Archive | August, 2012

Renewing Ethnography: Exploring The Role of Applied Ethnography At EPIC 2012 [guest contributor]


Editor’s note: This month’s guest contributor, John Payne, is also the co-chair of EPIC 2012, an annual conference for ethnographers working in  industry. Below, John shares with us some of the highlights for this year’s conference, like guest speakers and panels. We’ll be hearing more from John about history of ethnography as a method in design.  In the meantime, it’s not too late to register for EPIC!

If you are attending EPIC in Savannah, we would love to feature your notes and experience! 

And do read over John Payne’s insightful 3-part series post in this month’s edition of Ethnography Matters: Teaching Ethnography For User Experience: A Workshop On Occupy Wall Street.  -Tricia

Check out past guest bloggers. Ethnography Matters is always lining up guest contributors, we would love to feature your work! Send us an email!

____________________________________________________

After several years of economic recession, a year of political ferment and the rise of the global Occupy movement, it is hard not to conclude that renewal is part of the zeitgeist of our times. This opens up an important question for those who practice applied ethnography: What’s our role in renewal and how and why might we renew ourselves?

This year, EPIC (The Ethnographic Praxis In Industry Conference) takes on the ambitious topic of Renewal, renewal of economies, of society, of business and of the practice of ethnography itself. What are our responses when calls for renewal are made inside and outside of the organizations in which we live and work? Are we agents of renewal or do we have a role to play challenging such agendas? We invite you to join us and a few hundred of your peers in ethnographic practice this October 14th -17th at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA for the 8th annual gathering of EPIC to discuss these, and other critical questions.

Our program includes three-and-a-half days of presentations of peer-reviewed papers, short and ‘to the point’ Pecha Kucha presentations, workshops to expand and share your skills, and an artifact installation (an expansion of our posters category). Recognizing that the value of events like this are truly realized through informal conversation, we have designed in spaces and times for reflection, conversation and dialogue with our presenters.

In addition, we welcome an invited panel on the intersection of ethnography and design, and our two Keynote speakers, Emily Pilloton, 2009 Pop Tech Social Innovation Fellow and founder of non-profit design firm Project H Design, and Philip Delves Broughton, journalist and bestselling author of The Art Of The Sale: Learning From The Masters About The Business of Life.

Rounding out the program are our social activities. We are lucky enough to have an exhibition, on loan from AIGA, of posters from Occupy Wall Street and a series of Local Pursuits to facilitate direct engagement with some of the cultural and economic organizations who contribute directly to the ongoing renewal of Savannah itself. Each Local Pursuit sets attendees out into Savannah on an adventure to discover aspects of it’s 279-year history-it’s exemplary but sometimes troubled relationship with preservation and renewal. We are lucky to be in Savannah this year as it offers a unique context in which to explore and reflect on the conference theme.

Intrigued? Well the countdown to the conference is on and it’s time to register – do it now to take advantage of our ‘early bird’ rate of $299. We hope to see you there.

John Payne
Simon Roberts
EPIC Co-Chairs

For further information, check out EPIC on the web:

Teaching Ethnography For User Experience: A Workshop On Occupy Wall Street


Editor’s note: A few weeks ago, we saw our twitter stream light up with John Payne’s work on ethnography of Occupy. We quickly reached out to John and asked him to guest post on Ethnography Matters. John had facilitated a 2 and half day course of ethnographic fieldwork on Occupy for designers and blogged a series of 3 very thoughtful posts about the experience.

What struck us about John’s work was that he was teaching ethnography to non-ethnographers and emphasizing the importance of it to his work as a designer. We wish all designers would say this! Perhaps this is one of the reason why John’s company that he co-founded, Moment, is so successful. They have created mobile applications from enterprise software to consumer apps for clients large and small.

We are lucky to have John respost the 3-part series with a new introduction on Ethnography Matters!  Follow John Payne on twitter. And do check out Moment’s great blog, we’re following them! – Tricia

A bit more about John: 

As a Principal at Moment, John brings a passion for research and design methodologies to his teams, helping teams gain the empathy necessary to create great products for clients. In addition, John has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in design methodology at Parsons and NYU and is Co-chair of EPIC 2012, The Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference. Educated at Auburn University and Institute of Design at IIT (the New Bauhaus), John has, over the course of his 20+ year career, focused on designing groundbreaking physical and digital products that transform users’ relationships with their devices.

