Ethnography is a buzz-word in the marketing industry. But do anthropologists and markerters have the same understanding of what it means to be a good ethnographer? Maybe not according a new book that anthropologist Simon Roberts from Ideas Bazaar reviewed: Ethnography for Marketers by Hy Mariampolski. A quite tragic book, he writes, as it focuses too much on the practical, on how an ethnography project is set up:
To focus so strongly on the fieldwork seems to me to reveal the dynamics of the market research industry itself: namely ‘fetishise’ the method, commodify it and then sell it by the unit. Ethnography offers the opportunity to sell thinking not research, but this book offers little in the way of insight into how to think ethnographically.
This focus on the practical and logistical is understandable but it betrays a common confusion as to what ethnography is, its roots and how this informs what we do as researchers and what we give our clients. Mariampolski seems to be writing about one aspect of ethnography, the act of doing fieldwork, focusing almost exclusively on being in the field. Ethnography, however, is as much about interpretation, the post-fieldwork-fieldwork, as it is conducting participant observation.