chimp

If he were dead, Dell Hymes would roll over in his grave every time a so-called ‘authentic’ ethnographer or a client suggested that conversations were a shoddy way to conduct research.

Observing people doing things is a great – and sometimes ideal – way to probe for insights, but to suggest that asking consumers about their behavior, patterns, beliefs, relationships, attitudes, ideologies and cultures or even to engage them to collaborate on where insights on those areas might lie has no value is ludicrous.

There’s more than a few reasons why 100 years of anthropologist in the field figured it might be a good reason to learn the local language – conversation, comeraderie, categories of experience, expert status, and the list goes on. Without these ethnographic foundations we’d have but a paltry few pages on kinship, barely a door ajar to the phenomenological, next to no narrative and auto-ethnography, perhaps zero activist anthropology and a data chasm in the ethnography of communication.

Then there’s social media ethnography or, as some colleagues have tagged it, netnography. Lots of methodologies there and, for those of us who conduct research in the spaces and places between the internet and mobile know, talk ain’t cheap. It might not be the only currency, but it’s value is undeniable.

So the next time you decide to pitch a client or you’re on the receiving end of a contractor’s pitch and ethnography – couched as ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ – is invoked alongside some methodological mumbo jumbo that ex-communicates conversation, try to remember Dave Chappelle’s rant on Keepin’ It Real. Between his take on how that phrase had imploded on hip hop culture and  the late-80’s-and-onwards post-modernist implosion of, arguably, the most of-epic proportions myth of our time, I am un-chuckling over how ‘authenticity’ can be used to refer to anything other than signatures on traveler’s cheques.

P.S. Pulling chimps from their natural habitats and making them wear ties is fucked up. I’d bite and kill people if they did that to me, too.

Advertisements