Anthropological theory deepens and extends the impact of ethnography, adding significant value to the companies, organizations and communities we work with. Because professionals who use and execute ethnography in business come to the job from varying backgrounds, many ethnographers are seeking to extend their training in theory and research. And when we do engage more deeply with theory, many of us find that the epistemologies that drive research in business contexts are often in tension with anthropological understandings of research, knowledge, data, and evidence. As anthropologists working in a corporate setting, we sometimes struggle to reconcile these tensions and maintain an anthropological perspective in the rush of everyday productivity and work objectives. In this tutorial, participants collectively explored what we saw as foundational theoretical perspectives that, historically, have shaped ethnographic method.
by JAMIE SHERMAN, Intel Corporation
For many anthropologists and ethnographers—and particularly those of us based in the US, where the self and its adherent freedoms and choices have long been a core cultural construct—the self is frequently at the center of our studies. Indeed we are often in a privileged position from which to critique and dismantle notions of self that are too easy, too pat, too unified. But increasing penetration of data into the domain of the “personal” and to the management and care of the self suggest that something is afoot in how the self is understood, experienced, and practiced more broadly. As an anthropologist working for a technology company, understanding this shift becomes important as we design for a world in which data plays new roles and gains different valences than it once had. While the future remains an open question, social science theory helps ground present uncertainties in historical trajectories and suggests key directions for research and design that intersect these changes.
by PEDRO OLIVEIRA, Independent Research Consultant
As a young social scientist I used to be incredibly attracted to dense theoretical texts in anthropology, psychology and the social sciences in general. I equated thickness of language to complexity of thought. I no longer do. When I truly disowned the belief that obscure language hides complex thinking, I had two choices—either let go of theory altogether or develop a different appetite for it. I developed an appetite for clear theory and clear language.
Theory in business research, even when informed by the social sciences, demands clarity. At this point in our development as a business research community informed by social sciences, new theory is essential. If we are to overcome the still-dominant view in academia that our work is merely a practical “derivate” of more erudite scholarship in universities, we should invest in our own theory.
Many of us are doing this work: it is showcased every year at EPIC and collected online in EPIC’s Intelligences [www.epicpeople.org],...