8 January 2017

Two perspectives on the role of ethnography in innovation

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Why Venture Capital Needs Ethnographers: Making Meaningful Innovation in the Startup Sphere
by Julia Katherine Haines, Google- December 20, 2016
The power of ethnographic methods and ethnographic thinking is not about finding new territory to colonize for startups and for VCs. In imbuing an ethnographic mindset into the main elements of the startup sphere, the goal is not to create disruption for the sake of a profit. It is to make innovation more meaningful. To drive value. And ethnographic approaches enable this in several ways.
The tools inherent in an ethnographic methodological approach allow for analysis of complexity in uncharted terrains. The focus on studying sociocultural contexts and their dynamics enables would-be innovators to anticipate change in social meaning. An interpretivist mindset underlies the ability to become attuned to a domain, a market, and importantly, an individual human who may be a user. And, finally, being reflexive allows us to understand value and to advocate for those values that make for positive change, not just disruption.

Performing Magical Capitalism
by Brian Moeran (University of Hong Kong) and Timothy de Waal Malefyt (Fordham University) – October 26, 2016
Magic is at work in all sorts of modern practices from central banking to architecture, by way of economic forums, profit making, legal contracts, and various forms of cultural production such as advertising, architecture, luxury goods, fashion, fashion magazines, and science fiction. These magical practices form a system, or systems, of magic and are performed in various societies and contexts around the globe. As several authors will demonstrate in our special issue of Anthropology Today (forthcoming), magic isn’t an antonym for “reality” or business rationality—it’s an integral part of the practices and systems business ethnographers work to understand.

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