VIEWS: 18 PAGES: 11 POSTED ON: 12/7/2011
http://www.ideasbazaar.co.uk/abc.htm ideas bazaar: home |ethnography- an abc| services| projects| people anthropology: links| books | articles and papers| from elsewhere: weblogs and links | the idea bazaar |pictures Ethnography - an ABC What is ethnography? Ethnography is a specific research method and a perspective which focuses on culture and meaning in everyday life. Some practitioners of ethnography call it the 'science of the everyday', a science based on observation and absorption. The goal of ethnography is to provide a description of the world as perceived by those within that world, to understand what activities mean to the people who do them and to provide an interpretive or 'thick' description of this world. As a research practice, ethnography attempts to seek out the details on which the analytic sensibility of the ethnographer can work. Observation is one of many tools available to the ethnographer. Read more about research tools. Traditionally, ethnography has been practiced by anthropologists and sociologists. However, its ability to deliver penetrating insights into the contexts of everyday life have led to its more widespread application within the commercial world. Read more about the uses of ethnography As commercial ethnography has grown, the terms ‘immersion’, ‘observation’, ‘deep hanging out’ and 'rapid ethnography' have been used to describe the technique and activities of ethnographers. Good ethnography combines analytical rigour and interpretive creativity to ensure that successful innovation, strategy or additional research techniques deliver value and effectiveness. Why use ethnography? Ethnography is valuable: When you want to generate a detailed understanding of a market, culture or environment and to generate ‘actions’ based on these understandings When you have little or no knowledge of an environment and want to get a baseline understanding or interpretation of the context When you are not sure what it is you don’t know and want to both generate an appreciation of the environment and develop hypotheses for further research When you need to understand complex local or cultural differences and create a sympathetic appreciation of the cultural landscape When research to date has consistently pointed-up the same results and you need a fresh perspective – when you want to get beyond reported action / opinions In areas of established behavioural patterns, opportunities are often hidden beneath consumers’ lack of ability to perceive, recognise and articulate their needs. Ethnographic methods do not supplant traditional modes of investigation. In fact they work very well within a wider research process, which might include surveys or focus/discussion groups. What are the benefits of ethnography? Ethnography can offer insights into consumer practices, language, myths and aspirations that cannot be deduced elsewhere and that people find hard to articulate. Ethnography delivers a more holistic and nuanced view of the total social environment: closeness to the heart of human experience. Consumer understanding across global cultural barriers. Ethnography has historically been associated with generating cross-cultural understanding - on translating culture. Never more so than now, this imperative faces most companies and organisations with global ambitions. Fresh and genuinely new insight and understanding of familiar problems, scenarios or environments. Ethnographic research helps convey an experience, a sense, a feeling, a glimpse, or a window into another world. It is a way to look into people's lives that follows their own stories and interests. It is also a way of talking about deep cultural patterns that implicate everything that people do. Knowing these stories, interests, and patterns makes it possible to design and develop products and services that fit (intuitively) into people's lives. Upstream thinking – ethnographic research is ideally suited to proactive, future orientated strategy which anticipates rather than responds to change, and provides actionable strategies based on the wider environment. Read about: The Tools of Ethnography Which Companies are using Ethnography To find out more about Ideas Bazaar and ethnography, please contact Simon Roberts on: T: 020 7978 8140 or 07970 050 723 E: email@example.com ideas bazaar: home |ethnography- an abc| services| projects| people anthropology: links| books | articles and papers| from elsewhere: weblogs & links| the idea bazaar blog | isociety blog Tools What does ethnographic research involve? The basic premise of ethnography is for the researcher to immerse oneself with the group, household or organisation under investigation and participate in and observe their everyday life. Such observation is complemented by other data-gathering activities such as interviews, informant diaries, photography and video. Each set of ‘research encounters’ must be tailored for the task in hand. However, the following rules of thumb are true to most projects Ideas Bazaar have undertaken. Active involvement in people’s lives – Ethnography is not just passive observation. It involves mucking in and doing exactly what the research subjects are doing - be that trips to the shops, watching TV, car journey’s, a quick drink in the pub, birthday parties or cleaning the house. Anything and everything, because in some small way all these things are likely to be connected to the research objectives, be it revealed through conversation or observations Collecting, documenting and recording cultural artefacts – Most ethnographic projects include magpie-like collecting of artefacts because these are an excellent way of providing insights into the context of behaviour and of communicating this context to research stakeholders. Ideas Bazaar uses digital photography and, to a limited degree, digital video in order to effectively communicate findings to research