Editor’s Note: When we started Ethnography Matters, we envisioned it to be a place where ethnographers could share updates from their fieldsites. Last month, An Xiao Mina shared her fieldnotes, Instagram Ethnography in Uganda – Notes on Notes. This month, Zach Hyman @SqInchAnthro shares his fieldnotes from his fieldsite in China.
Zach is based in Chongqing, China on a year long ethnographic dive into creative practices of vehicular design among resource-constrained users. After four months in the field, Zach shares with Ethnography Matters his first field update.
His observations on low-tech vehicles are incredibly relevant for the current global shifts in automative production. China is now the largest car market. But many Western companies are discovering that simply transferring a car designed for Western users does not appeal to Asian users. Point in case GM’s Cadillac, a car built for American consumers fails to connect to Chinese consumers. It’s no surprise to an audience of ethnographers that cultural values inform design decisions, but companies like GM are having to learn the hard way.
A deep understanding of workers’ current vehicle practices reveals new opportunities to develop vehicles that challenge the current domination of resource-intensive cars. One entrepreneur, Joel Jackson, created Mobius One in Kenya with local welders to overcome transport challenges. The result? A $6,000 low-tech car made for Africa. Like Joel, Zach’s research contributes to a growing group of designers and entrepreneurs who will create a new class of vehicles.
Check out past posts from guest bloggers.
I am presently based out of Chongqing, China, conducting research for a Fulbright grant on resource-constrained creativity surrounding mobility across China. So far, my work has me riding along with, living with, and working alongside urban and peri-urban vehicle users. I have been conducting ethnographic “deep dives” to better understand vehicles’ role in today’s (and tomorrow’s) China. To that end, I will be spending this year documenting and reflecting upon the patterns and practices of mobile creativity.
This is the first of many opportunities to share with a wider audience glimpses into some of the aspects I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for my research. Enjoy this initial serving, stay tuned for future updates here on Ethnography Matters, and point yourself towards squareinchanthro.com for more of what you see below. Here’s more information more about the technique I’m practicing of using Instagram to write live fieldnotes similar to the ones below.
I_ UN/REACHABLE: In a talk at 2011’s Poptech Conference, Jan Chipchase identified the practice in Seoul of vehicle owners displaying their cellphone number on their vehicle so they may be notified if it must be moved. A similar practice can be found amongst 3-wheeled vehicle-owning fruit vendors who frequent Chongqing’s crowded wholesale fruit market – though this one has a slight twist.