Tag Archives: *edition intro*

Virtual identity: Subversive attention


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Eddie Vedder, Damien Echols

Eddie Vedder embraces Damien Echols
(CC BY-SA CarolinaaPPaz)

While working on this month’s edition on virtual identity, I’ve been reading Life After Death, Damien Echols’ memoir of a ruptured life. At 18, Echols was convicted along with two other men of the murders of three children, allegedly in a Satanic ritual.

It wasn’t until 2011, after Echols had spent 18 years facing execution on Death Row, that he and the other two members of the “West Memphis Three” were released in the wake of new DNA evidence and critical media attention. The prosecution’s case had rested on coercive confessions and unfounded fears about the involvement of local heavy metal enthusiasts in Satanic orgies. Thus it seems that one horror — the murder of three innocent second graders — was followed by another, in which three teenagers were convicted of those murders based on little more than the crime of liking Metallica [1]. Unfortunately stories like Echols’ aren’t that surprising.

Identity gets intertwined with attention — how we see ourselves, and how others see (or don’t see) us.

In addition to its portrayal of grave problems in the American justice system, the book is striking for the layered and conflicting accounts of identity that come into play. Identity gets intertwined with attention — how we see ourselves, and how others see (or don’t see) us.

Echols first came to the attention of local authorities because of his outsider identity. He was a ‘freak’ because he wore black and t-shirts advertising metal bands. He explored a range of religious practices — Catholicism (which led him to change his name [2]), Wicca, mystical esoterica — in a community where evangelical fundamentalism held sway. His difference made him a magnet for rumors.

Read More… Virtual identity: Subversive attention

May 2013: Persuasive Formats


I wanted to focus my own contribution to this month’s special edition (about “how to talk to companies about ethnography”) on presentation formats. That research findings will ultimately be delivered or presented is a given, but the particular format varies and seems often to be a matter of the conventions within particular organizational or research cultures. I’ve participated in ethnographic projects within the corporate sector. I’ve done a bit of consulting work for an NGO. The bulk of my career I’ve spent in Academia doing ethnographic work as most conventionally defined – culminating in the writing of an 80,000 word ethnographic monograph (which was text by-and-large with just a few black and white photos). On this basis, I’ve passed through a few different micro-worlds where different presentation practices prevailed.

In our interview with Steve Portigal this month I asked him about the hierarchy of formality he describes in his new book. For delivering the late-breaking or unprocessed findings (to communicate their informality) he uses e-mail, then Word documents, and finally polished results are delivered in PowerPoint. The ascendence of PowerPoint (not as an accompaniment to a project report, but as the report itself) in corporate settings and consultancy work I find really fascinating. Maybe because of the way it seems to prioritize communicating with as few words as possible, the pressure to edit down to the essentials, to consider what to omit just as much as what to include, how daunting! It seems obvious that this is reflection of the particularly intensive pressures of productivity, of delivering on the short project cycles of the private sector.

drawing-guides-guidelines-powerpoint

The Office suite of applications does not, by any means, encompass the full range of formats that are our options for communicating about ethnographic research. For example, my first job title when I worked in industry (at Intel Corp) was “Application Concept Developer.” My task was to translate research findings from our team of social scientists (who used interviews, observation, diary studies, copious photographs, etc) into interactive design concepts. These were not prototypes, but rather interactive demonstrations showing how insights from fieldwork fed into novel designs for computing systems. This was an attempt to communicate between social scientists and engineers…using the language of building and by engaging through interactivity.

Read More… May 2013: Persuasive Formats

April 2013: Ethnomining and the combination of qualitative & quantitative data


Rows of quantitative data with visualizations

Image from Fabien Girardin

After the two previous editions (Openness and Stories to action), it’s now time for our April edition on combining qualitative and quantitative data.

While ethnography generally draws on qualitative data, it does not not mean that quantitative approaches shouldn’t be employed in the research process. Combining the two leads to a “mixed-method approach” that can take various forms: data collection and analysis can be either separated or addressed together, and each of them can be used in service of the other. Of course, this isn’t new in academic circles and corporate ethnography but there seems to be a renewed interest lately in this topic.

