theory/practice

In Praise of Theory in Design Research: How Levi-Strauss Redefined Workflow

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...

Applying Theory to Applied Ethnography

MARIA CURY ReD Associates DANIEL BIRD ReD Associates In applied ethnographic praxis, how should we use theory? Exploring how existing theory from a variety of domains has supported and advanced our work, this paper justifies and demonstrates how theory can be used in an accessible and practical manner when framing research and analyzing experience in the field. Two approaches for using theory are outlined, providing guidelines for different ways to apply theory to applied ethnography. Defense of such approaches is provided through both an appeal to the value we have seen it add to ethnography in industry and to a brief return to Hermeneutic ethnography, inspired by the likes of Gadamer and Geertz. The latter serves as a reminder of reasons to be skeptical that as ethnographers we uncover “the real.” Pre-existing theory provides valuable assistance when transforming an insight about the world into an idea with explanatory and predictive potential for our clients. Drawing upon theory allows us to elevate an interesting description...

Tell Me Why You Did That: Learning “Ethnography” from the Design Studio

ANNEMARIE DORLAND University of Calgary This paper questions the role and form of ethnography in the studio setting through a comparative analysis of interviews with service and brand designers, and the promotional rhetoric of the studio organizations in which they work. It proposes that the way in which designers practice ‘ethnography’ consists of an adapted and hybrid methodological approach based not on theoretically informed data collection, analysis and interpretation, but instead of an assemblage of embodied research approaches. The ways in which designers substitute proxy audience membership, performance and praxiography for traditional ethnographic methods in their creative work and their acts of negotiation between the structural expectations of the studio organization and their own practice of cultural production are considered. Keywords: Design Ethnography, Design Research, Methodology, Practice...

Tutorial: Anthropological Theory in Business Ethnography

Tutorial Instructors: KATHI KITNER Intel Corporation JAMIE SHERMAN Intel Corporation TUTORIAL SUMMARY 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. observation...

“Understanding the World through Engagement”: Jeanette Blomberg, A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by CHRISTINE T. WOLF, IBM Research How can risk-taking propel an ethnographic career? Just ask Jeanette Blomberg, who is no stranger to professional risk-taking. Her career journey, including major contributions at foundational tech giants in Silicon Valley, has centered on making participation in various forms core to ethnographic work. Jeanette is Principal Researcher at IBM Research – Almaden Research Center (ARC), where she has been for 13 years. Previously, she was Director of Experience Modeling at Sapient, Professor at the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden, and founding member of the Work Practice and Technology group at Xerox – PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). I’ve gotten to know Jeanette over the past year, working as an intern and student researcher in the area of work practice analytics under her guidance at IBM. We set aside time to discuss her professional experiences on the occasion of her recent induction into IBM’s Academy of Technology, a high honor within the corporation...

Organizational Culture and Change

bertknot-escher via flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
by KATE SIECK (RAND Corporation) & LAURA A. MCNAMARA (Sandia National Laboratories); EPIC2016 Paper Committee - Ethnography/Organizations & Change Curators Praxis is the bringing-to-life of a theory or philosophical position. It is the practical application of lessons learned through study and reflection. It is not simply what you do, it’s why you do it. Thus as the organization that specializes in ethnographic praxis in industry, we are the translators of ethnographic theory into action when applied to organizations and their cultures. As the discipline which specializes in the nuanced and contextual understanding of culture, ethnography offers a much-needed voice in these discussions. However, organizational science has tended to be dominated by industrial/organizational psychology, business management research, sociology and economics. In the resulting literature, ethnographic methods are often lumped into the category of “qualitative organizational research,” subsuming organizational anthropology to the more established...

The Future of Anthropology: EPIC/AAA Partnership

ed liebow
by ED LIEBOW, Executive Director, American Anthropological Association “I have just seen the future of anthropology,” I said to anyone and everyone who asked me about the first EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference), held in 2005 at Microsoft’s Seattle area campus. I had had a privileged vantage point, having offered to coordinate the production of the conference proceedings on behalf of AAA/NAPA (American Anthropological Association/National Association for the Praxis of Anthropology). The setting, the format, the participants all looked fresh through the EPIC lens. Even the proceedings – at least their timing – were a novelty. They appeared online the day before the conference started that first year, and every year since. Freely accessible to the whole world. This practice has created an archive and promoted an idea exchange, of course, but it has also served an important quality-assurance function: No last-minute presentations scribbled on airline cocktail napkins for EPIC. The conference pulls a community together...

Standards of Practice for Ethnography in Industry

by ALLEN W. BATTEAU, Wayne State University, & ROBERT J. MORAIS, Weinman Schnee Morais, Inc. Ethnography is at a crossroads. A methodology that was once the exclusive preserve of anthropologists, with its precursors found among a few colonial administrators, intrepid explorers, Indian agents, and their academic advisors, and, at least in the eyes of anthropologists, “owned” by anthropology, has in the past fifty years been embraced by numerous academic disciplines including sociology, education research, design research, and management studies. The founding and ten-year growth of the EPIC conference is recognition within numerous quarters that ethnography matters. Central to EPIC is “the view that theory and practice inform one another and that the integration of rigorous methods and theory from multiple disciplines creates transformative value for businesses.” Overlapping with ethnography’s evolution, during the last several decades, the application of anthropology in business has gained increasing recognition; although,...

