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Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter: Reflections on Research in and of Corporations
Volume 5

Studies in Public and Applied Anthropology

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Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter

Reflections on Research in and of Corporations

Edited by Melissa Cefkin

262 pages, 26 figures, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-598-9 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (July 2009)

ISBN  978-1-84545-777-8 $29.95/£23.95 Pb Published (March 2010)

eISBN 978-0-85745-535-2 eBook

Hb Pb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook! $29.95 Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


This book will, I am sure, be regarded as a vital contribution to the process of ongoing re-orientation by academia towards a not-so-new breed of practitioners within corporations. But it will also help inform the practice of corporate ethnographers already plying their trade in corporate jungles.” · Anthropology in Action

“For anyone interested in ethnography and its corporate application…Highly recommended.” · Choice

It is amazing to see how and what anthropologists see when they look at the complex, broadly cast problems (and opportunities) of such mammoth organizations… Cefkin’s work is a delightful contribution to the field of ethnography for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it is a scholarly work that bridges the field of applied anthropology and the business sector, demonstrating the theoretical and practical connections between them. Second, with contributions from anthropologists and business practitioners, Cefkin persuades the reader that corporate ethnography is a legitimate form of ethnography for unearthing and answering complex business problems. In turn, these answers can be used in the process of building and advancing business theory. · The Qualitative Report

“This is a deeply thoughtful and nuanced account of the most celebrated and contested of our contemporary field sites. The authors touch all of the relevant bases - the articulation of theory and practice, the ethical dimension of methodological commitment, the role demands of researchers in a commercial context - that a cultural construal of ethnographic work requires. The volume appeals to readers of ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ persuasions alike, and offers timely insight into ethnography as a vocation.” · John F. Sherry, Jr, University of Notre Dame

“In an increasingly vibrant arena of corporate anthropology - or the anthropology of corporations - this is the first volume that successfully closes the gap between practicing/applied anthropologists working as consultants, corporate employees, or within applied programs, and anthropologists working within university departments, who increasingly define their research in the same corporate domains. Each essay offers conceptual resources that will define terms for active collaborations among all ethnographers who enter this arena.”  · George Marcus, University of California-Irvine


Businesses and other organizations are increasingly hiring anthropologists and other ethnographically-oriented social scientists as employees, consultants, and advisors. The nature of such work, as described in this volume, raises crucial questions about potential implications to disciplines of critical inquiry such as anthropology. In addressing these issues, the contributors explore how researchers encounter and engage sites of organizational practice in such roles as suppliers of consumer-insight for product design or marketing, or as advisors on work design or business and organizational strategies. The volume contributes to the emerging canon of corporate ethnography, appealing to practitioners who wish to advance their understanding of the practice of corporate ethnography and providing rich material to those interested in new applications of ethnographic work and the ongoing rethinking of the nature of ethnographic praxis.

Melissa Cefkin is a cultural anthropologist with experience in research, management, teaching, and consulting for business and government. Currently based at IBM Research in the area of services research, she earned her PhD from Rice University and remains dedicated to pursuing a critical understanding of the intersections of anthropological practice within business and organizational settings.

Subject: Applied Anthropology




Chapter 1. Business, anthropology and the growth of corporate ethnography
Melissa Cefkin

Encounters with corporate epistemologies Chapter 2. “My customers are different!” identity, difference and the political economy of design
Donna K. Flynn

Doing anthropology in organizational contexts

Chapter 3. Participatory ethnography at work: Practicing in the puzzle palaces of a large, complex healthcare organization
Chris Darrouzet, Helga Wild and Susann Wilkinson

Chapter 4. Working in corporate jungles: Reflections on ethnographic praxis in industry
Brigitte Jordan with Monique Lambert

Refractions of anthropological ways of being and knowing

Chapter 5. Writing on walls: The materiality of social memory in corporate research
Dawn Nafus and Ken Anderson

Chapter 6. The anthropologist as ontological choreographer
Francoise Brun-Cottan

Epistemologies, Part Two: Culture and the corporate encounter

Chapter 7. Emergent culture, slippery culture – conflicting conceptualizations of culture in commercial ethnography
Martin Ortlieb

Another look: commentaries from the academy and corporate research

Chapter 8. Insider trading: Engaging and valuing corporate ethnography
Jeanette Blomberg

Chapter 9. Emergent forms of life in corporate arenas
Michael M. J. Fischer

Notes on contributors

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