The US banking industry has a long history of excluding, exploiting, or simply ignoring low-income communities, recent immigrants, and racial minorities. In this paper, I share my experiences creating a community of practice where employees of a rapidly-growing banking startup can identify and confront the ethical challenges facing the financial technology (fintech) industry. This community is informed by insights from four years of activism and anthropological research that I conducted with small teams of service designers and ethnographers developing financial services for and with low- to moderate-income communities around the world. Through this research, I identified three institutional logics—insularity, decontextualization, and technological hubris—which limit efforts to build a more inclusive, equitable banking system. These logics hold the potential to lead well-intentioned organizations, and the practitioners they employ, to harm the marginalized communities they set out to help. This paper concludes...
by NAT KENDALL-TAYLOR, FrameWorks Institute
Social change requires culture change and social science can help.
“Context matters.” “It’s a systemic issue.” “It’s…complicated.” As ethnographers and researchers these are our mantras—but how can we communicate about social issues in ways that really make a difference?
Evidence shows that how we frame our messages can have dramatic effects on all kinds of outcomes that count. Real social change requires shifts in deeply ingrained cultural models: what people feel about society and social groups; how we understand problems and their solutions; and the degree to which we feel motivated and willing to engage in the social problems of our day.
I have studied nearly 40 different social issues, the cultural models people use to understand them, and messaging that can shifts those understandings. Across these diverse social issues, I have found three cultural models that stymie social change—and three research-based messaging strategies that can help shift them.
Systems Change Consultant
Case Study—In 2016 The Chicago Community Trust (“The Trust”), a local Chicago foundation, partnered with Roller Strategies (“Roller”), an international professional services firm, to deploy an innovative mixed-methods approach to community-driven social change on the South Side of Chicago. This partnership convened a diverse group of stakeholders representing a microcosm of the social system, and launched a project with the aim of developing resilient livelihoods for youth aged 18-26 in three specific South Side neighborhoods. Roller designed and facilitated a process through which the stakeholder group scoped, launched, piloted and prototyped community-driven initiatives. While innovative and successful by some metrics, the project had its challenges. The convening institutions and their staff were often perceived as “outsiders” and “experts” without intimate local knowledge of the social challenges they were attempting to address. This dynamic played out in complex power...
Carolyn Rouse is a professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology and the Director of the Program in African Studies at Princeton University. Her work explores the use of evidence to make particular claims about race and social inequality. She is the author of Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam, Uncertain Suffering: Racial Healthcare Disparities and Sickle Cell Disease and Televised Redemption: Black Religious Media and Racial Empowerment. Her manuscript Development Hubris: Adventures Trying to Save the World examines discourses of charity and development and is tied to her own project building a high school in a fishing village in Ghana. In the summer of 2016 she began studying declining white life expectancies in rural California as a follow-up to her research on racial health disparities.
Carolyn is also a filmmaker: she has produced, directed, and/or edited a number of documentaries including Chicks in White Satin (1994), Purification to Prozac: Treating...
by ANNE MCCLARD, Intel
“A radical approach specifically aims to uncover root causes and original sources, as opposed to surface level explanations.” —Thomas Wendt
Thomas Wendt is one of many eloquent voices urging designers and ethnographers to take responsibility for the social roots and implications of our work. This might mean using participatory approaches, or expanding the scope of our research to understand the larger social implications of a project more fully. It might even mean refusing to work on certain projects all together.
Any choice we make about how we work and what we work on will depend on our own beliefs and political commitments, as well as the constraints or freedoms of our workplaces. Those of us working within corporations may have fewer liberties when it comes to choosing and directing the work that we do day-to-day. These are struggles I have had in trying to make a meaningful difference as an ethnographic researcher from within the confines of the various large technology companies in which I have...
Abilene Christian University
MARY YOKO BRANNEN
University of Victoria
Showcasing a sixteen-month ethnographic study of a coalition to end homelessness in Western Canada, we show how the integration of two theoretical perspectives—institutional logics and negotiated culture—can be used as complementary, yet distinct lenses to better inform the practice of cross sector partnerships which tackle the world’s wicked problems. In doing so, we highlight how we were able to holistically capture the meaning systems at work in such multi-faceted partnerships resulting in a better understanding of how partnerships can work across difference to affect positive social change. In particular, we capture how multiple stakeholders make sense of a partnership’s identity in a variety of different ways based upon meaning systems with which they identify at multiple levels as well as how they enact bridging skills across meaning-related boundaries to promote more effective partner interface.
Keywords: cultural dynamics, negotiated...
Hasbrouck Research Group
Contributor: LISA DICARLO, Brown University
In this interactive tutorial, participants explored ways in which ethnographers can have an expanded role in addressing social issues and other wicked problems. In particular, it explored how ethnographic thinking can frame problems and catalyze change.
