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Grant McCracken recently threw up a post that should be heeded by everyone with “ethnography” on their Google alerts, the tip of their market research tongues or the front of their design minds. In it he writes, “There is a distressing habit these days to think due diligence has been satisfied if interviews are done in-home and in-store. In point of fact, an interview not in-home is not ethnographic. Unless certain methodological conditions are satisfied, it is merely an interview done in home.”

I’ve ranted along these lines before and will do so again here, but briefly. Doing “ethnography” is only part of the ethnographic process and, as Grant rightly points out, just because it happens somewhere other than a focus group room with a 2-way mirror and a bunch of branding execs standing behind it to make sure the facilitator is asking the mandated questions doesn’t make it ethnography or ethnographic.

As a process or methodology, ethnography is as much, if not more, about the thinking and writing that goes on than it is about the collection of observations, ideas and insights that such thinking and writing connects to. To “do” that thinking and writing, I believe, requires some training and reading. And that training and reading is in anthropology.

Apologies to my sociologist massive, but I think that anthropology’s unofficial ownership of the ethnographic process is well deserved, only if the notion of ownership is itself part of the problem or crisis that keeps anthropology so on its toes when it comes to researching and writing about human subjects. Long story short: all that colonial-collaboration angst has bred a discipline that tends to be more sensitive, self-reflexive etc. Anthropologists continue to generate the most critical thinking when it comes to human socio-cultural research.

Maybe this means we need to call for a secret cabal meeting of anthropologists working in the business field to agree never again to promote/sell our services as ethnography. Sell anthropology or sell nothing, because at the rate ethnography is being kicked around like a step-child we’ll all be conducting interviews with 2-way mirrors behind us someday soon.

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