stakeholders. Unstructured questions and conversation - Although the researcher will have objectives top of mind, ethnographic researchers are careful to let informants lead the flow of activities and conversations. This allows the respondents' lives, not the researcher's brief, to predominate and ensures that the brief is considered in the larger context of the respondent’s everyday life. Only towards the end of an ‘immersion’ will the researcher reveal the focus of the study and probe deeper through an interview. Interviews – Interviews are used towards the end of each ‘immersion’ in order to allow the researchers to discuss their observations & interpretations with respondents, and to explore the research questions in more detail. The preceding observations allow the interview responses to be contextualised and understood better than an interview conducted ‘cold’. Dictaphone Diaries and Photo-Accounts – The aim of research is to get as close to respondents' lives and thoughts as possible. Therefore, respondents are often requested to complete verbal diaries using a Dictaphone. This might be used, as for example in a recent project for Channel 5, to record plans for an evening and to express moods & thoughts as the evening developed. What resulted was a rich record of typical evenings in and out of the home, which was critical in the analysis stage. Similarly, photographs taken on disposable cameras allowed respondents the opportunity to create another account of their evenings. To find out more about Ideas Bazaar and ethnography, please contact Simon Roberts on: T: 020 7978 8140 or 07970 050 723 E: firstname.lastname@example.org ideas bazaar: home |ethnography- an abc| services| projects| people anthropology: links| books | articles and papers| from elsewhere: weblogs & links| the idea bazaar blog | isociety blog Anthropology Links Who else is using ethnography? Thinking about using ethnography to understand your business environment or complement your current research practices? You are not alone. A very large number of companies are beginning to use ethnographic research. Here are a selection of links on current uses of ethnography within a commercial environment. An article about how Intel recently used ethnography to understand how people actually use mobile phones. Kodak are another technology company who are becoming increasingly engaged with anthropologists and the practice of ethnography in designing better products and innovating more successfully. This piece from their website looks at how 'Kodak have taken anthropology from the jungle to the living room' Harvard Business School reprints an extract from Margaret Mead Meets Consumer Fieldwork, Harvard Management Update, September, 2001. Company Anthropology. Anthropology has a century long history of work within companies, though latterly the topic has been receiving increasing attention. Anthropology's discovery and subsequent contribution is nicely summed up as follows: "Adding an anthropologist to a research team is like moving from black-and-white TV to colour," ...we're able to observe shades of colour that others can't see. Anthropologists understand complexity and can help devise answers that reflect that complexity." This is longer, conference paper looks at the history of workplace anthropology during the C20th in America. It was the famous (and brilliant) octogenarian anthropologist Mary Douglas who wrote How Institutions Think. This paper looks at the 'brand' of anthropology as it is used increasingly by business. This really nice, brief piece epitomises how ethnography can be turned to literally any setting, in this case a park bench. Reprinted from the New York Times, this article examines one of the pioneers of anthropology among the technologists. This article acts as a corrective to the claims that ethnography as practiced by companies and marketers is actually ethnography at all - it's a sham, the anonymous author contends. To find out more about Ideas Bazaar and ethnography, please contact Simon Roberts on: T: 020 7978 8140 or 07970 050 723 E: email@example.com THE ETHNOGRAPHY OF WRITING by Brenda Danet The Garland Enclopedia of Semiotics, Paul Bouissac, General Editor New York: Garland (in press) Linguists have traditionally equated language with speech, either ignoring writing altogether or relegating it to secondary status. Recent ethnographic approaches to the study of writing by linguistic anthropologists, sociolinguists, ethnographers of communication, and folklorists have begun to establish it as an important topic in its own right. Researchers focus on writing as a form of everyday communicative activity embedded in a given sociocultural context, rather than on the nature and features of canonical, literary, or even mundane texts. There is an extensive social science tradition of research on the similarities and differences between speech and writing. However, unlike researchers in this tradition, who analyze the linguistic features of decontextualized corpuses of texts and transcripts, ethnographers of writing focus on writing practices and the social functions of writing, as observed in the situations of their naturally occurring use. The ethnography of speaking studies the speech community, its shared knowledge and competence with respect to the speech code, the norms for its use in a repertoire of oral genres of communication, and the strategic choices speakers make in specific situations. Similarly, the ethnography of writing aspires to study shared knowledge and norms for culture-specific genres of written texts, produced in specific media. Who uses writing for what purposes? What genres and subgenres of texts are recognized? How do these genres develop? What media are considered appropriate for which kinds of messages? What are the norms for the various genres? What range of deviation from them is tolerated, and under what circumstances? What