by JASMINE CHIA & SAMUEL HAGEN
A senior leadership team gathers in the executive boardroom. The doors are closed; the glass is opaque. Sparkling water is served. Projected on the conference screen is not a financial statement, or an operating report, but instead, an intricate diagram resembling a map or relational lineage. The subject of the meeting is the company’s reorganization – a “reorg.” Perhaps a desperate cost-cutting measure, or perhaps a tactfully planned efficiency boost, this reorg is led by a team of outside management consultants who drew the diagram slide and now lead the meeting. A confluence of rectangular boxes – “heads” – are organized according to hierarchy, with the CEO (and her board) on top; one notch down are the leaders of each business unit – Product, Sales, Finance, Human Resources. But the way these organizational charts will be re-drawn is not a purely functional exercise – like map-making, it is deeply symbolic and imbued with power.
Figure 1 (left): First organizational chart...
DONNA LANCLOS, Anodyne Anthropology LLC
AUTUMN SANDERS FOSTER, Founder, Quire Consulting
AMBER HAMPTON GREENE, Experience Research & Service Design, Cityblock Health
JORDAN KRAEMER, Research Associate, Implosion Labs, LLC
RUCHIKA MUCHHALA, Consultant/Filmmaker, Third Kulture Media
Ethnographers take pride in representing people’s voices with fidelity, empathy, and deep contextual understanding. But our work can end up reinforcing a distinction between people who “have experience” that we study for insights and people who “have expertise” to use, shape, and monetize that experience. We’ll tackle a range of core questions:
As organizations increasingly value representations of “user” or “customer” experience, what responsibilities come with this role? To what extent are we confronting the ways that the anthropologist on the project gets used to distancing people from their own expertise about their everyday lives? When we present our research and recommendations to clients...
by DONNA LANCLOS, Anodyne Anthropology
Donna is chairing the EPIC2019 panel "Representation & Representative-ness" on Monday, Nov 11, 11–12:00 in Providence, Rhode Island.
EPIC2019 is around the corner and I’m excited to share the panel I have been invited to facilitate this year with a fantastic group of ethnographers:
We will be tackling the ever-relevant theme of “representation”, a topic with a long legacy in ethnography and anthropology. Actually, I feel like the panel already started in the terrific discussions we had to develop our abstract, so I want to share some of that thinking here to inspire you to join the conversation in Providence!
Our abstract begins: Ethnographers take pride in representing people’s voices with fidelity, empathy, and deep contextual understanding. But our work can end up reinforcing a distinction between people who “have experience” that we study for insights and people who “have expertise” to use, shape, and monetize that experience.
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...
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...
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...
Space Doctors Download PDF
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...
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....
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...
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...
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 encounter additional limits in how the language, categories, and beliefs embedded in a segmentation affect our work. Anthropological theory on culture and representation offers a means by which to further assess our engagement with these artifacts. Based on emerging practices in two case studies, this paper argues for a politicized approach to segmentation – a critical stance to how and why they take on power as they are circulated within organizations....
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....
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?...
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...