One of the driving forces of this renewed interest is the huge amount of information produced by people, things, space and their interactions — what some have called “Big Data“. The large data sets created by people’s activity on digital devices has indeed led to a surge of “traces” from smartphone apps, computer programs and environmental sensors. Such information is currently expected to transform how we study human behavior and culture, with, as usual, utopian hopes, dystopian fears and *critical sighs* from pundits.

Although most of the work of Big Data has focused on quantitative analysis, it is interesting to observe how ethnographers relate to it. Some offer a critical perspective, but others see it as an opportunity to create innovative methodologies to benefit from this situation. See for instance the notion of “Ethnomining” described by Aipperspach et al. (2006) in their insightful paper Ethno-Mining: Integrating Numbers and Words from the Ground Up:

Ethno-mining, as the name suggests, combines techniques from ethnography and data mining. Specifically, the integration of ethnographic and data mining techniques in ethno-mining includes a blending of their perspectives (on what interpretations are valid and interesting and how they should be characterized) and their processes (what selections and transformations are applied to the data to find and validate the interpretations).

Read More… April 2013: Ethnomining and the combination of qualitative & quantitative data

March 2013: Stories to Action Edition


TTricia Wang his month’s Stories to Action edition was inspired by a panel that Ethnography Matters co-founder, Tricia Wang (@triciawang), curated at Microsoft’s annual Social Computing Symposium organized by Lily Cheng & Liz Lawly at NYU’s ITP. For the panel, Tricia asked several researchers to share a specific story from their field experience, the insights gained from the story, and how those insights shaped their projects. In this edition, several speakers elaborate on what they shared.

Welcome to the Stories to Action edition of Ethnography Matters!

Over the last few decades, organizations have learned to use the tools and approaches of ethnography to inform product and service development.[1] But the idea of gaining context-specific insights about users before a product or service is engineered is still relatively new. In May, Jenna Burrell is curating an edition on how to talk to organizations about ethnographic research (please reach out if you’d like to guest post for that edition!).

This month, we want to show that the ethnographic process is more than just an insight-generating machine. As ethnographers, we gather stories, analyze them, and identify the relevant insights. But, we do so much more. We do stuff with those stories and insights. We design products, services, apps, campaigns, and programs. We create new approaches to problem-solving. All that analyzing? It never stops. Like software programmers, we are constantly improving our designs.

To ethnographers this is all obvious. But it’s not always clear to others.

Clients often focus on end-product insights, failing to realize that ethnographic practice is a complex and multi-stage process. It is common among ethnographers working in the private or public sector to share frustrations that clients want ethnographic insights, but do not grasp the fieldwork and analytical work required to produce deep insights.

As ethnographers, we can feel the fieldsite in our bones. It stays with us. We can recall every participant’s face, the colors of their clothes, the texture of their hair, and the way they hold their cellphones. Long hours of fieldwork are sprinkled into memos, invoices, project management files, and proprietary qualitative software.

We can close our eyes and envision the tangible evidence of shadowing and participant observation: the project room filled with colored sticky notes on the walls, black and red sharpies strewn over the table, and white boards full of diagrams.

We are haunted by the people we interview—the woman whose hands trembled as she told a deep secret that she had never told anyone else or that kid who showed so much joy when he started leveling up.

The meaning of these experiences, these stories, and every minute detail of the research is clear to us. We know the weight of our analysis.

All the client sees: one powerpoint.

With the client’s myopic focus on insights, ethnographers may mistakenly think that clients don’t need to see the messy stuff. Fieldnotes, stories, and analysis seem less important.

Both clients’ focus on insights and ethnographers’ acceptance of this had led to an undesirable outcome for the field of business ethnography: many of the core practices of ethnographic observations and analysis become invisible and devalued.

Our hope is to offer more examples of how ethnographic research can contribute to amazing design decisions. Great stories from the field inform our actions in the development phase of our projects. For this month’s story edition, we wanted to showcase the strength of amazing stories that can go a long way to inform insights and actions.

This month’s Stories to Actions theme was inspired by a panel that I curated at Microsoft’s annual Social Computing Symposium organized by Lily Cheng at NYU’s ITP.

I had asked several researchers to share a specific story from their field experience, the insights gained from the story, and how those insights shaped their projects. This edition will feature posts that will further explore important stories from ethnographic research that have led to important insights from prominent ethnographic researchers:

In addition to the stories shared at the Social Computing Symposium, we also have a guest post from Adriana Young Valdez about how she used stories gathered from ethnographic work to design games.

