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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