Friday, November 25, 2005

More on ethnography and design

Last week was the first Ethnographic Practice in Industry Conference. I had posted the cfp and was just waiting to see what came of it. Well, all the abstracts are online and the draft (i.e. incomplete) conference proceedings are now available online for a limited time - get the pdf version here.

Of particular interest are the following papers:

WHO WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT USERS by KRIS R. COHEN (pp.16-36)
Abstract. I begin with some questions: how have the theories and methods which subtend design research been changed by their migration from academy to industry? How have they adapted to their new commercial culture? What languages and customs have they had to acquire to fit in? To address these questions, I consider a facet of design research which I think most problematically bears the marks of this passage: how we choose who we will study. I go on to think about both the causes and implications of exclusions so often resident in this choice. The ideal that drives my analysis forward is that design researchers are in the business of designing not products for "users," but landscapes of possibility for public life. A final suggestion, inspired by my recent work on Internet-based personal photography and here briefly sketched, is that design researchers take the publicness of our work more seriously-that we design for it.

ETHNOGRAPHY, OPERATIONS, AND OBJECTUAL PRACTICE by TIM PLOWMAN (pp. 38-51)
Abstract. This paper raises issues around commercial ethnographic praxis and its relationship to social and cultural theory. Michel de Certeau’s theories around everyday life practices and Karin Knorr Cetina’s concept of postsocial objectual practice are juxtaposed in order to explore how commercial ethnographic practice might seriously engage with theory and transcend some of the assumptions that currently constrain its application within industry.

TO THE END OF THEORY-PRACTICE ‘APARTHEID’: ENCOUNTERING THE WORLD by MARIETTA BABA (pp. 175-186)
Abstract. A historical and comparative examination of ethnographic practice in sixteen nations around the globe reveals that theory-practice relations in anthropology and ethnography (A/E) have been shaped and re-shaped over time and space by complex contextual influences. This paper explores the evolution of theory-practice relationships in A/E over various regions of the world, tracing the beginning of a theory-practice ‘split’ from its origin under British colonialism, to its reappearance and institutionalization in post-World War II America, and explaining its absence in the ‘Second and Third Worlds’. Global practice in ethnography now appears to be converging toward a re-integration of theory and application across multiple disciplines and professions (a ‘hybrid’ approach), as ethnographers work to address urgent and poorly understood problems that are not
well theorized.


Unfortunately missing are workshop results and these papers:

THE COMING OF AGE OF HYBRIDS: NOTES ON ETHNOGRAPHIC PRAXIS by JEANETTE BLOMBERG
Abstract. It has been nearly 15 years since Donna Haraway wrote in Simians, Cyborgs and Women that, "In so far as we know ourselves in both formal discourse and in daily practice we find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras." While Haraway’s referent was not the community of practitioners, scholars and change agents assembled for the EPIC conference, her attention to the arrangement of material goods, human labor and social relations in processes and histories that have consequences for people’s lives resonates with the themes addressed in the workshops and with concerns that bring many of us to this conference. In this talk I will explore how ethnographic praxis is constituted by a mixing of such pure categories as, virtual – real, local –global, material – social, spiritual – secular, research – design, mercantile – humanitarian, and academic – applied. I will close with a call to celebrate our hybridity – our lives on the margins and our pragmatism.

UPDATE: Nancy White's notes & Dina Mehta's notes

CRAFT, VALUE, AND THE FETISHISM OF METHOD by NINA WAKEFORD
Abstract. In order to set the scene for the panel on methods, I will be drawing on C Wright Mills' injunction to avoid the fetishism of method. Mills urges us to think about our methods in terms of a process of craft production. I want to explore what key elements of this craft might be, beyond the usual focus on actual techniques such as interviewing or ethnographically informed data collection. Foregrounding the papers in the session, I will examine ideas of value, temporality and transformation (and perhaps even transgression).

UPDATE: Nancy White's notes


See also:

Technology Review: Corporate Ethnography summarises EPIC 2005 (thanks Nicolas)

I also find the following journals are good at covering these and related topics:

Design Journal
Design Issues (a favourite)
Design Philosophy
Design Studies
Environment & Planning B: Planning and Design (another favourite)
Journal of Design History

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