To the End of Theory-Practice ‘Apartheid’: Encountering the World

MARIETTA BABA A historical and comparative examination of ethnographic practice in sixteen nations around the globe reveals that theory-practice relations in anthropology and ethnography (A/E) have been shaped and re-shaped over time and space by complex contextual influences. This paper explores the evolution of theory-practice relationships in A/E over various regions of the world, tracing the beginning of a theory-practice ‘split’ from its origin under British colonialism, to its reappearance and institutionalization in post-World War II America, and postulating its absence in the ‘Second and Third Worlds’. Global practice in ethnography now appears to be converging toward a re-integration of theory and application across multiple disciplines and professions (a ‘hybrid’ approach), as ethnographers work to address urgent and poorly understood problems that are not well theorized....

The Coming of Age of Hybrids: Notes on Ethnographic Praxis

JEANETTE BLOMBERG It has been nearly 15 years since Donna Haraway wrote in Simians, Cyborgs and Women that, “In so far as we know ourselves in both formal discourse and in daily practice we find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras.” While Haraway’s referent was not the community of practitioners, scholars and change agents assembled for the EPIC conference, her attention to the particular arrangements of material goods, human labor and social relations in processes and histories that have consequences for people’s lives resonates with the themes addressed in the workshops and with concerns that bring many of us to this conference. In this talk I will explore how ethnographic praxis is constituted in and through our focus on the here and now of everyday practice by which logical divisions and dualism such as material – social, virtual – real, local –global, spiritual – secular are unmasked. Recognizing both our hybrid subjects and our hybrid identities, I will suggest we turn the analytic lens on ourselves...

Attaining Humanity

DANNY MILLERThank you very much, indeed. I’m really delighted to be here and to meet this community. I hope that this will be the start of an engagement. As I think it’s sort of clear, I am a pretty academic anthropologist. That makes me a bit anxious, because I do remember going to something a bit like this a long time ago, and the keynote was this kind of academic anthropologist. It was very much this sense of they were standing there and it was like what they had done was so important and so kind of profound. Yes, there were these people doing this kind of more applied work. Well, I suppose you’ve got to do something for a living, but with all of these theories, you know, we can help you do this kind of thing.And when you actually look, I think these days the work of the kind of people who stand up and say that, I would actually say that they’re the kind of theoretical academic work going on in the social sciences today—it is actually increasingly problematic. I think an awful lot of it is very pretentious; it’s very...

Practice at the Crossroads: When Practice Meets Theory, A Rumination

MELISSA CEFKIN Consumer practices, work practices, not to mention management, design and research practices. The notion of “practice” remains core to much of what ethnographers in industry examine, expose and aim to inform. This paper questions: while we study practice(s), while we may frame our research and analysis with sensitivity towards rendering visible the richness or particularity of peoples’ practice, what have we really learned about practice? In part aimed at considering whether and how the work performed by ethnographers in industry advances or critiques theories of practice as explored by Bourdieu and others, the paper aims to reconcile the fact that we are “there” at the behest of our business counterparts to have an impact and affect change. So the question shifts from not only how we use and understand concepts of practice to how it frames the expectations of our business partners and stakeholders. What I have found is that there is both productive overlap and significant slippage between our (theoretically...

Techno|theory Deathmatch: An Agonistic Experiment in Theory and Practice

JAY DAUTCHER, MIKE GRIFFIN, TIFFANY ROMAIN and EUGENE LIMB Theories about humans and their relationships with technology are part of a lifeworld shared by many corporate ethnographers, although individuals’ practices for engaging with theory can vary considerably due to factors such as disciplinary training and workplace norms. Within the EPIC community the perception of a constrained relationship between theory and corporate ethnographic praxis has emerged as a matter of concern. This paper recounts our experiment with bringing theory into daily work by designing and playing a game that had us adopt the personas of theorists while engaging in rhetorical combat, competing to surface insights relevant to an ongoing technology development project. Each phase, from initial game design, through prototyping play, to the final event, supported our collective practice of theory, brought to light hidden assumptions about the role of theory in our work, and provided actionable value to our daily work activities....

Who We Talk about When We Talk about Users

KRIS R. COHEN I begin with some questions: how have the theories and methods which subtend design research been changed by their migration from academy to industry? How have they adapted to their new commercial culture? What languages and customs have they had to acquire to fit in? To address these questions, I consider a facet of design research which I think most problematically bears the marks of this passage: how we choose who we will study. I go on to think about both the causes and implications of exclusions so often resident in this choice. The ideal that drives my analysis forward is that design researchers are in the business of designing not products for “users,” but landscapes of possibility for public life. A final suggestion, inspired by my recent work on Internet-based personal photography and here briefly sketched, is that design researchers take the publicness of our work more seriously—that we design for it....

Let’s Have A Conversation

RICK E. ROBINSON As an introductory set of remarks for the theory session, this short paper sets up some issues facing both the field of ethnography applied in industry and those who undertake theoretical work in the field. The author proposes some simple dimensions for discussion: how we might consider work in industry a definite and distinct location for theory work; the nature of relationships with key interlocutors that are fundamental to working in industry; and finally, the role, opportunity, and responsibility that theory work might have going forward....