Video, ethnography, commercial applications

While browsing the Web, I came across a paper titled Real Environments—Video Ethnography for True Understanding by Kunal.... The authors, both Indian, work for Ogilvy and Mather in China and Singapore. An interesting mixture of ethnographic detail, video analysis, and cultural stereotypes (India v China). If you are interested in the uses of video and ethnography in the business world, do have a look. Tell us what you think of what you read.

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Comment by Luke Baker on January 21, 2013 at 5:06pm

Life In A Day is a historic film capturing for future generations what it was like to be alive on the 24th of July, 2010.
Executive produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin Macdonald.

This amazing film sprung to my mind after reading the article on video ethnography and the subsequent comments below. Though not strictly rigorous the methodology is open source and highlights the potential for a video ethnographic approach in gaining insight to the everyday lives of people and is at least worth the watch.

The thought of video ethnography excites my interest in narrative but I also wonder about ethical issues involved. To have video cameras so inconspicuously mobile in order to capture "humans in their natural habitat" for the purposes of research raises moral and ethical considerations. Say, if the participant of a research program were to wear a pair of sunglasses with a hidden camera to record daily life in the natural habitat, this would certainly unveil hidden aspects to proposed research topics.

Comment by John McCreery on December 9, 2012 at 2:48pm
I shouldn't worry too much about theory. Rigor lies in the discipline to question assumptions and systematically pursue information that contradicts them. Worry less about Derrida and more about Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple (both famous fictional detectives), you will do just fine.

Remember what my guru Victor Turner used to say. Theory is only useful when it generates flashes of insight that illuminate what we encounter in the field. More often than not, an illuminating idea works best when it has been extracted from the logical sludge in which the theorist has embedded it.

And, unless your goal is to get back into academia, don't sweat having been out of school. By now you are sure to know a lot that was never taught in classrooms.
Comment by maria lopez on December 9, 2012 at 2:18pm

It's always an open conversation...but Im no PhD or professor, so my knowledge is limited, and it's been a while since I left university and the immersion into constant  intellectual theory and philosophy of the social sciences.... Next january I will start some soft research (soft: not within university, on my own) on "cultural" tourism  and I will definitely look at things within this frame (discourse production, meaning/category production,..). I will thus explore the taken for granted and currently used categories of ethnic/ethic tourism, community development, authenticity, empowerment, cultural well as the way narratives are built around them, and perhaps the way narratives serve "political" goals. The research will be in a specific setting (SE Asia, border conflictive zone with "minority/ethnic" populations as well as regugees, loaded with meanings). I will research this with visual tools (photo, video..still to see). "Tradition" and "modernity" are precisely at the center of discourse production in this geographical/meaning area,  :-)  I regret though, that the research will not have an academic rigour to it, me having left academia 12 years ago and having a bit forgotten theory...:-)

Comment by John McCreery on December 9, 2012 at 1:48am

Maria, you express yourself very well. That you do so in a second language is marvelous. The riff with which you entered this conversation was terrific. I do hope that your "I completely agree" was not a way of saying that conversation is over.

From my perspective, all we have accomplished so far is becoming acquainted and clearing some common ground. Now it is time to ask, what can we grow here? Are you currently involved in a project that might take us to the next step?

Comment by maria lopez on December 8, 2012 at 12:31pm

sounds good! I completely agree :-)

(English not being my mother tongue, I don't express myself as well as you, but I do agree on what you say, it's my view as well).

Comment by John McCreery on December 8, 2012 at 3:21am

All familiar and good points. What more can we say? Consider the following as possible starting points

  1. Like its philosophical progenitor, anthropological critique of familiar binaries (traditional/modern, folk/elite, rural/urban, us/them) tends to contrast the binaries in question with what we might call knowledge in the best of all possible worlds, where everything is accounted for. Thus, all binary classifications fail. 
  2. The same turns out to be true of ordinal classifications (ranked categories) of which, for example, band/tribe/chiefdom/state, pre-industrial/industrial/post-industrial, late medieval/Renaissance/ Baroque are all familiar examples.
  3. Mappings in multi-dimensional spaces produced by correspondence analysis or similar statistical techniques share the same failing.
  4. In all cases, to conceptualize is an act of exclusion as well as inclusion. Something is always left out. God-like omniscience is impossible. Let us take this conclusion as given.

Suppose, however, that we relax the demand for omniscience and consider the practical use of classifications. "Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" is a useful classification in a courtroom. "It looks like flu" may be a catastrophic medical diagnosis if the doctor is unaware of more serious conditions with flu-like symptoms. In a business context, "traditional versus modern" may be only a starting point for discussion, useful because everyone in a group is likely to have some grasp of what is being discussed. But leaping to conclusions based on that sort of classification is rarely a smart move.

There is also, moreover, the issue of what constitutes a smart move. Perhaps the goal is to achieve market share of 10% within three months. That may be perfectly doable using the roughest of classifications as a basis for marketing strategy. It is, I would argue, this sort of consideration that makes the study of classification in legal, clinical and business thinking so fascinating. 

What is curious to me is how anthropologists who cheerfully debate the multiple possible readings of terms, their deployment in relation to power, their effects in different situations fail to apply the same reasoning to their own categories. From the perspective sketched above, the right question to ask about "traditional versus modern" isn't whether it is right or wrong in some absolute sense but, rather, why it is invoked where it is and how the debate proceeds before and after it. In other words, the questions to ask are pragmatic ones, raised with an eye both to why the distinction is being invoked in this particular situation, the intended effect of using it, and whether, in some practical sense, the use is likely to succeed or fail.

How does this sound to you?

Comment by maria lopez on December 7, 2012 at 3:49pm

well, yes!

categorizations tell us more about who proposes them (us) than about the subject over which a discourse is being generated (them/the "other")

as an anthropologist I do not approach/construct subjects in these terms, Becasue they don't say much about that "other". Tradition and modernity are based on the premise of a look based on time: past/present...we're very close then, to "primitive" and "advance3d", with all its traps...conceptual and political. Thus I don't think it is useful, anthropologically speaking. Maybe my SOAS heritage? dunnow..

I tend tp approach societies/subjects in terms of meaning. How is meaning constructed? what are the complexities involved in meaning? menaing tells us about us as much as about them. Meaning allows for an anthropology of anthropology :-)

and thats kinda healthy!

The interestign subject that I see here is, how is "culture" constructed by the business sector, in order to interact with it in their best interest (business, commercial) ? how it is categorized, given meaning and thus constructed?


Comment by John McCreery on December 7, 2012 at 2:51pm

The question is, I suppose, what to replace them with. Any ideas?

Comment by maria lopez on December 7, 2012 at 2:25pm

hum...interesting...though Im generally mistrustful of (and interested in) discourse that uses concepts such as "tradition" vs. "modernity" to explain the world...:-)


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