range of strategic choices are available for personal expression, given these general normative constraints? In historical accounts of writing practices, one can only reconstruct functions of writing and genres of texts from surviving exemplars. Analyses of texts from the ancient world shows that writing was used to indicate ownership, to make contracts, to write letters and wills, to record treaties, to curse someone, to transmit works of literature, to record chronicles, and so on. In modern times, researchers have the additional advantage of using techniques of interviewing and participant and non- participant observation to observe at first hand the uses that groups and subgroups make of writing. The emergence of the ethnography of writing as a research agenda has been influenced by developments in the sociology, psychology, and history of literacy. Claims for the social, cultural, and psychological consequences of literacy by the "grand theorists" of literacy, such as Marshall McLuhan, Eric Havelock, and Jack Goody, met with criticism for lack of empirical verification or lack of verifiability, and for ethnocentric overemphasis on the pattern of development of literacy in the West. Beginning in the 1980's, ethnographic studies of literacy identified uses of writing in non-Western societies which differ from those of mainstream, urban Western culture. In addition, researchers began to study the interrelations between oral and written modes of communication in rural and lower-class groups in modern society. Wherever large groups are illiterate or only marginally literate, but writing is central to the business of society, literate brokers play an intermediate role, writing letters on behalf of petitioners to government bureaucracies and the courts, for example. Who uses their services? How do these letter-writers acquire their skill and their status? What strategies do they employ to enhance the interests of their clients, and with what effect? What features characterize the documents they create? The ethnographic approach calls for attention to informal, expressive, and even politically controversial or subversive uses of writing, as well as to formal, instrumental, institutional ones. Thus, rather than focusing only on children's classroom compositions, researchers have studied note- passing among students during classes and graffiti on public toilet walls, outdoor walls, and subway cars. Other expressive, ephemeral forms of writing include skywriting, fire inscriptions set alight during youth movement ceremonies, inscriptions on birthday cakes, posters at political demonstrations, and stickers distributed to advance political causes. In a deep sense, speech always lurks behind or beneath writing. In the tradition of Western essayist literacy, writing has generally been characterized by processes of decontextualization: texts are supposed to "speak for themselves." Thus, prose essays, scientific articles, and legal documents came to be characterized by prominent use of nominalizations, the passive and other devices which suppress the voice of the author. Texts were supposed to omit information about the circumstances in which the author created them, such as the location in place and time, mood while creating them, how awake or sleepy the author was, and so on. Recent critical thinking on self-reflexivity in anthropology and on the rhetoric of "objectivity" in scientific and journalistic writing has led to a return to linguistic features of texts which resemble speech. Authors openly use the first person pronoun "I", avoid passives, and evidence emotional involvement. The Plain Language movement of the 1970's, which called for reform of the mystifying language of legal and bureaucratic documents, in effect made documents more speech-like. These developments strongly suggest that the processes of decontextualization thought to be essential to the transition to literacy are not inevitable, but are in part culturally constituted. The idea of a "Great Divide" between speech and writing is therefore now widely rejected, and researchers recognize that some genres of speech may be quite "writing- like," e.g., a university lecture, and some genres of writing are "speech-like", e.g., a personal letter. Some researchers suggest that there is evidence of a general cultural drift toward increased proximity of speech and writing in our own times. Research on various oral and written genres in the English language indicates that over the last few centuries, many genres of writing are indeed becoming more speech-like. The advent of computer-mediated communication (CMC) challenges many received notions about writing and may be fostering dramatic changes in beliefs and practices associated with it. The immediacy, ephemerality, and interactivity of the medium contribute to its dynamic, conversation-like quality. Research is already revealing that messages sent by electronic mail (email) contain many speech-like features, along with classically written ones, as well as some new, uniquely digital features. Writers are inventing and reinventing devices known from other genres of communication, such as the comics, to enhance the representation of intonation in digital messages. Thus, framing a word in asterisks, as in "I am *very* happy," or capitalizing it, as in "I am VERY happy," conveys the emphasis one could have heard, had the word been spoken aloud. The language of email is in a state of flux, and should be analyzed in the light of the history of letter-writing, from ancient times. Some researchers believe that we are witnessing a revival of the art of letter-writing which flourished in the 18th century. What genres or subgenres of electronic messages are emerging, and in what ways do they differ from previous genres of letter-writing? The medium may be undermining our traditional distinction between the business letter and the personal letter. Who