Participants were first provided with a grounding in ways to approach systemic challenges and social entrepreneurship, including discussion of some successful roles ethnographers have played as part of inter-disciplinary teams. Then, instructors introduced three case studies (and frameworks of systems within them) that participants later used as material for exploring how broader applications of ethnographic thinking might work in real world settings. Those included: labor practices in the seafood industry, encouraging energy conservation, and managing the refugee crises.
In the second part of the tutorial, participants divided into groups...
by ED LIEBOW, American Anthropological Association
What’s the first thing to do if, at the end of your work day, you come home to your apartment and see a river of water flowing out from under the washroom door, threatening to harm your home and your downstairs neighbor’s? Do you start to clean up the mess while the water keeps flowing? No, you shut off the water first. Only then do you attend to the damage.
Ninety-two people are killed by firearms each day In America, a flood of deaths in the US each year that rivals the number of deaths from traffic accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Japan, and in the UK as well as elsewhere in Western Europe, you are considerably more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed by a gun.
There are plenty of people everywhere who have issues with anger management, macho crises, impulse control, or more severe mental health problems. But if the most lethal weapon they have at hand is a rolling pin, or even a kitchen knife, and not a firearm,...
by CHUCK DARRAH, San Jose State University
Chuck Darrah and Jeanette Blomberg are Host and Discussan of the EPIC2016 Salon Working for Social Change. Join them at EPIC2016!
No matter the source of your employment, whether in the commercial sector or academia, we all want our work lives to add up to something positive. Yet it is easy to wonder how this or that project actually affected the world for better or worse. What can we do to make the next project better? How can we take what we learned so we can repeat the success in other projects or settings?
Jeanette Blomberg and I have been engaged in an extended conversation with each other for over a decade about the relationship between our day jobs and our interest in promoting social change. The EPIC2016 Salon Working for Social Change is a chance for our community to reflect on the complexities of making the world a better place through our labor as EPIC practitioners and academics, both individually and collectively.
Jeanette has spent a career working primarily in the...
by ED LIEBOW, American Anthropological Association & EMILIE HITCH, Rabbit; EPIC2016 Papers Committee, Ethnography/CSR Curators
Business interests often claim that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is ‘the right thing to do’ and that acting responsibly is ‘good for business.’ Multinational firms have come together to create international conventions and business associations that establish and abide by audit standards for fair wages, safe working conditions, and they support the development and maintenance of public facilities and services necessitated by the additional local demands created by local operations. Out of an enlightened sense of self-interest, small and medium-size enterprises may also look out for their employees and suppliers, invest in their communities, protect the environment, and pave the way for a sustainable future.
Yet many skeptics place firms’ CSR activities in a broader historical and cultural context, and argue that these firms have prospered greatly in lax compliance regimes, where they...
IBM Research CHUCK DARRAH
San Jose State University
Services and access to them are related to core societal concerns such as sustainability and the role of families and communities in people’s lives, themes of enduring concern to the discipline of anthropology. Our aim in this paper is to begin to outline arguments for why anthropology and the EPIC community more broadly should have a prominent seat at the table of understanding and engaging social change emanating from innovations in the service economy. The discourse on services advises that we are in the middle of a major transformation akin to the move from agriculture to manufacturing, where modern economies are becoming service economies and people’s relations to material possessions are being reconfigured through services. We suggest that if a major shift is underway in how people get on in the world then it is incumbent upon the EPIC community to consider the opportunities and limitations for shaping this transformation....
by MICHAEL G. POWELL, Shook Kelley
Professional anthropologists frequently occupy unique roles, simultaneously inside and outside the organizations we work for or work with. Most of us are already adept at negotiating these roles, but don’t necessarily highlight this skill as something of great value, either to professional ethnography or to the broader intellectual life of anthropology. We should.
Our role in the broader field of anthropology often remains marginal and our position—at once inside and outside, betwixt and between—is somewhat precarious and vulnerable (eg, Reddy 2012 touches on this, as do some of her guest bloggers). But it also affords opportunities. Professional anthropologists cross and complicate existing boundaries: collaborating with, debating, struggling with, writing about, negotiating, navigating and translating between different dynamic audiences. Embracing our hybridity is a powerful recognition that our difference is relevant and valuable.
I offer here a story of my experience as a professional...
TONY SALVADOR and DEAN M. WHITNEY
We consider implications for the active, intentional design of the endings of products, services, institutions and other structures and processes pervading our societies. We suggest psychological reluctance to some kinds of endings even in the context of broader social benefit. We propose direction for and encourage attention of this community to certain kinds of work designed to end some things while creating other things. We introduce the notion of “creative idiosyncratic ritualization for renewal” and propose that the EPIC community is uniquely situated to ask “strange” questions in the most “familiar” of ways to increase our collective general welfare....