Saturday, January 03, 2004

New Year!

I'm just back from the US and about to transition from my current research fellowship to a three-month period of writing and re-grouping at Surrey under the auspices of recently-won "bridging funds" (thank you Surrey).

Amidst holiday shenanigans, I met with Rick Robinson [this links to an out-of-date bio] for a chat about his new work at the intersection of qualitative and quantitative social research. In charting how he got from E-Lab to his current work, we talked a lot about the evolution of the perceptions and uses of ethnography in applied settings (esp. product design). Many of the changes Rick cites are the result of the extraordinary numbers of people now doing ethnography in the service of design. This means that now, a company who wants to use ethnography to support design has the problem of _choosing_ a good parter rather than _finding_ one. And this often means that market research groups, who have vast experience with "vendor relations" (locating, evaluating and choosing good partners) are increasingly in charge of hiring ethnography, in contrast to the small design groups who were once the seekers of ethnographic partners. In one sense, we are watching what happens when a formerly novel process (the introduction of anthropological and sociological theories to design) becomes routine.