Check out past guest bloggers. Ethnography Matters is always lining up guest contributors, we would love to feature your work! Send us an email!

____________________________________________________________

Successful adoption of products (physical or digital) relies heavily on an individual’s ability to judge appropriateness, usefulness and ease-of-use.  As a practicing designer, I have long employed an ethnographic approach to better understand the people and organizations my firm designs for, to give them products that not only address their needs, but that also actually make sense in their everyday lives.

As any reader of this blog knows, ethnography has proven invaluable at getting beyond “user needs,” to reveal the shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that influence decisions about adoption and ongoing use. But the influence of cultural factors on product design are sorely lacking from the discussion of user experience.

To address that challenge, last fall I taught a workshop on ethnography as applied to user experience design for the New York chapter of the IxDA. We took as our research site Liberty Square, a.k.a Zucotti Park, ground zero to the Occupy Wall Street movement and spent a cold winter afternoon there, visiting, observing, and engaging with the occupiers in their two month old encampment. Our goal, to determine what, if any, design interventions would improve their ability to communicate and coordinate their protest.

The post that follows was originally a three-part discussion presenting ethnography to an audience of designers and describing what we learned from our afternoon there, the ideas that emerged from our analysis, and the value that ethnography brings to user experience work.

This series originally appeared on Moment’s blog as a series titled “Ethnography for User Experience.”

Part One

I was recently asked by IxDA NY’s local leadership to lead a workshop on Ethnography for User Experience. Ethnography, as both a term and a discipline, is often misunderstood so I was happy to have the opportunity to give my perspective on it and on what it can contribute to User Experience Design. Ethnography was formalized as a research approach in the social sciences, specifically within the discipline of anthropology, where it is commonly employed to describe human societies and cultures. In that setting, ethnography refers to a suite of qualitative research methodologies such as participant observation, interviews, questionnaires, etc. as well as the interpretive output of that research.

Read More… Teaching Ethnography For User Experience: A Workshop On Occupy Wall Street

Men Pee Standing Up: The value of an anthropological perspective [guest contributor]


Editor’s Note: Robbie Blinkoff is a real anthropologist – the kind you only read about in books from the days of Clifford Geertz. He started out researching hunter-gather gardeners in Papua New Guinea and how they don’t own property as we know it.

Robbie Blinkoff is also a real anthropology researcher – the kind that many of us want to be. He helped start Context-Based Research Group, a global company that conducts ethnographic research and consumer anthropology for businesses. We are very honored to have Robbie contribute a personal essay this month. Robbie doesn’t talk about his work with companies in this essay, instead he gives us a deeply personal take of the value of anthropological research for uncovering deep complexity. Robbie teaches  courses in cultural and consumer anthropology at Goucher College and plays the ukulele. You can follow Robbie on twitter. – Tricia 

Check out our past guest bloggers. We are always lining up guest contributors, we would love to feature your work. Send us an email! 

______________________________________________

Photo courtesy of BlahFlowers CC

Photo courtesy of BlahFlowers CC

I’m an anthropologist. My wife is an anthropologist. I know a lot of anthropologists. I’m not an academic anthropologist, but I do teach college courses on anthropology. My job title is Principal Anthropologist. What I’ve come to realize is that “being an anthropologist” is just something I understand and am sure that’s who I am.  As an anthropologist I just know nothing is for certain and that there exist a number of reasons and ways of doing things. I always looked at life this way. So when I found anthropology it just made sense that I was an anthropologist.

I remember the day I knew anthropology was what I was going to study. I had just come back from a term abroad living on a Kibbutz in Israel. It was 1985, I was 20 years old and I was a psychology major.  I was taking a psychology course on gender with Suzie Benack – one of my favorite professors. Dr. Benack had worked under Nancy Chodorow who achieved notoriety for putting a feminist spin on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Read More… Men Pee Standing Up: The value of an anthropological perspective [guest contributor]

The tools we use: Supporting Wikipedia analysis


The Ethnomatters team has been wanting to do a review of software tools for a while now but when we got down to writing them, we realized that there are already very comprehensive software reviews in places like the University of Surrey’s website. So we decided to rather compile short posts on the tools that each of us used in our last ethnographic project, highlighting what worked, what didn’t work and what we’re thinking of trying in the future. We’d love to hear from you about your own experiences so please feel free to add yours in the comments below for further reading!

