Tangible Tools in Para-Ethnographic Fieldwork

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SDU Design, University of Southern Denmark & LEGO Group

This paper sets out to explore how tangible tools can invite industrial managers to have a say in how ethnographic fieldwork can be conducted to explore the use of products in real-life contexts. We draw upon video materials and field notes from a series of customer visits in four European countries. Our main aim is to address the following questions: How can tangible tools help facilitate dialogues in the field to bring awareness and to challenge taken-for-granted assumptions? In what ways can company managers be involved in conducting fieldwork? To what extent can we involve the participants so that they do not solely serve as informants? Our arguments focus on challenging industrial manufacturing companies’ assumptions and expectations about their customers’ use of their products, as well as bringing awareness to company managers about the advantages of ethnographic praxis instigating collaboration across different levels. By showing that ethnography essentially becomes a collaborative practice, the arguments challenge the traditional approach to ethnographic fieldwork and thus takes a more social form that invites co-production of knowledge. Our findings show that tangible tools are powerful in 1) challenging informants’ perspectives and 2) empowering non-ethnographers to take ethnographic roles in fieldwork activities. We also argue that this “para-ethnographic” practice suggests that ethnographers as “facilitators” in a process of entrusting co-producers of ethnographic knowledge will increase the spectrum of skills and the impact of ethnographic work in business contexts.

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