Friday, June 24, 2005


Seneca on ethnography

One of my favorite descriptions of ethnography is being a "professional stranger." Part of ethnography is looking at ordinary, everyday situations with fresh eyes, and paying attention to sometimes subtle things that escape notice or reflection during the hubbub of daily life.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca didn't know about ethnography of course, but I think he would have appreciated its approach. I have encountered clients who react to ethnographic findings with an attitude of, "Well, we know that already." Seneca would reply:
People say: "What good does it do to point out the obvious?" A great deal of good, since we sometimes know facts without paying attention to them.

But seriously folks - what do you say to your clients in that situation?
I like this which I pinch from Technotaste:

"Someone who can recognize a true thing when they see it couldn’t necessarily write it down if you asked them to. Ethnographers help to codify the tacit knowledge that people act on in the course of everyday life. In this sense they are not creating new knowledge, but "instead putting it into a new form."

I tell clients that they rarely see their nose and culture is like their nose: right in front of them but difficult to see. That often works
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