATHAN BEAN and ZEYNEP ARSEL While theories of practice have been influential in the social sciences, these frameworks have seen limited application in ethnographic and applied inquiry, perhaps because few methods for carrying out practice theoretical research have been elaborated. We address this opportunity and provide an account of a multi-method inquiry on domestic practice. First, we explain methods for integrating data from blogs with ethnographic methods and how this data can be used to develop theory. Second, we share our experience as interdisciplinary researchers using ethnographic and quantitative data to connect work at the boundaries of social practice theory and theories of consumption. Finally, we share our insights on why industry should aim to better understand existing and emergent consumer practices....

The Power of Participant-Made Videos: Intimacy and Engagement with Corporate Ethnographic Video

SUSAN FAULKNER and ALEXANDRA ZAFIROGLU Participant-generated, self-made videos engender powerful, often highly emotional, reactions from viewers who experience a stronger connection and identification with participants and their experiences than we have ever achieved with researcher-shot footage. Reactions have ranged from shock, discomfort, and offers of Freudian psychological analyses to laughter, immediate recognition and discovery. Through several video examples from recent fieldwork we explore the reasons for this heightened reaction, and raise questions related to representation, authenticity, intimacy and the role of the ethnographer in the age of YouTube, social networking sites, and reality TV. What is the ethnographer’s role when participants share their lives in videos we request that are stylistically similar to online user-generated content? What is that ethnographer’s ‘Do’, and what role does she play in editing, framing and presenting these videos? How do participants conceptualize what they are creating?...

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...

Consumer Fetish

ERIC ARNOULD and JULIEN CAYLA Commercial ethnography has become an important activity for accessing the lived experiences of consumers that are constructed as “others” that firms have to discover and manage. In organizational contexts where the necessity to accumulate organizational knowledge about markets have become paramount, the figure of the “consumer” has become a quasi-magical object bestowed with the aura of the real, a fetish that comes to stand for the market, and symbolizes the firm’s effective orientation towards the market. In this paper we demonstrate how the anthropological concept of the fetish may be usefully employed in understanding the nature of this process, whereby the voices and images of consumers are endowed with power within organizational contexts. Consumer fetish is at once a quasi object and a manifestation of analogical knowledge....

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....

Verfremdung and Business Development: The Ethnographic Essay as Eye-opener

ANNE LINE DALSGAARD This paper discusses the use of essays as tools for communication and reflection in a collaborative research and development process between a philosopher, an anthropologist, and two private companies. Findings from the project “The Meaning of Work Life” will be presented along with a discussion about their relevance for the involved companies. To specify the general anthropological strategy of defamiliarization, the notion of verfremdung1 is used to detail out specific features of the analytical and representational perspective employed. The paper concludes that the meaning of research results cannot be controlled, as they will always be interpreted according to personal or professional agendas, which is why a style of representation that lays bare their status as interpretations is not only appropriate but may even – by way of estrangement - be revealing and innovative. This conclusion is not new to anthropology as such, but within the context of business ethnography (in which more and more anthropologists...