by BILL SELMAN and GEMMA PETRIE, Mozilla In his 2015 novel, Satin Island, Tom McCarthy’s protagonist (known only as “U”) is a corporate anthropologist working for an outre design research firm whose work embodies all the absurd contradictions of late capitalism. The highly influential firm’s logo is “a giant, crumbling tower.” The visionary owner and boss of U takes pride in telling his clients that he is selling them “fiction” and in talks to Davos-like conferences speaks primarily in Nietzschean aphorisms. Ultimately, McCarthy portrays the role of his protagonist and design researcher as the ideal specimen of the late capitalist job. In one scene, U describes a tactic he used to provide insight for analysis to a well-known client who manufactures jeans: ...to provide a framework for explaining to the client what these crease-types truly and profoundly meant – I stole a concept from the French philosopher Deleuze: for him le pli, or fold, describes the way we swallow the exterior world, invert it, and then flip...
Developing Socially Acceptable Autonomous Vehicles
Jennifer Collier Jennings • 0 Comments
ERIK VINKHUYZEN Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley MELISSA CEFKIN Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley Case Study—Recognizing that the movement of cars on the road involves inherently social action, Nissan hired a team of social scientists to lead research for the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs) that engage with pedestrians, bicyclists, and other cars in a socially acceptable manner. We are expected to provide results that can be implemented into algorithms, resulting in a challenge to our social science perspective: How do we translate what are observably social practices into implementable algorithms when road use practices are so often contingent on the particulars of a situation, and these situations defy easy categorization and generalization? This case study explores how our cross-disciplinary engagements have proceeded. A particular challenge for our efforts is the limitations of the technology in making observational distinctions that socially acceptable driving necessitates. We also illustrate...
Teaching Organizational Ethnography
Susan Faulkner • 0 Comments
NOZOMI IKEYA, ERIK VINKHUYZEN, JACK WHALEN and YUTAKA YAMAUCHI In 2004 Fujitsu asked PARC to carry out an ethnographic investigation of their software business, focusing on their development processes, and while doing so to build an ethnographic capability in their own organization. One of our biggest challenges was to convince Fujitsu’s system engineers – and the development organization more generally – of the value of ethnography for their business. They are used to translating what they hear from customers about the workflow into a standard framework of system requirements and specifications; it was difficult for them to see the relevance of putting any significant focus on understanding what is going on in the workplace at the level of everyday work practices. Moreover, in their work with customers, system engineers commonly proceed in a carefully planned and highly structured manner, where every activity is expected to yield predictable outcomes. For them, the open-ended nature of ethnographic fieldwork seemed dangerously...
Sustaining Stories: The Versatile Life of Sustained, In-house, Ethnographic Practice in a Global Software Company
EPIC People • 2 Comments
NATALIE D. HANSON and JOHANN W. SARMIENTO-KLAPPER Ethnographers, in a sense, play the role of story creators, storytellers, and, often, preservers of such stories. The narratives produced and the fieldwork from which they emerge make visible trajectories of practice—for both subjects and researchers— which can be traced both retrospectively and projectively. For “in-house” ethnographers engaged in the sustained work of making sense of and contributing to organizations, a unique challenge emerges: discovering and managing the retrospective and prospective meaning of their storytelling and its visibility. Here we reflect on the challenges and opportunities of sustaining ethnographic inquiry in a large global software company. Reflecting on close to ten years of participant observation, we outline some of our practices related to positioning, re-framing, and expanding the visibility of our work and our organizational roles; a dynamic that continues to shape our practice and its relevance within this corporate environment....