But so is another that I have tentatively labeled "Alternative Ethnographies," thinking of work like Sutherland and Denny's Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research, Tom Boelstroff's Coming of Age in Second Life , Chris Kelty's Two Bits about the free and open software movement, my own Japanese Consumer Behavior: From Worker Bees to Wary Shoppers and my current project: "Winners' Circles: SNA-Driven ethnography of award-winning creative teams in Japan." Here the common thread is the authors' grappling with how to adapt ethnography to the opportunities and challenges of a world very different from that in which Malinowski or Boas defined our primordial model.There's room for a lot of discussion about current approaches to ethnography, the potential for ethnographic research in the future, and the embedding of ethnographers in movements for social change.
First, a warm thank-you to Alexandre for setting this up. This weekend my anthropology time will be largely consumed as Ruth and I scramble to put together our presentation on city planning in Yokohama for the SEAA conference in Taiwan the first week in July. The paper is due on June 22. Procrastination is no longer an option.
That said, I would like to add a few more words about what I mean by "alternative ethnographies." My hope here is to move beyond discussions of ethnography in the abstract to examination of what particular ethnographers have produced in response to a moment in history in which the Malinowski model, total immersion for a year or two, followed by writing up everything you have learned about people whose lives are unfamiliar to your readers is difficult or impossible and, as Marcus and Fischer have warned us, ethnographers, "step into a stream of already existing representations produced by journalists, prior anthropologists, historians, creative writers, and of course the subjects of study themselves.”
Sutherland and Denny address issues raised by muti-sited ethnography, produced in short time frames, with the aid of video professionals, and reported in forms that communicate value to their corporate clients without succumbing to their inevitable tendency to look for short-cuts framed in terms of understanding into individuals' motives.
Tom Boelstroff discusses in great detail what is, in many respects, a Malinowskian project but one carried out in a virtual world [nicely isolated I observe from such wetware issues as aching joints and plumbing].
Chris Kelty's Two Bits is also a multi-sited ethnography but one of particular interest to me because (1) his collaborators are, like mine, highly educated, professional people with strong ideas of their own and (2) they are, as members of what Kelty calls a "recursive public" constantly tinkering with the software and legal infrastructure on which their community's existence depends. The issues raised by my current research, on members of teams that create winning ads overlap in several respects those that Kelty confronts.
My book on Japanese consumers is an example of what I call "piggy-back" ethnography. It examines social change in Japan through the eyes of Japanese market researchers liberated to pursue whatever interests they have in search of novel angles on what is happening in Japan.
Overnight it occurred to me that I would certainly add to my list Ted Bestor's Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World, which employs classic ethnographic observation and interviews but situates their results in relation to a highly globalized market for seafood, much of which winds up in Japan, affecting livelihoods and marine ecology in places scattered all over the world.
What interests me in all these cases is how anthropologists have adapted and enhanced ethnography to address the kinds of issues these sorts of projects raise.
I would add Kathleen Stewart' s Ordinary Affects to your list.
Hülya Demirdirek said:I would add Kathleen Stewart' s Ordinary Affects to your list.
Could I implore you to say a bit more about this recommendation? The blurb on the Duke U. press to which you provide the link conveys to me the impression that it is a beautifully written piece of anthropological literature. It may be right up there with some of my favorites, like Ruth Behar's The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart or Robert Dejarlais' Shelter Blues: Sanity and Selfhood Among the Homeless. Other good examples can be found among the winners of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology's annual Victor Turner prize.
Are they, however, alternative ethnographies? Only, I suggest, in so far as we regard any and all exquisitely written non-fiction literature that concerns human subjects as ethnography. That's a possible stretch of the definition but not one I acquiesce in. Personally, I confine statements about ethnography to talking about work in which careful description description is intended to provide evidence for some theory or observation of substance that transcends the case in hand.
Does Stewart's book offer any suggestions along the lines of, "If I want to learn more about X I might want to consider doing Y," where Y is a new approach to doing ethnographic research?
Don't we all use context-appropriate methods? Don't we always run into field situations which require us to think creatively? What do we need to be considered "alternative?"
John, in your experience with the private sector, do you notice a shift in the ways people perceive ethnographic approaches?
Long ago Peter Drucker, the father of business consulting, made a very profound observation that has been lost in the sands of time: "Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two--and only two--basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business."
And if what they do isn't "real ethnography," it's our job to make "real" ethnography as relevant as possible.