Standards of Practice for Ethnography in Industry

by Allen W. Batteau, Wayne State University, & Robert J. Morais, Weinman Schnee Morais, Inc.

Ethnography is at a crossroads. A methodology that was once the exclusive preserve of anthropologists, with its precursors found among a few colonial administrators, intrepid explorers, Indian agents, and their academic advisors, and, at least in the eyes of anthropologists, “owned” by anthropology, has in the past fifty years been embraced by numerous academic disciplines including sociology, education research, design research, and management studies. The founding and ten-year growth of the EPIC conference is recognition within numerous quarters that ethnography matters. Central to EPIC is “the view that theory and practice inform one another and that the integration of rigorous methods and theory from multiple disciplines creates transformative value for businesses.”

Overlapping with ethnography’s evolution, during the last several decades, the application of anthropology in business has gained increasing recognition; although, as Sarah J. S. Wilner (2014) demonstrates, depictions of anthropology in non-academic media are more exotic than accurate. Nonetheless, in the popular press with articles such as “Anthropology, Inc.” (The Atlantic), “Bill Gates as Anthropologist” (New York Times 2005, commenting on an article in Fortune Small Business, “Pigmy Hunters”) or “An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar” (Harvard Business Review), there is a growing recognition that anthropology is no longer confined to the study of indigenous peoples, but rather has a clear and important role to play in contemporary industrial societies as a tool for advancing commercial enterprises. What was once an academic specialism guided by the patrimonial hierarchies of the academic world is now out in the marketplace and the public square, with numerous research professionals identifying themselves as anthropologists or ethnographers. The fact that there are no licensing standards for anthropologists or ethnographers (such as exist for physicians and attorneys), along with apparent marketplace demand, suggests that this proliferation will continue. (gehiago…)

Occupational Ethnography in the Taiwan Sunflower and Hong Kong Umbrella Movements

Sunflower-Occupied Legislative Yuan, 1 April 2014. Photo courtesy Ian Rowen
Sunflower-Occupied Legislative Yuan, 1 April 2014. Photo courtesy Ian Rowen

On March 18, 2014, several hundred Taiwanese student and civil activists broke into the Legislative Yuan, the parliament of the contested island nation, launching the Sunflower Movement, a protest against the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and aligned business elites’ alleged collusion with authoritarian China to pass a highly controversial trade deal. It took 24 days of occupation and a rally of half a million people to make the KMT capitulate. A coalition of pro-independence and left-wing activists emerged triumphant.Taiwan’s political fate, and with it, China’s territorial ambitions writ large, suddenly became an open question again, as I recently wrote in the Journal of Asian Studies.

Less than half a year later, Hong Kong students entered the walled-off plaza of their own Legislative Council during a demonstration for “genuine universal suffrage,” the right to elect a leader of their own choosing. After 87 rounds of police tear gas failed to disperse the crowds, Hong Kong’s streets swelled with protesters and supporters, and the student movement and the long-planned Occupy Central campaign won world attention as they morphed into the Umbrella Movement, including 79 days of occupation of central government and commercial districts. For a time, it even looked as if we might be witnessing the birth of an “Asian Spring”. Ultimately, the movement was dispersed before achieving its policy goals, but Hong Kong will never be the same.


Fast Writing: Ethnography in the Digital Age

[Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Yarimar Bonilla as part of ourWriter’s Workshop SeriesYarimar is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University. She is the author of Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming Fall 2015) and has written broadly about social movements, historical imaginaries, and questions of sovereignty in the Caribbean. She is currently a fellow in theHistory Design Studio at Harvard University where she is working on a digital project entitled “Visualizing Sovereignty.”]

In a recent contribution to this writers’ series, Michael Lambek offered some reflections on the virtues of “slow reading.” In an era of rapid-fire online communication, when images increasingly substitute for text, Lambek argues we would be well served to revel in the quiet interiority and reflective subjectivity made possible by long-form reading.

In this post I would like to think more carefully about this claim and to consider whether we might want to make a similar argument regarding the shifting pace of academic writing. If, as Lambek and others suggest, the temporality of reading has been altered by the digital age, can the same be said for research and writing? How have new digital tools, platforms, and shifts in technological access transformed the temporality of ethnographic writing, and is this something we necessarily wish to slow down? (gehiago…)


BY  / MAR 30, 2015A Florida State Seminoles football helmet. The association allows for usage when “appropriate consultation” has taken place with stakeholders, as was the case for Florida State. (flguardian2/Flickr)

Though the American Anthropological Association has been a vocal proponent of indigenous rights throughout its history, the group had remained quiet on the Native American mascot debate. That changed last week when AAA released a statement on the issue.

Anthropologists have joined a long line of groups to call on professional and college sports communities to rethink their use of Native American mascots and nicknames. Except in instances where tribes or key stakeholders have been consulted (seeFlorida State University and San Diego State University), sports organizations should “denounce and abandon the use of American Indian” imagery, the American Anthropological Association said in a statement [PDF] released last week.

The issues of indigenous rights and indigeneity are issues that are of central concern to our association.

