EPIC ethnography II

Epic The conference on ethnography this week in Portland (now over) continues to throw off possibilities:

1) that the field is maturing vast.   I have been doing Ethnography for 20 years pretty much as a wildcat operator, making things up on my own, fighting off moments of internal skepticism, humming bravely the tune whenever words escaped me.  I think I created value.  People kept hiring me.  But it was hard to say precisely what it was I was doing. Profession?  What profession? 

But as I sat listening to the EPIC Panel curated by Tracey Lovejoy ("Considering Ethnography in Various Business Settings – What is Success and to Whom?"), I thought, "ok, if I have colleagues like this, I belong to a profession."   The participants were Genevieve Bell (Intel), Jeanette Blomberg (IBM), Tim Malefyt (BBDO), Rick Robinson (Luth Research).  Genevieve Bell  was grand, just grand.  I do not agree with everything she says, but I am enthralled with the way she says it.  Rick Robinson did a brilliant ethno-ethnology, his account of the typical presentation.  Robinson argued that emerging genre might be taken as signs of a creeping banality, and that serious practitioners will want to move on to bolder methods.  I disagree.  Let’s treat this genre as our new minimum standard, the least a client can expect.  God knows, we need this.  It will help separate the sheep from the goats. 

2) that academics would like to help.  They were there in force.  Some of them insisted on asking the tired old questions that have done so much to disable ethnography as an academic instrument.  I think they came to help supervise the transfer of the methodology to the world of business only to discover that they are obliged to play a game of catch up merely to participate.  It would be very nice if commercial ethnography were could become a "free trade zone" where academics could give up their methodological preciousness and take up urgent questions. 

3) I think in conversation was determined that standards have risen in part because clients have are so much comfortable with and informed about the method.  I can think of 6 people who are now deeply discerning about what the method has to offer.  Quality control is now in place.  This means that a practitioner no longer has to justify the method, and can get on with seeing what it can be made to do on the client’s behalf. 

Ok, the jet lag leaves with the distinct sensation that I am under water, so that’s all for today. 

9 thoughts on “EPIC ethnography II”

  1. YOU FOLKS SHOULD SEEK GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT IN
    THE PRODUCTION OF GOODS AND SERVICES THAT HAVE
    REAL VALUE AND THAT CONTRIBUTE TO OUR SOCIETY.

    THIS BLATHER IS A AWFUL WASTE OF FINE TALENT.

  2. Ah, the ever-persuasive all-caps format. Interestingly self-refuting, too, because it demonstrates how a simple semiotic mistake like pressing “caps lock” can destroy one’s ability to contribute to a thread (which is part of society).

  3. I’m reminded of Philip Marlowe’s description of chess in Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye” as being, “as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find outside an advertising agency.”

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  7. Don’t be too harsh with Dick. He’s simply wondering, imho, if the old phrase should be updated for the 21st century to:

    “Those who can do, and those who can’t blog.” 😉

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  9. Dick, thanks for your comment! I can’t help feeling that this is the comment you leave everywhere you go in the blogosphere. And this could be a problem. I think you are obliged to wonder how so many people could comment so carefully on so many topics, without ever once winning your interest. Frankly, I would be concerned. Otherwise, you invite that Balinese metaphor, the one about the water buffalo listening to a symphony. Thanks, Grant

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