Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Value in the Debate & Ethnographic Imagination (by BC)

The opening foray into methods highlighted one of the fundamental benefits of EPIC - to provide a place where we can debate these fundamental issues of what constitutes ethnography, where multiple disciplines (what Jeanette Blomberg portrayed as pieces of the elephant) reach in to this debate and bring their unique perspectives (or foci).

The notion that I want to pull out of the paper "Fieldwork and Ethnography in Design - The state of play from the CSCW Perspective," by Dave Randall, Mark Rouncefield, & Richard Harper, is their term of "ethnographic imagination," which strikes at the fundamental issue of what to capture. Moving forward, we can look to the photographic data set presented by Simon Pulman-Jones as an example of flexing one's ethnographic muscles, taking a thin data set from a large-scale project and applying one's abilities (one's eye) to see the story contained within (the "particularity" of what the data contain).

What constitutes that ethnographic imagination? Certainly Tina's post hits on a big issue of positionality. Coming from a CSCW perspective can bring different foci to the ethnographic work at hand. But also, as also noted in the Harper et al paper, this ethnographic imagination builds on the past - finding what prior studies have uncovered, how they struggled in determining what to capture and then in imaging the future from these data. There is a Kuhnian aspect in this - building on this community of practice we occupy. That, I think, brings us back to one of the core values of the EPIC conference, which is in bringing this community together, to provide a place for this discussion.

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