Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Corporate ethnographers

We know what you're thinking: Corporate ethnography can sound a little flaky. And a certain amount of skepticism is in order whenever consultants hype trendy new ways to reach the masses. Ethnographers' findings often don't lead to a product or service, only a generalized sense of what people want. Their research can also take a long time to bear fruit. Intel's India Community PC emerged only after ethnographer Tony Salvador spent two years traipsing around the developing world, including a memorable evening in the Ecuadorean Andes when the town healer conducted a ceremony that included spitting the local hooch on him.

From this Business Week article about the many new and interesting roles ethnographers play in the corporate world. Here is an interesting quote attributed to Michigan State University's dean of social sciences:

Ethnography [has] escaped from academia, where it had been held hostage.