The posts in the Stories to Action Edition will shed some light on the important stories behind ethnographic research that may sometimes be overlooked when clients are only looking for big picture insights.

OTHER POSTS IN THE STORIES TO ACTION EDITION:

 

footnotes:

[1] This post is primarily about ethnographers who produce reports for clients, though the points also would apply to academics and their published research findings.

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We’re looking for guest contributors for Nicolas Nova’s Ethnomining edition in April. Check out the upcoming themes to see if you have something to submit!

Check out past posts from guest contributors! Join our email groups for ongoing conversations. Follow us on twitter and facebook.

February 2013: The Openness Edition


Heather FordThis month, we begin with a timely conversation on openness in the ethnographic research community, highlighting some of the many facets of this principle for ethnographers, especially those who study online communities. Jenna Burrell has also written a post that has attracted great feedback on open access journals for the ethnography research community so be sure to check that out if you’re interested in how to make your published work more accessible. 

For the next months’ themes, please see the calendar and contact us with your proposed post. We’d love to hear from you!

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On Saturday the 12th of January, almost a month ago, I woke to news of Aaron Swartz’s death the previous day. In the days that followed, I experienced the mixed emotions that accompany such horrific moments: sadness for him and the pain he must have gone through in struggling with depression and anxiety, anger at those who had waged an exaggerated legal campaign against him, uncertainty as I posted about his death on Facebook and felt like I was trying to claim some part of him and his story, and finally resolution that I needed to clarify my own policy on open access.

I had worked passionately for open access in my previous life, helping educational institutions and foundations design open access policy, pushing for open government data and railing against those who didn’t ‘get’ why closing access to publicly-funded information was outdated and unsustainable. But nearing the end of my work with Creative Commons and its international offshoot, iCommons, I became jaded by the internal politics of the open content movement, and embarrassed by my previous zealousness. I started to realize that open access was definitely not revolutionising access to education in the majority of the world, and that the passion that myself and others had felt about pushing forward the openness agenda was becoming sinister as any criticism was met with aggressive denial, as definitions of openness became ever narrower and technologically defined, and as we seemed to get further and further from the goals that we started with.

books

Image by Torley on Flickr. CC BY SA

In the wake of Aaron’s death, and the renewed calls by the open access community for academics to take a stand, I felt that I needed to resolve these feelings and to define my own perspective on the issue. Thinking about the openness of your research can be like going down a rabbit hole because if you’re attempting maximum accessibility for all people at all times, any open access policy looks incomplete. Open access definitions tend to be restricted to a particular medium (digital, online) and a particular definition of free (free of charge and free from most copyright licensing conditions) (see Peter Suber’s great introduction to open access here).Read More… February 2013: The Openness Edition

The tools we use: Gahhhh, where is the killer qualitative analysis app?


For the August issue of Ethnography Matters, Jenna, Heather, and Rachelle have written great posts about their fieldnote tools in the Tools we Use series. Now I have all these new apps I want to try for data analysis!

So this is when I admit here that I have no perfect process. I really don’t. Sometimes this upsets me and sometimes I just say whatever.  I’ve only figured out parts of the process. For example, last month, I wrote in depth about my use of Instagram to live fieldnote. But that’s just one part of the long path of fieldwork analysis. Now that I’ve finished data gathering,  I am no longer in the excitement of fieldwork. I don’t have a team of people to work with as I usually do on projects. For my China research,  it’s just me. And all I can think is, how am I going to analyze all this data without going crazy?

I’ve tried all the coding software possible for qualitative research, but there is no app that fulfills my needs. I have developed an aversion to anything that claims to be a “qualitative analysis tool.” These tools are lacking in user friendliness, collaborative features, platform diversity, and service support. If it doesn’t run on a mac and if the software’s website is unusable – that’s already a clue.

As far as fieldwork tools go, hardly anything drives an ethnographer more crazy than trying to find the most appropriate fieldwork tools. Of all the ethnography courses I’ve taken and all the books, dissertation, and papers I’ve read, none of them go into depth on the tools that ethnographers use to support their process. I suspect that one of the reasons why ethnographers don’t write about the tools they use is because they may use an ad hoc process that is messier and less structured than they’d like to admit. Read More… The tools we use: Gahhhh, where is the killer qualitative analysis app?