For my latest project (“Understanding sources“), I needed to collect data from a really wide variety of sources. I had interview data, articles and papers from web, and then a multitude of Wikipedia talk pages, edits, history versions, related articles and image and video sources. For interviewing, I use my beautiful and incredibly trustworthy Zoom H2 audio recorder. I do my own transcriptions (as suggested by Jenna in order to get a really close understanding of the data) and for that I use ExpressScribe which seems to work pretty well. I like that you can use “hot keys” to stop and play and that the speed dial is in a good place for slowing down the dictation.Read More… The tools we use: Supporting Wikipedia analysis

User experiences: fear, delight, and drug use research


"User" definition from dictionary.com

Screen capture from dictionary.com

 

I work at a research center that studies the use of various legal and illegal drugs, generally with a focus on preventing “misuse.” It can be an awkward topic of conversation socially. The whole notion conjures up images of Mr. Mackey from South Park and terrible anti-drug propaganda.

And honestly, not without reason. Research funders have agendas, and a funder’s concept of misuse is not always the same as what a community sees as misuse — which can make ethnographic research complicated.

So many messages about alcohol and drugs seem fueled by moral panic,  but I don’t think it’s an ethnographer’s business to judge people’s consumption. Panics over drugs remind me of panics over technology and the things it “makes” us do.  This trailer for the 1936 anti-drug movie Reefer Madness reads like technological determinism (material determinism?). People don’t just use marijuana in Reefer Madness, but they are used by it:

What can make sex crazed zombies of us all?
What can force us to kill?
What is the most despicable danger facing our children today?
The reefer! The reefer! The reefer!

Also, Google is making us stupid, and Facebook is making us lonely.Read More… User experiences: fear, delight, and drug use research

The tools we use: Beyond Cassette Tapes


by Schill

The tools I used for my dissertation research were extremely simple.  I had a cassette tape recorder and a big stack of blank cassette tapes.  I was pretty cheap at the time, so I would sometimes reuse the cassette tapes after completing a transcript.  I lost the recordings for a couple of interviews that way. For my field notes and interview transcripts I used Word documents.  I should note that this was after 2000, but prior to the arrival of the iPhone and the whole world of apps that came along with it. I suppose being able to search within documents was an efficiency improvement on the practice that predated it, arranging and rearranging notecards. At any rate, the range of tools has broadened considerably. Here are a few I have tried (and recommend) or plan to try in the near future…

Read More… The tools we use: Beyond Cassette Tapes

The tools we use: Bring some colored markers


San Francisco, by Katie

My main field tools are: smartphone, paper, pens. And when I can, colored markers and a sketchpad.

The smartphone part can be touchy… Tricia noted in her post on Writing Live Fieldnotes that she used to carry around a beat-up Nokia feature phone in China because it was less distracting, but that eventually not having an IPhone became more distracting. In the US too there are situations where a smartphone can pose a divide between a researcher and a researchee (okay that’s not a word, but I hate the word “subject”). From my pov in Northern California, the smartphone divide seems less relevant every day, but it can still be an issue.

At this point though I choose the smartphone in all its tricorder glory over carrying around a bunch of other stuff.  I use it to take pictures, record audio and occasionally video, make notes — sometimes I even use it as a phone. To try to break down potential divides, sometimes I let my (genuine) awe at my smartphone show in an interview, and fuss a bit over whether it’s working right.

For recording interviews, I use an Android app, Tape-a-Talk. It’s free and it works. I’ve used other digital recording gadgets and apps too — meh, pretty much all of them have seemed fine to me, but I’m not looking for super clean sound or for audio that I can sync with video. I just want a recording that I can understand. If you’re looking for more from a recorder, the public radio and new media site Transom is a great resource.

Read More… The tools we use: Bring some colored markers

The Joy of Uprooting (One’s Own) Assumptions


Editor’s Note: There’s much to find on the Internet that is either ethnographically-inspired or that may inspire ethnographers.  Here our guest contributor Luisa Beck offers some comments on a blog post and a TED talk. She presents them in the style of the original weblogs that curated good finds from around the Internet. – Jenna

This week, a bit of browsing indulgence led me to discover a blog post and TED talk with a common theme – the delight of having one’s own assumptions undone.  It’s an experience ethnographers often seek out. But it’s refreshing to hear it described by others as something positive, even joyful.

