Rarely do I do this, but there are times when one has to call out the absurdity of what people co-opt and redefine to fit their needs. Ethnography lacks definition to those who see it as a $10 word for lookin’ at folk. Case in point, I ran across this response today to a LinkedIn query about hiring an ethnographer:
Happy to introduce you to [NAME OF VENDOR WITHHELD] video online technology for ethnographic research, empowering participants to engage with us on their schedule and without the intrusive nature of in-person methodologies by using mobile cams.
Yes, those pesky, intrusive researchers are such a nuisance. Yes, sticking a camera in someone’s face and having them log onto a website is significantly less biasing than interacting directly with a human being.
My problem here is this: any idiot with a camera can and does call himself an ethnographer. The word has been reduced to the lowest common denominator by slack-jawed hacks posing as qualified professionals, all because they took a two-hour seminar at the Hilton last year. My intention is not to be cruel or mean spirited, but to draw attention to the fact that “ethnography” is increasingly being practiced, so they say, by people who clearly know nothing about what it means to do it well. It would be like me saying I’m a Mac expert because I own an iPad. More accurately, it would be like me saying those words as I point to a monitor halfway across the room. Theory, training and participant observation define good ethnography and anyone who believes their “video online technology” constitutes anything akin to ethnography is the last person you should hire to do this kind of work.