Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Tutorial: Integrating Sustainability Perspectives in Ethnographic Work


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This tutorial examines ways ethnography is uniquely positioned to contribute to the design and innovation of environmentally sustainable (or even better than merely sustainable) products and services. It reviews several emerging design perspectives—such as circular design, regenerative design, systems-oriented design, and value-centered design—and explores ways that ethnographers in industry can use them their own practice and organizations to build sustainability considerations into their work. It is valuable for those who are relatively new to sustainability as well as those with deeper experience who are interested in expanding our collective impact toward more planet-friendly industries. The session covers:

  • Opportunity costs of doing design research “as usual”
  • Key perspectives and approaches for sustainable design and innovation
  • Baking sustainability perspectives into research
  • Ethnographic/anthropological theories and methods that can support a sustainability perspective in research (including semiotic analysis, object ethnography, and garbology)
  • Making the case for sustainability perspectives to stakeholders

Participants took away a toolkit of approaches and methods that will help them practice and advocate for a sustainability perspective in their work.

This tutorial was presented in full at EPIC202020. The video includes instructor presentations; discussions and breakout sessions are excluded for the privacy of the participants.


Mike Youngblood, PhD, is a cultural anthropologist working at the nexus of social science and human-centered design. He has worked with for-profit and not-for-profit clients around the world in a wide range of industries, including financial services, transportation, telecommunications, food and nutrition, education, healthcare, and social services. Mike has taught at the School for International Training, Maryland Institute College of Art, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, and Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. His recent books are Cultivating Community: Interest, Identity, and Ambiguity in an Indian Social Mobilization and Rethinking Users: The Design Guide to User Ecosystem Thinking. He is also editor of the Sustainability and Ethnography in Business Series on the EPIC blog Perspectives (and is eagerly seeking new contributors), and teaches the EPIC Course Observation in Ethnographic Practice.


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