Tag Archives: ethnography

Ethnographic reportage: one tweet at a time

I love people who tweet from inside their lives. 

I really love people who tweet from inside an event.

Here, first image, is someone tweeting from inside a visit to the printer. (Read from bottom to top.)  

[I apologize for the quality of this image.  I am using Skitch and WordPress, and this appears to be the best I can do.  Click on the image for clarity.]

Confined to 140 characters, a tiny keyboard, and the discomfort of texting while waiting and standing, this can’t be ethnographic in any conventional sense.  But what it lacks in cultural background, it makes up in vividness and emotion.

Here, in the second image, is “Johann Gutenberg” reporting the frustrations of having to sit in a meeting that presumes to rally the troops with vapid, brainless generalities.  As Johann reminds us, it’s like being forced to witness the death of your own intelligence.  

Working in the moment has a certain heroism.  ’Johann” is acting as a kind of war correspondent, bravely posting under fire, vulnerable to discovery at any moment. 

“This close to heckling.”  Brilliant.  

How many millions of times has this impulse gone repressed in corporate America. Well, why just corporate America?  Educational, medical, governmental America, too.  There is no shortage of stupid people keen to colonize our consciousness with their personal limitations.  

In a more perfect world, we would know who WWGD really is.  (I am betting he or she is not really a 15th century goldsmith, not unless someone got their time machine working.)   We would also know the person who staged the Sales 101 meeting.  The light of public revelation can sometimes discourage stupidity.  Not always but sometimes.

I believe Twitter sprang from a technology designed for emergency personnel, people who needed to send tiny messages in the heat of the moment to solve very immediate problems. But it is learning to serve other purposes, and in some cases, and the right hands, it becomes a new observation platform for the study of American culture.

Cambodia calling (putting innovation, design, and research to work)

Planners, ethnographers, designers!

Ever think about taking a year out?

Ever think about making yourself really, really useful?  

Here’s your chance.

Mariko Christine, a friend of a friend, is setting up the first Human-Centered Design Innovation Lab in Cambodia.  The Lab exists to develop products/technologies/solutions for the BoP (base of the pyramid / rural poor).  Mariko works for IDE, an international NGO.  The Lab has support from the Stanford DSchool, MIT DLab, IDEO, among many other leading organizations and funders.

Mariko is looking for a Fellow to help launch the lab.  It’s a one-year appointment.  The Fellow will lead the design of and guide the research process for innovation projects.  The Fellow will need practical social science and research expertise, and the ability to use design thinking to create tangible solutions to real-world problems.

Here is the “call for application” for this amazing position:

Social Science Fellow – Human-Centered Design Innovation Lab

Interested in leading ground-breaking research in the developing world? Passionate about designing extremely affordable innovations to tackle problems that are of life-and-death importance?

We are building the first Human-Centered Design Innovation Lab in Cambodia. And we need you to help us launch it. IDE is looking for a social science expert (anthropology, sociology, psychology, etc). We seek a design-thinker, with 2-5 years practical experience in design research methods including research planning, field work/interviews/observations, and synthesis into design opportunities. You will be the lead social science and research expert on a multi-disciplinary team, based in Phnom Penh for a 1-year Fellowship.

This is an opportunity to work on real-world problems alongside a close-knit, diverse, and top-calibre team. You’ll wear many hats, including that of a coach, to grow HCD in Cambodia. You’ll conduct ground-breaking research within the Cambodian culture in order to turn the findings into tangible interventions that improve the lives of those who need it most.

For full details, including how to apply, please download the position description at http://www.ideorg.org/GetInvolved/HCD_social_science_fellowship.pdf.  [this pdf is still under development.  Patience please.]

Normal Bob, extranormal anthropologist

So little useful anthropology is being done in/on contemporary American culture(s), This Blog celebrates anything that serves the cause.

Last week the New York Times wrote up a guy who calls himself Normal Bob.  NB (aka Bob Hain) has made himself a student of the Union Square area.  His blog is a treasure trove of ethnographic observation.  Bob has made a typology for the Square, including "skaters," "scenesters," "models," and "junkies."  He also has documented individuals: Ramblin’ Bill, The DJ and Quarter Guy.

Bob’s view is unblinkered and unsentimental.  In this passage, he documents the passage of a runaway teenager from Goth to Punk to heroin addict.

One of the funny things that I’ve experienced since moving here to New York that I’d never seen before is witnessing first hand the frequent and predictable junk-related falls of the human being over the course of just a couple years. This girl is one of those cases.
Just a few years ago she was another teenager hangin’ around the cube, goth, bashful and (found out later) a runaway. Then the winter comes and goes, and in the spring I see her doin’ more of the punk thing, hangin’ out with squatters, a little less feminine, a little more soulless. The transformation is so predictable.
Then another year passes and there she is, a useless junkie squatter nodding out in a Starbucks with her Grande Mocha Frappuccino and her forehead on the tabletop. Now I’ve almost gotten to the point where I can see the kid and predict their nodding routine almost to the month. It’s sad but true.
Hain, Bob.  2010.  The Union Square Chronicles.  here.
Kilgannon, Corey. 2010. “Normal Bob Chronicles a Park’s Oddballs.” The New York Times. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/26/nyregion/26union.html?_r=1 [Accessed December 3, 2010].
Acknowledgements and thanks
The photo in the upper right corner is from Normal Bob’s website.  I have used it without permission.  If Mr. Hain has any objection to my use of it here, I would be pleased to take it down.