“While these organizations may feel they are honoring Native Americans, many in that community view it to be a degrading and painful symbol of racism,” Monica Heller, AAA president, said in the statement. “Research has established that the continued use of American Indian sports mascots harms American Indian people in psychological, educational, and social ways. Frankly, I don’t see where the honor is in that.”

For AAA, the statement is a culmination of work initiated by a group of language and social-justice experts within the organization.

“That group has, for a number of years, been targeting issues around language in particular that has social-justice implications,” Heller said in an interview with Associations Now. “One of their activities lately has been around the issue of the appropriation of images and names for indigenous groups as mascots or names for sports teams. If you look around the internet and different headlines you know we’re not the only group on this case, but we felt it was necessary to throw our weight behind this campaign.” (gehiago…)

Generating Capitalism

Posts in this Series

Anthropological and broader social-scientific critiques of capitalism have faced two related analytical puzzles: First, if capitalist relations are generated within heterogeneous social encounters, how is it that they have similar enduring effects? Second, how do such diverse forms of capitalism lead repeatedly to inequality, environmental destruction, and structural violence? We aim to push beyond the answers to these questions offered by work drawing on Marx, Weber, Foucault, and Callon, which emphasize pre-established class interests, neoliberal ethics, or the formal devices of economization. Each of these projects, while crucial, analyzes capitalism in terms of structures or models that define or distill its core features. Furthermore, they tend to conflate capitalism with economic motivations and logics. As an alternative, we turn to feminist substantivist traditions within anthropology in which the specificity and multiplicity of power relations shape both the contexts and forms of systemic processes, and thus are essential to every level of analysis. We also draw on our own current ethnographies in East Asia, South Asia, Europe, and the United States. Our focus is on how the generative powers of the body, spirit, and world are imagined, deployed, and experienced in contemporary capitalism. Our interest in these issues is both analytical and political. We want to understand the complicit and intimate ways in which inequality is propagated, recognizing that without tracing these realities, we can neither comprehend nor challenge them.

Our group authorship grows out of conversations started in the spring of 2012 at Stanford University among Laura Bear, Karen Ho, Anna Tsing, and Sylvia Yanagisako. We have woven our approach from feminist substantivist scholarship and the ethnographies of capitalism that have emerged from this work. Recent discussions of financialization, debt, and markets have not foregrounded this rich analytical thread. Most strikingly, they have thereby failed to fully understand the feminist critique of Marx, which argued that kinship, personhood, the household, and social reproduction reside firmly within capitalist creations of value. These failures are perhaps most clearly evidenced in the misleading characterization of the present as a period marked by a greater penetration of capitalism into intimate domains.

We begin our inquiries with the foundational argument that forms and senses of self, family, ethnicity, race, and community are always “inside” and mutually constitutive of capitalist social relations and vice versa. We also take as central the original feminist critique of the category of nature, which subtly showed how the non-human world is drawn on to represent the fertility of human actions and social relations. It also further explored the diversity and compelling generative power of figurations of race, kinship, and nation. We draw on this feminist foundation and critique to move beyond the prototypical subjects, objects, and expressions of capital. We trace the diversity of agents (including non-human elements such as resources and infrastructures) and the multiple forms of meaning, motivation, and productivity that actively generate capitalism. Instead of building from presumed or precategorized “economic” and “market” realms, and anticipating the values and practices that should cohere to them, we start from the diversity of life projects and the full range of social relations and productive powers, and then track how they are part of processes of accumulation.

Since 2012, we have been in dialogue with an expanding group of collaborators, which, in a departure from conventional academic hierarchies, includes several generations of scholars. At the American Anthropological Association meetings in 2013 and 2014, we co-created texts and convened a formal public panel, and we plan to pursue our ideas further in the years to come through sharing curricula, developing online teaching materials, organizing conferences, and co-authoring essays.

Posts in This Series

Gens: A Feminist Manifesto for the Study of Capitalism

On Simultaneity

Beyond Economization: State Debt and Labor

Valuing Nature

Capitalism and the Private/Public Division

Generating Home

Salvage Accumulation, or the Structural Effects of Capitalist Generativity

Tales of Physics and Cosmographies of Capitalism

Fighting an Invisible Enemy in Liberia: the Use of Popular Culture Against Ebola

Dancers in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Ingrid Gercama

“I want to do it my way – I wish I had my own way,” sings Takun J., Liberia’s own superstar.  Today he performs at an “Anti-Ebola-stigmatization event” at 146, a bar in downtown Monrovia. Together with other artists Nasiman, Butterfly, Peaches and Skeet, he begs Liberia not to discriminate against Ebola survivors. The event, organized by Takun J and crew, reflects the latest trend in Liberia pop culture: Ebola. Liberian artists sing about anti-stigmatization of Ebola survivors and the mistakes the government made during the outbreak. Take for example, Ebola in Town from Shadow, D12, and Kuzzy of 2 Kings, all Liberian artists. The song warns Liberians not to “touch your friend, no kissing, no eating something – it’s dangerous.” The trend was set and local musicians got the “vibe”. To fight Ebola: use art as your weapon. (gehiago…)

The war against humanities at Britain’s universities

Higher education is stuffed with overpaid administrators squeezing every ounce of efficiency out of lecturers and focusing on the ‘profitable’ areas of science, technology, engineering and maths. Are the humanities at risk of being wiped out?