clings to earlier literate norms when writing electronic messages, and who adopts more speech-like practices with relish? How will these developments affect the acquisition of literacy in the future? Will the schools insist on teaching the old literate norms, or will they show signs of openness to new norms? A holistic, ethnographic perspective also calls attention to the material aspects of writing, including both the surfaces on which messages are inscribed and the material appurtenances of their creation. In ancient Mesopotamia, the shape of clay tablets often matched the type of text inscribed: historical chronicles were inscribed on prisms, legal documents on palm-size, pillow-like tablets; junior scribes practiced on circular tablets. In modern cultures, we also sometimes match materials and even shapes to type of text. Important documents such as diplomas have traditionally been written on parchment scrolls, a hold-over from the Middle Ages. Under what circumstances is parchment still used and why? What material means are used to enhance the performative capacity of official documents of all kinds, and how does this vary from one culture to another? Here, one could study the use of color in ribbons and seals, calligraphy, gilt lettering, special lettering or fonts, distinctive size and shape of the document, and so on. In some cultures, and in some situations within cultures, aesthetic aspects of written messages may be just as important as, if not more important than the verbal content. Aestheticization of writing probably reached a peak in human history in traditional Chinese and Japanese culture, which cherished the visual and sensuous aspects of writing to an extent difficult to grasp today. Muslim calligraphy has also been a highly developed art form. For medieval Japanese aristocrats, the texture and color of paper, the quality of the calligraphy, the manner of folding a letter, the choice of flower or twig attached to it, and the matching of all of these to the mood the writer wished to convey, the season, and so on, could make or break a gentleman's reputation. Even writing implements were highly aestheticized. Brush holders and brush rests, inkstones, stationery boxes, and seals were exquisite works of art in their own right, well into the 19th century. While the West has probably invested less than traditional Chinese, Japanese, or Muslim culture in the aesthetics of written texts, handwriting has continued to be valued, at least in personal letters, if not business ones, as a trace of the unique personal touch of the individual. Among collectors of autographs, entire documents in handwriting are more valuable financially than documents with only a signature. Traditions of production of fine paper-making and of connoisseur-quality fountain pens also persist to this day in the West. How is digital word-processing changing writing practices? To what extent do people owning computers continue to draft their compositions and to write personal letters by hand? If they compose letters on a computer, do they try to personalize them? What other situations involving written messages are still considered to require the personal touch? Do some cultures, subgroups, types of individuals, give it up more quickly than others? With the transition to computerized texts, hard copies become optional. To what extent do they continue to be important to people and why? Under what circumstances are people becoming "weaned" of them? As they learn to draft documents on a word-processor, do they continue to print out interim hard copies? Or do they print only at the end, when the document is completed? Does printing an interim hard copy really facilitate editing, as many believe, or is it an expression of a magical need to see the text as material object? Does the transition to the writing practices and possibilities of the digital age vary with culture? Here, the most interesting case might be that of Japan. With its enormous investment in the aestheticization of writing, on the one hand, and its leadership in the development of high technology on the other, has Japan excelled in selling the world its inventions, yet, paradoxically, clung to its traditional writing practices? Ethnographers of speaking distinguish between two senses of speaking as performance: (1) performance as praxis, the situated use of speech in the conduct of social affairs, or, simply, any use of a code to convey a message; and (2) performance as the display of skill and artfulness to an audience. The same distinction can be made for writing. The ethnographic perspective leads one to recognize that not only fine calligraphy but also graffiti and other types of playful writing in popular culture are also forms of artful performance. Graffiti artists, who call themselves "writers", adopt nicknames called "tags" and proudly display their skill in spray-painting compositions created in the dead of night in forbidden public places, most notably, on subway cars. Some "writers" end up in art school. Audiences are not ordinarily present when graffiti artists produce their works. Their achievements are observed and appreciated at a later time. Skywriters, on the other hand, perform for an invisible audience in real time. Writing as artful performance flourishes in synchronous modes of CMC like Internet Relay Chat and Multi-User Domains--MUDs, forms of text- based virtual reality in which participants create collective role- playing fantasies. In these new forms of interactive writing, individuals perform together and for each other, like dancers taking turns performing solos within a circle, or like participants improvising in a jazz jam session. Using the ostensibly meager resources of the computer keyboard, they demonstrate their skill in playing with typography, language, their own identities, and frames of social interaction.
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