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5.4.4 Re-engineering Ethnography

We can see that some features of research methods from ethnography are selected when it is 'translated' into a business (marketing) context. They pick up on some features of 'ethnography' such as observation and refer to these alone as 'ethnography'. Because of time and cost constraints (e.g. deadlines, etc.), specific research methods are selected. (For instance, the abovementioned toiletries maker's ethnography involves zero field visits and indirect photo reading.) From these examples, we can cast doubt upon whether the term 'ethnography' is even suitable to some of this research.

From a viewpoint of mine, as an anthropologist, 'ethnography' which is incorporated into Japanese companies does not look like the 'ethnography' that anthropologists practise. Esuno (ethnography) is no longer the ethnography that we anthropologists are familiar with. Companies customise and formulate ethnography to suit their own business purposes. Some use the phrase 'we need to develop ethnography'. An in-house ethnographers of a Japanese IT firm speak of the need for industrialised ethnography or engineered ethnography at the EPIC conference:

[W]e explored … the expectation to industrialized ethnography or engineered ethnography. Such ethnography requires stability, repeatability and measurability. Though some researchers call them 'dirty' – with no depth and patched; many customers will ask for such ethnography from now (Ugai et al. 2010: 34).

Although ethnography has its roots in academic anthropology, it is unsuitable in business settings and needs to be developed and adapted in order to be able to function as a tool for business. From their perspective, academic ethnographic study takes several months to several years and is deeply dependent on individual skills/ expertise, and it appears not useful for business contexts; therefore, they say that the engineering of thnography is needed. [1] Canonicalisation of research procedures, standardising outputs and consolidating research instrumentals are required for the engineering of ethnography. Through the introduction of these processes, benchmarking across client companies, such as internal operating process, became possible (Kishimoto et al. 2009: 592).

To put it the other way around, we anthropologists are reminded by business people of the feature of academic ethnography. Academic ethnography depends on the expertise of individual anthropologists. Research procedures are not standardised since anthropologists treat phenomena as highly contextual, and thus, it does not fit in so easily with benchmarking across cases.

As such, through encountering other reasons we can reflect on our practices and it may lead us, for example, to rethink the anthropological education or development of human resources – for instance, what kind of graduates Japanese anthropology should seek to provide to the world outside academia.

  • [1] The abovementioned tendency to attach much importance to technology and artisan skills may be related to this statement.
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