by PATRICIA ENSWORTH, Harborlight Management Services LLC & New York University
In the months since the Covid-19 pandemic began disrupting everyone’s lives, people and organizations worldwide have adapted quickly for the sake of survival. This is a matter of long-term intellectual interest for ethnographers – but also, sometimes urgently, of short-term solvency.
Some jobs, we now notice, really are essential for the ongoing functioning of a civilized society. Others…well, recently Bloomberg News published an Opinion article entitled “Coronavirus: Anybody Need a Management Consultant? Thought Not.” The industries we serve are in the midst of a whiplash pivot: A sports stadium becomes a field hospital. A restaurant becomes a general store. Physical workplaces are entirely redesigned. And so we might ask ourselves, Are there ways in which ethnographers can contribute to these efforts, repurposing our practices and expertise, especially as organizations plan for fundamental, lasting changes in their operations?
by DANYA GLABAU, Implosion Labs
What if we thought differently about how to integrate human and machine agencies?
Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the PoorVirginia Eubanks2018, 272 pp, St. Martin's Press
As I sat down in to write this review of Virginia Eubanks’ latest book, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, I couldn’t help but consider it in light of the growing restiveness among tech workers in response to their companies’ perceived ethical lapses. Rank and file employees have begun to speak out against the use of big data-driven software systems and infrastructure for ethically questionable ends like warfare, policing, and family separation at the United States-Mexico border. To date, these protests have mired several public-private contracts between government agencies and some of the world’s biggest tech companies in controversy, including Google’s Project Maven, a collaboration with the Pentagon...
by ERIN B. TAYLOR, Canela Consulting & Holland FinTech
Evidence produced within quantitative disciplines like economics and finance carries an aura of gospel. The numbers, models, and forecasts we see in economic reports and market analyses in the news and reports seem certain, authoritative, and unarguable.
Built on large data sets that are analyzed with widely accepted theories and tools, economic and financial evidence have become hugely influential in governance and business—so much so that more qualitative approaches have been sidelined.
Even political economy, the original economics, has been pushed away in favor of what’s now called ‘evidence-based decision-making’. The presumption is that numerical data is the only solid information, and that the analytical tools used in economic and market analysis are reliable.
Of course, as we know now, this faith in economic evidence can be dangerous. As markets crashed around the world during the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, confidence in all kinds of quantitative...
When ethnographic or market research is employed to help de-risk potential products and services, the focus is typically on understanding markets, cultures and contexts external to the organization that would launch them. This paper shifts the focus to the sorts of organizational practices, beliefs, and dynamics inside large corporations, which can create the conditions in which new products are brought to market despite evidence of their risk of failure....
EPIC Profiles Series
by RACHEL C. FLEMING, University of Colorado at Boulder
What do sentiments and ideologies have to do with Wall Street? Karen Ho would argue they are key for understanding and changing Wall Street’s institutional culture that generates and justifies a focus on the short-term. From working in a firm to interviewing workers and studying corporate publications, Karen’s insights into how particular mindsets come to dominate corporations or whole industries—in this case, the culture of liquidity—can help us transition from a culture of shortsightedness to one of creating long-term value.
Karen did not originally aspire to become an anthropologist, but her upbringing shaped her anthropological outlook in ways she realized only after she became one. Her father was a first-generation Taiwanese American doctor and the only OB-GYN in a fifty-mile radius in Covington, Tennessee. Growing up in the South as an Asian American child who didn’t belong clearly in any one group taught her how to think about race,...
University of North Texas MOLLY SHADE
University of North Texas
Information Technology (IT) professionals are racing to keep up with cyber-security threats in the workplace. But, as any cyber-security expert will tell you, security technology is only as good as the people who use it. And, people are a mystery to most cyber-security professionals making them the weak link for security interventions in organizations. To broadly impact current cyber-security awareness, interventions and education, it is crucial to understand how security is understood and applied by the users of technology. Thus, it is no surprise that more and more cyber-security studies are focusing on the individual employee to understand computer-user risk mediation. However, users and their actions do not exist in a vacuum, and their perceptions and subsequent behaviors regarding security risk are shaped by a vast array of beliefs, social relations and workplace practices. This paper reports on a fresh theoretical approach to cyber-security as a group...
by ZACH HYMAN, Continuum
Thomas Hobbes famously warned that the worst instincts of “mankind” need strict management, control, and regulation. But what about the harm that results when we try to manage spontaneous systems too closely?
I have been thinking with Robert Chia and Robin Holt lately; their book Strategy without Design is on my desk, and I’m nearly finished with their detailed accounts of how inflexible and myopic our planning and strategy can be. We’ve developed rigid and inflexible fields and disciplines, which have lead to similarly inelastic outputs. History is rife with examples of failed attempts to plan, manage, and control. The news these days is rife with them too—the misplaced ambitions of those who hope to design on a massive scale for a complex group of users.
Take, for example, high priests of modernity such as Le Corbusier, whose Plan Voisin imagined the transformation Paris into “a chequerboard latticework of well-spaced towers and open, orthogonal roads” (Chia & Holt 36). His success...
As the world becomes more complex the path from idea generation to execution becomes increasingly challenging. One of the main issues lies in the fact that in conventional strategic planning we tend to forecast what the future will be like, and build our business plans based on such predictions. However, in uncertain times it is very likely that our forecasts will be inaccurate, causing good propositions to get derailed very early on in the development process. How could we maximise our chances of success when developing new products and services? Pathfinder, a comics-style hero will take us through simple approaches that reduce the risk of failure, while enhancing the value that ideas can bring to businesses. By relying on design thinking and lean approaches, he will show how we can prototype and validate business models, ensuring we design propositions that are not only desirable, but also economically feasible....
AKIHIKO OBATA, SHIGERU YAMADA, HIROAKI HARADA, SADAYO HIRATA and SEISUKE ITO
We propose a new approach for project inspection applying ethnography to identifying IT system project risks. Guideline-based inspection is generally conducted in the IT industry to reduce project risks. Guidelines are created based on analysis of failures in past projects. However, it is difficult to detect new risks that emerged according to changes of project environments. We hypothesized that an ethnographic method would have some value to detect such emerging risks by capturing insiders’ perspectives. We developed procedures and guidelines to conduct inspection by ethnographic approach for IT experts. To clarify the value of the method, we conducted project inspection by the ethnographic approach on two projects that have already received guideline-based inspection. Problems found by the ethnographic inspection were not quite new for the members observed and interviewed. However, the ethnographic inspection successfully captured tacit problems that...
KEN ANDERSON, TONY SALVADOR and BRANDON BARNETT
Since the 90’s, one of ethnography’s values has been about the reduction in the risk of developing new products and services by providing contextual information about people’s lives. This model is breaking down. Ethnography can continue to provide value in the new environment by enabling the corporation to be agile. We need to: (1) identify flux in social-technological fabric; (2) engage in the characterization of the business ecosystems to understand order; and (3) be a catalyst with rapid deep dives. Together we call it a FOC approach (flux, order, catalyst)....