Mitch Blunt

 Illustration by Mitch Blunt.

A war is being waged within the cloistered world of academia, a war whose repercussions will be felt down through the generations. Long one of Britain’s global success stories, our universities are under attack by an austerity-obsessed government looking to maintain the excellence of our institutions at a fraction of the cost. The dictates of the market economy have been unleashed upon our once-sacred seats of learning, and academics wear the haunted looks of the terminally battle-scarred. With the threat of further cuts to come whichever side wins the general election, and none of the major parties promising to stand in the way of the corporate colonisation of education, the debate has reached an unseemly head, with many academics in open revolt and professional publications full of bilious fulmination.

The corridors of our universities are stalked by soft-footed technocrats who draw down six-figure salaries in exchange for implementing “right-sizing” exercises and “internationalisation programmes”, while harried academics are forced to deal with a wall of bureaucracy that is being constructed, form-by-form, between them and their students. Research is centrally mandated and programmatic; time – once the academic’s greatest resource – must be accounted for in meticulous detail; and everywhere, and at all times, the onus is on academics to “monetise” their activities, to establish financial values for their “outputs,” and to justify their existence according to the remorseless and nightmarish logic of the markets. (gehiago…)

Dead Zones and Flying Cars: On ‘The Utopia of Rules’ with David Graeber

graeber“I am fascinated by the figure of the anthropologist,” author Tom McCarthy wrote this weekend at the Guardian. “What he or she embodies for me is a version of the writer minus all the bullshit, all the camouflage or obfuscation.” Although it’s difficult to say whether McCarthy’s adulation for the anthropologist is just part of a brief cultural or historical fascination, it’s undeniable that anthropology, of late, has reshaped political discussion. And who, among anthropologists, has done this more so than David Graeber?

Once called “the best anthropological theorist of his generation from anywhere in the world” by Maurice Bloch, Graeber is also an activist and anarchist and author, one who has built a reputation for unearthing narratives — about the state, money, debt, and, now, bureaucracy — that clash forcefully against those we’ve inherited from left or right, the academy, politicians, whomever. Take Graeber’s book Debt, for example. Whether you agree with all of its conclusions, it’s difficult to deny that it radically shifted the way we speak about the idea of debt and its weight in our lives.


Se cumplen 120 años del primer partido oficial de fútbol femenino

Imagen del primer partido oficial de fútbol femenino. Foto: ABC

El primer partido de fútbol jugado por mujeres que la FIFA reconoció oficialmente se realizó en Londres, un 23 de marzo de 1895 cuando dos equipos compuestos por féminas desafiaron las prohibiciones y las opiniones intolerantes de la época y disputaron un encuentro en el Crouch End Athletic Ground de Londres. Hace varios años es una practica tan importante como la de los hombres.

El duelo estuvo protagonizado por equipos del norte y del sur de la capital inglesa y fue así como el norte doblegó por siete goles a su contrincante.

El periódico de Manchester, auguró un futuro brillante para la disciplina femenina y en sus páginas consideró el fútbol femenino como una práctica saludable para la mujer.

Mientras que el Bristol Mercury, mostró su rechazo a la iniciativa y coincidió con el Daily Post en que las féminas “no pueden y nunca jugarán al fútbol como debe ser jugado”.

En respuesta a estas criticas las mujeres se esforzaron y demostraron al mundo entero que ellas saben practicar el deporte igual o mejor que los hombres.

Fue con el pasar de los años que el fútbol femenino se convirtió en una categoría tan importante que se realiza la Copa Mundial Femenina de Fútbol.

Igualmente existen otras competiciones juveniles como la Copa Mundial Femenina de Fútbol Sub-20 y la Copa Mundial Femenina de Fútbol Sub-17, ambas organizadas por la FIFA.


El fotógrafo Hamid Sardar-Afkhami es un erudito en lenguas mongoles y tibetanos, con un doctorado en Harvard, quien después de vivir en Nepal y explorar el Tíbet y el Himalaya por más de una década, decidió tomar una expedición en el interior de Mongolia, para documentar la vida de la tribu Dukha, el pueblo de los renos. Una tribu nómada con un estilo de vida único, que se basa en las manadas de la migración de renos para su existencia día a día.

Los Dukha domestican renos para montarlos en los profundos bosques nevados para buscar comida y recoger cuernos que pueden vender a los pueblos cercanos para suministros básicos; las crías son utilizadas para la leche, el queso y las pieles.

Por desgracia, su modo de vida está desapareciendo ya que tanto su población y el tamaño de los rebaños de renos disminuyen. Se estima que sólo quedan alrededor de 44 familias Dukha, entre 200 y 400 personas. En la década de 1970, se estima que había una población de unos 2.000 renos pero ese número se ha reducido desde entonces a unos 600. Hoy en día, su principal fuente de ingreso es a los turistas que vienen a comprar sus artesanías y montar sus renos.