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Corporate Ethnography

I follow the use of ethnographic methods outside of anthropology with some interest, although without much real understanding of how its non-anthropological purveyors use it. Now, Grant McCracken at ‘This Blog Sits At …’ offers a lengthy and informative summary of the problems of corporate ethnography. The jist:

… some clients are now treating ethnography as if it were merely for disintermediation, only a way to collapse the distance between the corporation and the corporation [perhaps the method of ethnography?]. In the partial view, the ethnographer becomes, in effect, the marketer’s surrogate, a way for the marketer to see into the life of the consumer, his or her eyes and ears in place. The presumption here is that, with a little more time, the marketer would have gone himself (herself) and would have seen pretty much the same thing. This might be someone struggling with a package they cannot open. Who could miss this? The ethnographer is merely a witness to something so obvious it would have been evident to anyone.

I have been reminded in comments to my posts (or here) about corporate ethnography that anthropologists can be accused of elitism in our defense of ethnographic methods. I do think, however, that McCracken has identified nicely some of the ways in which corporate ethnographers are falling short. Perhaps his critique will push others to higher standards and to offer anthropologists new ways of thinking about and using ethnography.

There’s lots more in the post.

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