Editor’s Note: One of the reasons we started Ethnography Matters was to bring ethnography to a wider audience. Before Ethnography Matters, the founders of EPIC @epiconference had a similar goal: to give ethnographers outside of academia a space to build community, to share best practices, and to educate the industry about the value of human driven research. EPIC has been, and continues to be, a critical space for ethnographers working in the industry. We are very excited to announce that Ethnography Matters and EPIC will be collaborating this year to bring you closer to the amazing organizers, papers, workshops, and conversations in the lead up to and after the conference.
In a special guest contribution from co-organizer of EPIC13 (and EPIC12), Simon Roberts from ReD Associates tells us about the exciting things to expect from this year’s conference. He tells us about the massively radical decision to make EPIC13 a no theme year! No theme conferences are quite radical in the conference world, especially considering that EPIC has always had a theme since it started in 2005. This will be the first of many posts from the awesome organizing team behind EPIC13.
Simon Roberts @ideasbazaar is a well known anthropologist with a long history of working with a diverse group of clients. He is currently a consultant at ReD Associates, an innovation and strategy consultancy. In 2002 he founded Ideas Bazaar, UK’s first ethnographic research company and in 2006 he moved to Intel to develop an R&D lab focused on ageing and healthcare.
To theme or not to theme
EPIC, the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, is “the premier international gathering on the current and future practice of ethnography in the business world.” That’s the headline, the formal statement of intent.
But to my mind, Bruce Sterling, in his keynote at EPIC 2011, put it well when he said that EPIC is a big tent. It’s a tent under which a diverse group of people gather each year – people with odd titles and jobs which they can’t explain to their mothers, and a shared belief in the importance of applying ethnographically derived knowledge to the world of business.
Under the big tent of EPIC each year come together an array of professional committed to putting people at the heart of business decision making. In this respect, we hope that EPIC 2013 in London will be no different. However, in 2013 we are making at least one change which may stretch that canvas a little more than in past years.
This year’s call for contributions (for Papers, Pecha Kuchas and Artifacts) has no theme.
Over the years organizers have framed the conference around meaty ideas and concepts and expected would-be authors or presenters to respond to that theme.
To give you an idea, the line up of themes over the years has been as follows:
- 2005 – Seattle: Sociality
- 2006 – Portland: Transitions
- 2007 – Keystone: Being Heard
- 2008 – Copenhagen: Being Seen
- 2009 – Chicago: Taking Care of Business
- 2010 – Tokyo: 道 Dō
- 20111 – Boulder: evolution/revolution
- 2012 – Savannah: Renewal
In general these themes worked well. A theme gives organizers the opportunity to ask presenters to explore an issue that they feel might be relevant given the location – Do in Tokyo and Renewal for Savannah. Sometimes a theme is a response to a specific historical moment: the Chicago theme spoke to the post-Lehman context and invited contributors to reflect on their value to business and how it might be accounted for. So, you might ask, if a theme works well both in both space and time, and is an accepted organizing principle of many conferences, why change the formula?
Theme as dog whistle?
First, we want to experiment. We considered a theme-free conference in Savannah in 2012 but didn’t have the guts to go for it. Fear of the unknown? Yes, maybe.
Second, there is also a sense in which a theme acts as a dog whistle to an existing community – a call which seeks to round up contributors each year but might not heard so well by those at the margins of the existing community.
A theme, however broadly pitched, can imply a certain set of boundaries or constraints which people unfamiliar with EPIC might find underwhelming or uninviting.
Third, I suspect that whatever the theme, people can usually find a way of crafting a proposal that addresses the theme sufficiently to satisfy the reviewers and curators, but could, in all honestly, have been given in any year. So another argument for doing away with a theme is to reduce the need for contortion.
But there are more substantive and positive reasons why we think a theme-less conference might work well.
