Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Techno|theory Deathmatch: “Using Theory in Research” Read-along


A new cohort of EPIC members has just embarked on “Using Theory in Research”—a foundational EPIC Course taught by Kate Sieck, PhD (Senior Manager, Machine Assisted Cognition at Toyota Research Institute). We invite you to read along!

In the first of six lectures and group seminar sessions, course participants explored what theory is and how it infuses our everyday work practices. Kate also covered the value of sociocultural theory, how it’s different from other approaches, its special value to work in business and organizational environments, and some foundational frameworks of society and culture.

Kate recommended the following reading and listening for week one. Yep, that’s cyborg-avatar Lucy Suchman with a WALL-E body. You’ll also get to see Bruno Latour in Superman trunks. Have fun! You can also participate in the next course cohort.

Techno|theory Deathmatch
by Jay Dautcher, Mike Griffin, Tiffany Romain, Eugene Limb

KATE SAYS: Certainly good methodological practices are important. However, our assumptions about people and situations—our theories—shape the questions we ask, the methods we choose, and the analyses we apply to our data. What I love about Techno/Theory Deathmatch is the way it uses theory as a tool. We all head into research with our ideas about what we’ll find—largely based on how we’ve come to interpret the world. Even for those of us trained in theory, we tend to lean on some favorite lenses. The deathmatch game forces us to question our perspectives by actively pitting different theoretical explanations against each other using the same data to see which offers the most robust and comprehensive understanding of the situation. And they did it in a creative and collaborative way to boot! This is the goal of the class. If we can provide participants with a range of lenses to apply to their work to enable them to ask broader questions and interrogate their findings, we’ve significantly advanced the field of research.

“To the End of Theory-Practice ‘Apartheid'”
by Marietta Baba

KATE SAYS: A foundational article on the historical split between theory and applied work—and why most applied anthropologists/ethnographers don’t have significant training in theory.

“One Case, Three Ethnographic Styles”
by Fabian Segelstroöm & Stefan Holmlid

KATE SAYS: This paper takes you through the same project using three different theoretical orientations to ethnography (questions, assumptions, methods, evidence). It’s a good example of how different orientations change a project at each stage, from initial scope to presentations of findings.

Zora’s Daughters
by Alyssa A.L. James & Brendane Tynes

KATE SAYS: This is a wonderful podcast that applies critical social theory to a wide range of popular issues. From their website: “We’re Alyssa and Brendane, two Black women PhD students in Anthropology. We follow in the footsteps of Zora Neale Hurston, bringing a critical anthropological lens to race, politics, and popular culture.” Insightful way of thinking about the value of social theory in addressing contemporary challenges.