Saturday, December 20, 2003

Waiting for a friend and checking email

I was just reading the latest Doors of Perception newsletter on Doors East and choked on my tea.

For many of the service designers who came to Bangalore, ethnographic research is a powerful new tool. But an ethical dilemma emerged: who owns the results of research into a lifestyle? Yves Doz, a professor at Insead, has written blithely about "harvesting lifestyles". The consensus in Bangalore is that we need to think first, and act responsibly, before blundering into communities without their informed consent. Perhaps the equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath will be needed as service designers venture into real- world contexts.

Anyone who conducts ethnographic research without informed consent does not deserve to be called an ethnographer. Seriously. I am currently in the midst of getting ethics approval for my research, and let me assure you that this is not simple, but very important.

And this is exactly why I wrote about the difference between ethnography done by ethnographers and the increasingly common - but often enough ethically suspect - use of ethnographic methods by marketers and designers.

Why the hell aren't people asking anthropologists about the ethics of ethnography? We do have over a hundred years of triumphs and failures to draw on, after all.

But I'll stop ranting now. I should not be so agitated when Daphne arrives ;)


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