November 2008


My Google Alerts is driving me nuts! I’m signed up for a variety of words to be funneled my way, one of which is ‘ethnography’. On the non-insane side of things, it feeds me the kind of information that us anthropologists used to get only through conferences, guest lectures and the few issues of our favorite journals each year: new research, findings, ideas, methods, practices, book reviews, social theories, applications of theories from other fields and such. Faster than a speeding copy of American Anthropologist and, because of Internet banter, more reflexive than a dinner with Renato Rosaldo, the rate and regurgitation of information is both fantastic and often messy. On the insane side of things, however, the ease with which some bloggers and so-called practitioners bandy the term about is unsettling and messy, in a not-good way.

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Many of the references to and claims of conducting ethnography drift somewhere between way off, totally incorrect, company hype and pure nonsense. Some can’t be blamed; they’ve learned their ‘ethnography’ from second hand sources online and at work. Others are more culpable, blatant conjurers of the smoke-and-mirrors that keep clients confident that their overpriced agency is up on their best practices game. And a few are just clueless, thinking that a fieldtrip out of the focus group and into a mall or customer home is what it is.

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It isn’t. Ethnography is the art and science of telling stories about people’s stories. In most cases, the words, sentences, themes, plots, dialogue, narrative structure and such of these stories are inspired and guided by degrees of participation and observation of people in places – like malls and homes. But good stories are about lives lived through a lens, they have a depth to them that, if experience is to be captured and transmitted to the reader, requires an understanding of and appreciation for the performative.

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That understanding and appreciation can be cultivated in a whole host of ways: through experiences, experiences of experience, acts of ‘becoming’ those under study skills, basic trial and error, formal training and, perhaps most important of all, a healthy reading list.

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How can you ‘do ethnography’ without having read ‘an ethnography’? You can’t. And if you don’t get the distinction, you haven’t. So, in the spirit of Google Alerts togetherness, a micro reading list of a few  favorites for those who might considering catching up on how ethnography as a best practice is best read, written and conducted.

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I’m hunting and gathering for a French-speaking Ethnographer to conduct a short-term study for Idea Couture. If you know someone who might qualify or have links to people in Quebec who might…check the job posting for Ethnographer.

googleI know I could consult with my peoples on the other side of the office, but sometimes learning’s at its most valuable when you do it solo in front of Dancing With The Stars with Lance Bass from N’Sync doing his thing while former pal Justin Timberlake is heating it up with Jessica Beil who’s probably wondering why her boyfriend did that track with Madonna. The question? What happens to a modest little blog like this in terms of search hits when you drop in tags like: Hilary Clinton nude, free beer, unlimited downloads, HSM bikini gallery, Bermuda Triangle, Yeti, the death of market research, Iron Man 2, Beyoncé Wonder Woman and shit like that? I’ll let you know. Suggestions welcome for Blog Stats Test 2.0.

In the midst of writing book chapters, conducting ethnographies, planning a Customer Context Lab and planning for a winter of travel…not much time to write enemy-making blog posts. Instead, a couple of sites from co-worker Jackie and the big boss that should be checked out.

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First….Are you a private person or a non-private person? Old geezer or youth raised with the Internet? Willing to go out on a corporate media experience limb or a face coverer. Check this Mentos promo to find out.

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Second…nice design and lots of fun here.