by THOMAS WENDT, Surrounding Signifiers
“The term ‘empathy’ has provided a guiding thread for a whole range of fundamentally mistaken theories concerning man’s [sic] relationship to other human beings and to other beings in general.”
Popular design discourse is full of articles, books, and conference presentations on the role of empathy in design. In both commercial and non-commercial settings, most designers argue the same thing: designers should attempt to build empathy for “users” so they can better design for them. But empathy as it’s generally practiced ultimately subverts its own goals. It tends to reinforce “otherness”, promote anthropocentrism, and ignore ecological considerations.
I recently moved from Manhattan to Queens. My old neighborhood, NoLita (north of Little Italy…thanks, real estate agents), had fully gentrified, with storefronts quickly transforming into cold pressed juice bars ($10/cup) and men’s shaving supply stores ($25 “beard oil”). My...
by MIKE YOUNGBLOOD, The Youngblood Group
Introduction to the Sustainability & Ethnography in Business Series, Mike Youngblood, Editor
Sustainability—we’re hearing this word a lot these days, even in business (if not, depressingly, in Trump Tower). It’s probably something readers of this post all generally support, and it’s definitely something we’re all connected to in one way or another. Whether we work in tech, consumer goods, education, government, or any other field, it’s pretty easy to see how the products, services, and organizations we serve affect larger social and environmental issues.
For most of us in the EPIC community, however, sustainability isn’t in our job descriptions. So how should we understand and act on this issue? What are our perspectives, capabilities, opportunities, and responsibilities with respect to sustainability? Are we actively addressing sustainability in our work, or is it properly “someone else’s job?”
This post introduces an EPIC discussion on sustainability. Over...
WILLIAM SCHINDHELM GEORG
PETER HAYWARD JONES
This paper investigates how a close understanding of human activity can inform the design of culturally and contextually sustainable innovations for subsistence markets. Building on existing literature related to poverty alleviation initiatives and an ethnographic field study, this project attempted to understand the cultural and contextual challenges to the substitution of unhealthy and unsustainable biomass as cooking fuels by cleaner and competitive cooking alternatives in Kitintale, an urban slum in Kampala, Uganda. We share new research findings and experience from a recent ethnographic study that reveals the incompatibility of modern innovation theory with the realities of the deeply knitted everyday practices in the social ecology of slum life. As the findings of this project suggest, broad claims that disruptive innovation can shift existing practices, change demand and displace market leaders through the creation of new value networks might not fully...
by META GORUP (Ghent University) &DAN PODJED (University of Ljubljana)
‘The bad news is that anthropology is never going to solve the global crisis,’ professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen provoked, ‘but the good news is that without us, nobody is going to because our knowledge is a crucial piece of the jigsaw puzzle.’
The EASA Applied Anthropology Network’s symposium ‘Why the world needs anthropologists’ in Ljubljana, Slovenia, was a journey that traversed critical issues from climate change to the refugee crisis, fear of robots, the role of anthropological and ethnographical approaches in a globalized world, social entrepreneurship, and the meaning of nation states, security, and sustainable mobility. Coverage of this vast terrain by keynote speakers Genevieve Bell, Joanna Breidenbach, and Thomas Hylland Eriksen, as well as Lučka Kajfež Bogataj and a moderated panel, had clear common denominators:
interdisciplinarity is crucial;
anthropologists should make their research more inclusive and their findings widely...
by MELEA PRESS, Hanken School of Economics
At the recent climate talks in Paris, 195 countries adopted a universal climate deal for the first time ever, key parts of which are legally binding. This is a stunning success and highlights how urgently the world’s nations, backed by their citizens and businesses, are seeking new ways to thrive while also addressing the challenges of climate change. As they strive to reach emissions targets over the next 15 years, organizations will also gradually realize that sustainability is no longer a trendy choice or moral imperative, but a reality in need of focused, persistent attention—and a good roadmap. Organizations must integrate sustainability into every strategic plan and action, yet few know how to turn the global goals of climate change mitigation into the kinds of activities they report to stakeholders.
At first, developing a sustainability plan may seem an easy task. There are numerous books and articles about the business case for sustainability, as well as inspirational memoirs,...
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...
Are we really connected to the steps and act of recycling and reuse? Is the modern American vision for recycling too clean and removed from the reality of our waste? Images are a series of observations about a single example of community, value-based recycling from Shanghai. The images challenge us to reflect on what we can learn from other approaches....
Abstract: From cataclysmic recessions to unprecedented climate disasters, our cities seem awash with unintended consequences borne of complex times. While city administrations grapple with developing systemic supports, our infrastructure, communities and individual wellbeing are increasingly succumbing to the strain. This paper examines a practice gaining recent traction for improving our cities’ sustainable resilience: service design. As an inherently user-centered, reflexive and iterative practice, it develops service systems by drawing upon a range of disciplinary roles - from makers to strategists, and ethnographers to technologists. I examine three New York City-based case studies which each attempt to improve the services its residents use and need. While responding to the complex needs of the same city, these case studies illustrate the vastly different possibilities for improving broken civic services through institutional intervention: housing in civic service design, mobility in private sector service design,...
