Wednesday, May 30, 2007

If I could interview the ethnographers...

Just reading this BBC article on Jan Chipchase, I finally got a glimpse of what I've always wanted to know: What, exactly, does he produce for Nokia? Well, for one, it's patents.

Apparently being a bit daft, I hadn't thought about this before. But then I thought, "Wow, that's got to be an important difference between corporate and academic anthropology/ethnography!"

And all of this reminded me that for years I've wanted to do an ethnographic study of corporate ethnographers. Well, actually, I'd be just as happy to interview tech-company folks like Jan and Genevieve Bell. In fact, here's what I'd ask:

1. Can you describe the skills and credentials you've gained from academic, corporate and fieldwork contexts? Are these abilities and statuses transferable? When is 'translation' most successful and when is it most challenging?

2. What is the relationship between method and theory in your work? What is your relationship with study participants? What are the products of your work? How do you account for their validity, relevance and value? What role does intellectual property play in all this?

3. Do you believe there is a place for critical social and cultural approaches to technology in your work? If so, what form and function might they take? What would their strengths and limitations be? If not, what are the reasons why?

4. What role do public relations (media interviews, lectures, blogs, etc.) play in your work? What are the benefits and downsides of having public personas? How do you negotiate boundaries between public and private life, or work and play activities?

Although, if you believe that ethnography is generally interpretive work then you would, and should, expect me to go beyond this and try to make sense of the answers.

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Anonymous Dan said...

I've also thought about this kind of a study over the past couple of years. In fact, someone once told me you were already doing it! Why stop at interviewing? Why not observe the observers? Besides the fact that it might be an incredibly difficult study to get started...

Anonymous anne said...

In my MA, like ten years ago, I remember discussing in class a woman anthropologist in the late 70s or early 80s who studied and published an ethnographic account of her own department. Continuing with my vague recollection, this event ended badly and had made it all but impossible to do such a study in North America. Our prof believed that she was not only a casualty of academic censure but also a good historical example of how feminist backlash worked in the social sciences. I wish I remembered who she was or what happened to her, but it still strikes me that it's not entirely cool amongst observers to observe each other...

PS - My dissertation doesn't study ethnographers, although I draw on ethnographic methods and many of the participants drew inspiration from ethnographic concerns and used an array of ethnographic methods themselves.

Anonymous molly said...

IIRC, my former colleague Simona Maschi at Interaction-Ivrea (now in Denmark) did her dissertation on an ethnography of design process in design research firms. I think they might've included places like Conifer or Fitch, but I don't recall offhand. She could be interesting to talk to about it. She did a PhD in design at IIT and the Politecnico di Milano.

Anonymous anne said...

thanks molly - that's interesting and i'll see if i can track some of her work down!


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