Ethnography outside of Anthropology

The following story is good to read in that it illustrates our value outside of our field.

Ethnographic stories can help brands connect better with consumers By MG Parameswaran

Does a bank really know how the consumer will use its mobile banking solution? Can traditional research tell us the truth or will it just evoke ‘intended’ behavior? Or does a soap brand know which other products really co-habit in the consumer’s bathroom shelves? Will traditional research tell us the truth or will it just produce what the consumer wants us to believe to be the truth? Read on

Spontaneous Inductive Action – Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems

Jason, a clever colleague of mine, found an interesting article that reminded me of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ use of bricolage [French for, “fiddle, tinker” and, by extension, “make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand (regardless of their original purpose)].

The Fresno Scraper
The Fresno Scraper

Paul Boutin describes a variety of simple solutions to complex problems that typify the sort of ingenuity that launched “The Fresno Scraper” and will pull us out of the challenges currently facing us in the San Joaquin Valley. This sort of “routine applied induction” or is occurring around us all the time but rarely celebrated.  In light of the growing challenges we all keep reading about (e.g., this story of Mendota’s water problems), we need to start hearing more of these stories of applied cleverness to balance things out.

Paul Boutin states this idea better than I could in his article:

Today’s shaky economy is likely to produce many more such tricks. “In postwar Japan, the economy wasn’t doing so great, so you couldn’t get everyday-use items like household cleaners,” says Lisa Katayama, author of “Urawaza,” a book named after the Japanese term for clever lifestyle tips and tricks. “So people looked for ways to do with what they had.” via Basics – Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems –

Urban Villagers Unite with Oprah!

imagesI sort of made it on the Oprah show; Well actually that is not true.  What is true is that her website mentioned my new apparent “tribal lifestyle” as they are considering it. The story, by Jeanie Lerche Davis is from her byline called Single and Loving It. 

New-Style Communities

“Cohousing” is one answer. It’s a form of group housing much like a ’60s commune, but yuppie-style. These are condo-style developments built around a “common area” with kitchen, dining, laundry, exercise, and children’s playroom facilities. Cohousing communities are typically designed to resemble old-fashioned neighborhoods. Members get together often to share meals, socialize, and handle the ordinary stuff of daily living although they live in individual units. 

“Intentional community” is an inclusive term for ecovillages, cohousing, residential land trusts, communes, student co-ops, farms, urban housing cooperatives, and other projects. Intentional communities can be found all over the U.S. and Europe, their growth spurred by the Internet. Typically, community members jointly own land that has multiple dwellings. Frequently, members share a common bond—a religious, political, or social philosophy that brings them together…….via Single and Loving It


The above is all fairly true in my case but the comparison to a “tribe” is not very helpful.  Call me a “hippie” or a “commie” if you like, but to then claim that we live at a very simplistic level sociopolitical complexity is way off base.  I’m not taking offense at being compared to being a member of a “band-level society”.  Rather, I feel a need to point out that our complex society allows for many small “pockets of temporary simplicity” and that these pockets are temporary only.

“Urban tribes form in a vacuum,” Watters (author of the book Urban Tribes) tells WebMD. “Our generation has not joined the traditional social organizations our parents did, the churches and civic groups. We don’t stay in our jobs as long. That leads to a social vacuum, and humans don’t do well in a social vacuum. Something will fill it. That’s where Thanksgiving dinners started out as stopgap measure, then 10 years later, we realize these friends have become our family.” 

857572489_sustainability05thumbnailRead on at  Single and Loving It. But if you are hoping to find any systematic anthropology there, don’t hold your breath.  Now that I have lived in a cohousing community for a couple on months, I can echo Kermit’s point that “it ain’t always easy being green”.  The assumption that I’m a churchless single drifting from job to job smarts. I’m active in my church, I’ve had the same job for the past six years (with no plan on departing) and have been married for over ten years (and have a couple kids to boot).

I guess my beef is mostly with Watters who, in an effort to make a point, has been a bit too reductive for my taste. This is one angry villager who is standing up for his subaltern status!

“Point Forward” not Back


Wow, if you ever wondered what Practicing Anthropologists do for the world, visit the Point Forward site today.

I found out about this firm’s web site by following a Google add link that was on my own LinkedIn page – yes apparently the whole “targeted advertising” thing actually works from time to time.  I was then very pleasantly surprised to find a web experience that gives much more than it takes.  Point Forward’s site is a great way to learn about the most exciting, emergent area in anthropology.  I plan to encourage my students to visit it this semester.  I really liked the cases they provided, e.g., the Chick-fil-A case and the Sony case are particularly effective.  They also offer reports for a more in depth look into the wonderful world of Practicing Anthropology.