JOHANNE MOSE ENTWISTLE and MIA KRUSE RASMUSSEN
Developing sustainable solutions within the energy sector requires a holistic, interdisciplinary approach. Interdisciplinary partnerships need common frameworks that enable dialogue and knowledge exchange between different perspectives. In this paper we present ‘The Model of Change’ as a framework for designing and evaluating different efforts in innovation projects. By insisting that effects of solutions have to be understood as a complex interplay of context, preconditions, perception, and interaction, The Model of Change becomes a tool to help us bring nuance to the simplistic cause-effect view that often dominates energy research. This type of contextual knowledge is essential to reproduce successes, improve failures and develop sustainable solutions that work....
J.A. ENGLISH-LUECK and MIRIAM LUECK AVERY
In 2012, the Google Innovation Lab for Food Experiences convened a multi-year conversation between corporate food stakeholders, farmers, chefs, food experts, social scientists and business consultants to reimagine the impact of companies on their employees and the food system. Corporate care increasingly includes food. Food origins and preparations create impacts well beyond the corporate cafe, reaching into fields and families. In the project, Farms to Firms to Families, university-based anthropologists joined with the Institute for the Future to develop a Northern Californian case study on the implications of corporate care across the food system. Ethnographic observations and interviews of people in that system yielded a portrait of cultural values, schema for social change, and diverse practices. We then transformed ethnographic observations into alternative future scenarios, which could help participants in the Google Innovation Lab for Food Experiences, as well as a wider community of...
LAURA E. RESENDEZ DE LOZANO
While the cement industry had traditionally been linked to the concepts of modernity and development, the drive towards socially responsible and environmentally friendly business practices has required a revision of the industry mostly in relation to its sustainability programs. This paper examines the logics followed by employees when relating to the concept of sustainability as sustainability programs are implemented in the cement industry. The interaction with different stakeholders in combination with personal convictions about ethics, power, environment and participation in a team influence how an individual understands sustainability policies and makes them concrete....
LOUISE LØGSTRUP, MAREN MELISSA NELSON-BURK, WAFA SAID MOSLEH and WENDY GUNN
The move towards a more liberalized energy market and the emergent smart grid technology has forced a Scandinavian energy company to begin rethinking the relation between themselves and private energy end users. Originally a unidirectional relationship, the present and future have potential for a more bidirectional relationship between the company and their customers. During this process the company has realized that they lack knowledge about private energy end users. The company has run a demonstration project simulating the face of the electricity smart grid in private households and has used ethnographic methods to investigate the system effect of private households’ participation. Our paper questions why this kind of approach is reproducing the unidirectional relationship instead of creating a bidirectional relationship. We propose an extension of the ethnographic approach whereby anthropological reflection is generated in the company through a flexible...
MELISSA CLIVER, CATHERINE HOWARD and RUDY YULY
A growing cadre of organizations, corporations, NGOs and philanthropic foundations seek to address difficult global problems like poverty using social innovation and technology. Such problems are multivalent, deep-rooted, ever changing and culturally specific. Amid this complicated terrain, ethnographic tools and methods are uniquely suited and key to successfully addressing these large-scale dilemmas. In our project, we use dynamic combinations of research, strategy and creative thinking to develop scalable financial service prototypes designed to promote financial inclusion for the world’s poorest individuals. Fostering holistic solutions in this arena requires new ways of conceiving, designing and delivering innovation. In this paper we describe our process and vision for navigating these complex environments with hybrid strategies and an embrace of systems thinking1. We conclude with six imperatives for success in global social innovation projects....
DAN LOCKTON, FLORA BOWDEN, CATHERINE GREENE, CLARE BRASS and RAMA GHEERAWO
Reducing home energy use is a major societal challenge, involving behaviour change alongside infrastructure improvements. However, many approaches lump ‘energy demand’ together as something homogeneous, addressable primarily through quantitative feedback, rather than basing interventions on an understanding of why people use energy as they do. Our contention is that people don’t set out to ‘use energy’: its use is a side effect of solving everyday problems, meeting needs for comfort, light, cooking, cleaning, entertainment, and so on....
INGA TREITLER and FRANK ROMAGOSA
Do no harm; communicate and collaborate; keep learning, keep teaching; instigate meaningful change; make theory action.
—Designers Accord code of conduct (designersaccord.org)
Every profession bears the responsibility to understand the circumstance which enables its existence.
For an exile, habits of life, expression or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of these things in another environment. Thus both the new and the old environments are vivid, actual, occurring together contrapuntally. There is a unique pleasure in this sort of apprehension.
—Edward Said, Reflections on Exile (1984)
What kind of times are these we live and work in? Last October, many of us left the EPIC2008 meetings with a drive to apply “sustainability” thinking to our research and design. It is no coincidence that those meetings were hosted in Copenhagen, a city in a region where design is an unabashed element of all public decision making and environmental...