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Contemporary Design Anthropology practices in USA

Contemporary Design Anthropology practices in USA

The development of Design Anthropology as a field in the US has been in the context of disciplinary (academic) and Socioeconomic (practice) context. “What are we doing here?” (Cefkin 2006, 17) is an umbrella question that Cefkin poses. A timely reminder that Design Anthropologists (Business Anthropologist/Industry Ethnographers) are in the unique position where they not only work in a business context but also work for business. This obviously raises ethical questions, which are well covered the reading.

Here are some of the questions:

  • What are we learning from our encounter within the corporate space?
  • What are the dynamics of the organizational structures we are involved with, and how and by whom are they being shaped within the organization?
  • What can be learned by comparing the needs of the consumers and the needs of the business as whole (including people, practices, etc)
  • How is knowledge being produced and how is it accessed/consumed?
  • How are we (Design Anthropologists) positioned within the power structures and what are we enabling?

Innovation, improvement and change, or what Cefkin refers to as “New” has been in the forefront of shaping the engagement of Design Anthropology in the US. Grappling with the new forces in the Market, corporation have embraced ethnographic research in short to improve their understanding of their own corporate culture (stumbling blocks to success in the market place, new ways to innovate and improve productivity) and influences at work in their customers/users’ cultural and social arena.

A strong emphasis is placed on identifying and understanding the role of power-brokers and the formation of alliances within an organization with particular attention paid to who is being engaged, their values, business practices being employed and their impact on the organization and how this trickles down and permeates through out the whole organization and shapes the way products and services are designed and delivered to the consumers, including the work produced by Design Anthropologists (Flynn 2006, 53-54).

Corporate Ethnography has paved the way for Design Anthropologists to engage in the business world from a less academic stance (although it is evident that strong dialogue is taking place on the importance of remaining vigilant and critical of the way the field is being influenced by business), and be at the helm or what I would like to call the economic engine room of society. This has provided a better understanding of business practices and their implications on the wider society, sharing of these practices and in many cases improving existing business methodologies. Both Cefkin and Flynn raise the need, as practitioners in the field, to remain vigilant with both how and the why of these interactions and understanding of our work’s commercial, social and political function (Cefkin 2006, 18-20).

This article is authored by:

References:
Cefkin, M 2009, ‘Introduction: Business, Anthropology, and the Growth of Corporate Ethnography’, in M Cefkin (ed.) Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter, vol. 5, Berghahn Books, New York, pp. 1-37.

Flynn, D 2009, ‘”My Customers are Different!” Identity, Difference, and the Political Economy of Design’, in M Cefkin (ed.) Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter, vol. 5, Berghahn Books, New York, pp. 43-57.

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