In a recent blogpost, Ethan Zuckerman, director of the MIT Civic Media Lab and co-founder of Global Voices, an international blogging platform, describes a trip to Kenya in which he and his students wanted to test out an idea for a piece of hardware designed to help people in nations where electric power is scarce sell power to their neighbors. Once in Kenya, Ethan and his grad students travel to Baba Dogo, an intended industrial area on the outskirts of Nairobi where thousands of people live (the people Ethan talks to call it an “upscale slum”, using terms that have become common in a place where slum tourism is a lucrative business). They discover that their assumptions about power scarcity, people’s reluctance to pay for power, and the effort it would take to convince people to start micro-scale power businesses, were wrong. People living in Baba Dogo had ways of dealing with power scarcity that made sense only in the cultural, social and economic context particular to the place.  “We had to understand that not all commerce in the neighborhood was about the exchange of money for goods or services – often businesses provide favors to one another in complex webs of obligation,” Ethan writes.

Read More… The Joy of Uprooting (One’s Own) Assumptions

July Edition of Ethnozine – Ethnography of Wikipedia Sources, Live Fieldnoting, & 4 guest contributors for The Ethnographer’s Reading List


Ethnozine: July ’12 edition

Just because summer is here doesn’t mean that ethnographers slow down.This month Heather Ford updates us on her Wikipedia research. She shares with us screenshots from her digital ethnography of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, revealing how Wikipedians manage sources in breaking news events. Tricia Wang finished up a few years of fieldwork in China and shares with us a new process for writing ethnographic fieldnotes, live fieldnoting. We have four guest contributors for The Ethnographer’s Reading List. Sam Ladner’s list mixes creativity with time, religion, and humor. Nicolas Nova’s list takes us back to objects, public spaces, and lines. Christina Dennaoui’s list brings us some science, emotion and pain. Elisa Oreglia’s list gives us something new, something blue, and something borrowed.

 Other tidbits:

Jason Antrosio at Living Anthropologically compiled a list of anthropology communities with a facebook page. We saw familiar communities like Savage Minds, but we also discovered new ones like Neuroanthropology,  ALLA (The Association of Latina/o Anthropologistsa) and How to be an Anthropologist.  We’ve added several their blogs and a few new ones to our blogroll. Do let us know if you would like to suggest a site to add to our blogroll!

Do you have a post that you would like featured on Ethnography Matters? Or would you like to be our next guest contributor? Here are some ideas for how you can participate. Email us! We’d love to hear from you.

____________________

Sign up for the monthly Ethnozine  |  Join Ethnography Matters google groups  | become a guest contributor

Writing Live Fieldnotes: Towards a More Open Ethnography


I just returned from fieldwork in China. I’m excited to share a new way I’ve been writing ethnographic fieldnotes, called live fieldnoting. I spoke about live fieldnoting in a recent interview with Fast Company that also featured a slideshow of my live fieldnotes. I want to elaborate on the process in this post.

At one point in time, all ethnographers wrote their notes down with a physical pen and paper. But with mobiles, laptops, iPads, and digital pens, not all ethnographers write their fieldnotes. Some type their fieldnotes. Or some do both. With all these options, I have struggled to come up with the perfect fieldnote system.

I have experimented with the Livescribe Pen, regular old notebook, and a laptop. The Livescribe digital pen didn’t work for me because it’s really uncomfortable to use after a half hour of writing and its dependency on digital paper makes it inflexible for fieldwork outside of the US and longterm extended fieldwork (my review of the pen on CulturalByt.es). The notebook seems like the most practical solution. But I can’t seem to find the “perfect” notebook. Do I use a really small one that fits in my pocket? A medium size one that allows me to write more? If it’s too big then it looks like a “notebook.” And what should this notebook look like? Does a black moleskin look too nice for my fieldsite? Does it look too official? Does my notebook allow me to fit in with teens? But the notebook with bears and hearts that I use around teens doesn’t work for my meetings with government officials. And in the end no matter what kind of notebook I use, I still have to type all my notes to Evernote. So using a laptop is inevitable as all notes eventually end up there and are cleaned up there.Read More… Writing Live Fieldnotes: Towards a More Open Ethnography