TWIE: Liverpool-Keele Ethnography Symposium

This week in Ethnography, the 7th Annual Symposium on Current Developments in Ethnographic Research in the Social and Management Sciences will be held in University of Liverpool Management School, Liverpool, United Kingdom.  This conference is sponsored by the University of Liverpool Management School and Keele University, Institute for Public Policy and Management in association with the Journal of Organizational Ethnography.

This year’s theme: Ethnographic Horizons in Times of Turbulence

This is interesting for a few reasons.  A few years back, I was awarded a Coleman Fellowship to design and teach a course on anthropology and entrepreneurship.  At that point, I did not know about this conference or the sort of work those interested in this conference are conducting.  Ethnographic methods have been employed by those in “business” for a very long time but it has had a different incarnations while in the private sector.  More importantly, the intellectual reflection upon this work has always lagged behind the real developments by a few years.

But Ethnography is still on the move.  It started in Anthropology originally, and in the more resent past, Ethnography has made headway in the fields of Business, Design and Engineering.  Now, as the biographies of the keynote speakers clearly illustrate, Ethnography has made its way into Management and Organizational Psychology.

Keynote Speakers 

Professor John Weeks (IMD Business School, Lausanne)specialises in the study of leadership, culture, and change. He is a senior editor of Organization Studies. His book “Unpopular Culture” (2004) – an ethnography of corporate culture of a bank – considers why people complain about their work culture and what impact those complaints have on their organization. John found that, despite all dissatisfaction and efforts at culture change, the way things were carried out in the bank never seemed to fundamentally change.

Professor Gideon Kunda (Department of Labour Studies, Tel Aviv University)is an internationally recognized ethnographer and expert in the area of organizational culture. His book of 2006 on engineering culture is a classic in the field. His latest book (with Stephen Barley), “Gurus, Hired Guns and Warm Bodies: Itinerant Experts in a Knowledge Economy” examines the social organization of temporary work among engineers in Silicon Valley.

Professor Karen Ho (Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota) published an ethnography of Wall Street in 2009. There she uncovered a culture of “Liquidity”— where people and jobs are seen as tradable and only the moment counts. Much about the way the financial world works has more to do with the values and culture of the bankers rather than more often stressed impersonal and autonomous market forces. Currently Karen focuses on studying the subject of micro-financing disadvantaged groups.

Dr Simon Down (Newcastle University Business School) has been an entrepreneur in the independent music sector as well as a writer before becoming an academic. He is the author of two books, “Narratives of Enterprise: Crafting Entrepreneurial Self-identity and Enterprise” (2006) and “Enterprise, Entrepreneurship and Small Business” (2010). Simon’s interest in entrepreneurship ranges from small business regulation, “entre-tainment” (i.e. enterprise and popular culture; ‘Dragons Den’, ‘The Apprentice’) and the history of enterprise and entrepreneurialism.

With an annual conference and a new journal, the fledgling field of “Organizational Ethnography” is off to a good start.

I end with a question: Where will Ethnography be found next?  By “where”, I mean an established academic discipline with enough infrastructure and capital to formally set up its own brand of ethnography as Liverpool-Keele Ethnography Symposium has done.  My wild guess is Nursing but my reasoning behind this will have to wait for another post.