Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Well, That Was Awkward! The Value of Discomfort


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2014 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918.

The awkward pause, the impolite topic, and the embarrassing moment are occupational hazards for the ethnographer. Rather than shun these uncomfortable moments and get back to the smooth, seamless business of research, we should embrace and reflect upon them; they can be invaluable. In this presentation, we will present a study focused on developing and improving resources designed for students who are visually impaired. In the course of this project, we encountered all manner of discomfort as we found our fully sighted understanding of the world challenged by our participants’ experiences. This proved to be a major empathy hurdle, which we only began to resolve once we accounted for our own discomfort as data, and not simply an inconvenient emotional side effect to be swept aside to achieve a kind of ideal objectivity.

Marta Cuciurean-Zapan is a senior associate at Conifer Research, where she studies behavior and emotion in order to create positive and significant interactions between people as mediated through material culture. Her background in anthropology and art brings pattern and meaning to questions in fields like education, hospitality, and consumer goods.

Evan Hanover is the Director of Research for Conifer Research in Chicago. He uses his combined interests in linguistic anthropology, photography, and performance in leading research teams at Conifer to unpack how people construct, embody, and communicate meaning and value through language and consumption.