Professional Applications of Ethnography

Many of us linguists who do ethnographic work are inspired by the possibility of finding organizations who value our skills and training enough to hire us to do it. If you are one such, Rita Denny and Patricia Sunderland’s new edited volume might just be the book you have been waiting for!!!

As the first major reference work on anthropology in business, The Handbook of Anthropology in Business features more than 60 authors working in universities and corporate settings.

From the publisher (Left Coast Press):The Handbook offers broad coverage of theory and practice and demonstrates the vibrant tensions and innovations that emerge at the intersections of anthropology and business and between corporate worlds and the lives of individual scholar-practitioners.”

I have just bought my copy of Anthropology in Business and can’t wait to dig into this as my end-of-summer beach read!!

Anthropology in Business cover

A few years ago, I had the very great pleasure of meeting Patricia Sunderland at EPIC, the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry conference. She generously shared her experience and insight into the Consumer Research world, which I now share with readers of this blog:

Basically, there are companies, branding and advertising agencies who want to create new products or new branding or communication strategies for existing ones. They may use ethnography to bring a target audience to life: e.g. how do we market to Moms of two year olds?

In the 1990s ethnography was seen as the new method, the “magic bullet” and it got forefronted as one of the major types of analysis being done. This research was seen as having business implications for products as varied as beer, frozen foods, GM, Advertising Agencies, and JC Penney.

Recently, there have been a few shifts including the economic recession which has led to ethnography coming to be seen as potentially too expensive and time-consuming, but also with the proliferation of social media, the new “buzzword” is: digital methodologies.

To collect consumer insights, consumer researchers can turn to Twitter and blogs, and can interview research participants using iPhones, and text. Diaries, especially digital diaries have come to be favored techniques for gaining insight into the customer experience, and now more than ever before, this world needs analysts who can handle huge amounts of language data.

Keywords for students to look for in jobs descriptions / postings:

  • Research Analyst
  • Research Manager
  • Market Research
  • Discourse Analysis – because all of these new technologies generate TEXT, which needs analysis!

For those of you interested in learning more, she highlighted these resources:

And speaking as Career Linguist now, I can also put in a plug for Patricia and Rita’s last book: Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research. For many years, back when I was teaching the ethnography of communication, I used their book and can recommend wholeheartedly their vision for blending theory and practice. My students found the activities and practical suggestions to be not only inspiring but applicable. The insights shared by these gifted analysts of culture can inform all work, all of us stand to benefit from the awareness of thinking and work that has come before.