Serving Up Findings: What Insight Is For Dinner?

It is worth noting again that the people employing us are generally indifferent, at least initially, to our concerns about holistic approaches, theoretical positions, etc., often because they are not familiar with anthropology as a field of inquiry.  The information we provide must be made familiar enough to draw them in.  If this means simplifying our findings, then the risk is worth the reward.

In the eyes of the corporate consumer, there is no such thing as anthropological research. The first step in successfully entering the business community is understanding the natives’ emic vocabulary.  This isn’t to say that we abandon our own language in favor of another, but it does mean understanding how and why we translate what we say into something meaningful.  A business executive wants market research, futures forecasting, strategic planning advice, new product design, packaging design, or some form of business oriented information.  The anthropological aspect of the research is only tangential in as much as it can bring fresh insight to the situation.

“Anthropology,” “ethnography,” and “culture” have meaning insofar as they vaguely represent ways of gathering and contextualizing information that can be readily applied to specific business situations.  Consequently, it is imperative that we understand the language of the “native” and explain anthropological methods and findings in ways that will be easily understood.

“This audience treats fieldwork as merely a method among methods, and while normally respectful of the work, this audience judges it by how well it informs their own set of interests.  These readers are not reading ethnography to be entertained, challenged, or enlightened about the nature of social science.  They wish only to be informed about certain facts the fieldworker has unearthed” (VanMaanen  1988: 30).

Our work is, regardless of the setting, meant for utilization by our peers and our employers.  Discussing work done in a meat processing town, the following analogy was brilliantly stated:

“…workers extract information from live animals and then transform it into words and numbers, which are in turn built into new narratives.  These are further processed into texts, which are then published (hopefully) for consumption (Van Maanen’s third ethnographic moment) by professional colleagues and others.  They, too, chew our words.  We want readers to swallow, digest, and be nourished by them.  But there are times they spit them out, only to chew us up instead.” (Erickson and Stull  1998)

With this in mind, we cannot forget that we produce a product for consumption by a wide range of people with specific needs.  While it may be tempting to produce text that reflects our disciplinary history, we must recognize that to do so may well backfire, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of our employers.  Making the text palatable for general consumption allows us to eventually change the tastes of our readers.

 

Gavin

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