Firstly, at year nine for EPIC we thought it might be nice to just open the doors and invite people, effectively, to ask themselves “What interests me? What aspects of my work or practice do I want to share with the EPIC community?” or “What’s important about my/our work?”
Secondly, while themes at EPIC have often invoked either the location and temporal context of the conference, we felt that the huge diversity of EPIC-like practitioners in London and beyond should encourage us to take off the shackles of a theme and let people roam wider.
Third, we want to let the venue do some of the work for us. We want toencourage people to think, unencumbered by a theme, what an organization like the Royal Institution, devoted to the communication of scientific ideas and discovery, might suggest to them as relevant.
Above all else, after nine years I suspect we felt that the people who come, or who might come to EPIC, have lots to share, present, discuss and debate and a theme might, just might, be superfluous. At least occasionally.
In place of a theme we’ve put in a few nudges for you to consider as you work towards the March 9th deadline for submissions
We are encouraging people to think about how past and emergent theories of social life inform our work of understanding, interpreting and changing the world. I’d be delighted if the community saw this as a challenge to talk about its work at the cutting edge of new technology and social practice and how this propels the development of new models of understanding and new theoretical approaches.
We’ve also inserted a nudge toward big data – this is obviously a space with huge momentum in business. But what is hype and what is reality? What does big data allow us to know or understand? How does a professional caste that much of the time revels in ‘small data’ respond to big data?
Finally, much work by people in or close the big tent of EPIC are engaged in areas undergoing major transformation as a result of social, environmental, demographic or technological drivers and we’re inviting reflection on these areas
As organizers not having a theme is a bit of risk. The theme acts as a filter. It offers a reasonably simple means of evaluating submissions: “Does this address the theme?” And at the back of our minds is the fear that perhaps the constraint of a theme is what gives would-be contributors some traction.
But we think it’s worth the risk.
Big Stick, Sweet Carrot
We know that the work we’re engaged in is interesting, challenging and thoughtful and we invite you to share it. In return we promise to make EPIC in London as special as we can. So please think laterally, creatively and boldly about what matters to you and who you think should be involved. Bring them along with you into the tent.
You’ve got until March 9th, to submit your proposed contribution in the form of a paper, pecha kucha, or artifact, all of which will then go through a double blind review process.
- Papers should present new perspectives, new developments, and new work within our practice whilst demonstrating the links between these new perspectives and existing literatures and debates. We encourage perspectives from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. Email us any questions you have about papers!
- PechaKucha presentations are a rapid-fire, engaging performance of 20 image-rich slides, totaling 6 minutes and 40 seconds. We encourage submissions with an element of the unexpected, provocative visuals, evocative content and a strong point of view. Email us any questions you have about PechaKuchas!
- Artifacts is a chance to share and explore the physical manifestation of ethnographic praxis. They can be anything from products you’ve made, short films, conceptual objects, design sketchbooks, visualizations of reformed organizational processes, prototypes, or research tools.The artifacts should be highly engaging; they should encourage interaction with the object itself as well as discussion amongst attendees. Email us any questions you have about artifacts!
We’ll be posting updates to the conference blog and…
Coming up on Ethnography Matters from the team behind EPIC 2013 will be a series of posts that will lift the lid on the September event, including:
- Interviews with EPIC organizers: A series of short interviews with some of people cooking up plans in London – the social events, the venue, and the activities
- Career Profiles: Some profiles of key members of the EPIC community and their careers as ethnographers in industry
- EPIC features: A focus on some new program feature, including Salons.
- Inside Papers and Presentations: A glimpse of the paper and presentation sessions – the speakers, the ideas and the topics they’ll be covering
- During and post-conference coverage: And, best of all, we will feature, during and after the event, commentary and write-ups of the different sessions, panels, keynotes, Salons and activities in London so those that can’t attend can get a perspective of what goes on under the big tent of EPIC
Registration goes live early March – and we’ll be offering a limited edition Early Bird rate at that time. Stay posted for more information.