One of the world’s most eminent social scientists has been appointed as Simon and Hallsworth Visiting Professor which will involve him working with colleagues in the Alliance MBS-based Manchester Ethnography Network and the Manchester Urban Institute at the School of Environment Education and Development (SEED).
Bruno Latour is a French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist, and the appointment is shared between Alliance MBS and SEED.
Professor Albena Yaneva from SEED and Professor Damian O’Doherty from Alliance MBS have been working closely together to secure the appointment and have now planned a series of events for the coming year.
The acclaimed author will be giving lectures and hosting seminars in Manchester, while he will also be a keynote speaker at the annual International Ethnography Symposium hosted by the Manchester Ethnography Network at the University of Manchester later this summer.
Prof O’Doherty said the appointment was a real coup for Manchester. “Latour is one of the most important contemporary figures in the humanities and social sciences and his work is cited worldwide. He is an extremely influential thinker and it would be fair to say that his work has changed the way that social scientists think. He has had strong links with Manchester for many years and we are delighted to welcome him.”
Bruno Latour is currently professor and vice-president for research at Science Po Paris, and has been for various periods visiting professor at the University of California San Diego, the London School of Economics, and Harvard University. Since 2013 he has been the part-time Centennial Professor at LSE and in 2015 began a five-year appointment as professor-at-large at Cornell.
His appointment comes at a time of growing interest in the subject of ethnography, the name given to qualitative research that provides a detailed, in-depth description of everyday life and practice.
He said using the ethnographic method allows academics to reach parts of organisations that no other method can. “If I was to describe what we do then it is about getting under the skin of business, and the other key thing is that we can give a totally independent view when we go into a business.
“That is different to, say, a management consultant who will have invariably been invited into a business by senior members of an organization, usually under line reporting that leads back to the board which immediately means there is some kind of agenda to which consultants are expected to work within but not question.”
He says many organisations are increasingly making use of ethnographers for marketing and consumer profiling and points to the investment in ethnography at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre and the work of people like Genevieve Bell at the INTEL corporation. “The research method is gaining more and more traction. The value of ethnography is that you get to study other people’s expertise.”
Prof O’Doherty cites two major pieces of work at Alliance MBS. One recently completed project was an analysis of the Manchester Airport Group, while another ongoing study is looking at what has been diagnosed as ‘the cultural impediments’ to change at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing facilities in Cumbria where management is dealing with the huge challenges of decommissioning. “In the latter case we are trying to work out exactly what we think they want, and how we can harness and develop what might be called the spirit of entrepreneurship at the plant. For the company it is all about understanding and changing attitudes and mindsets that will drive behavioural change.”
He added: “The appointment of Bruno Letour is key to thinking in new and different ways, and by drawing in such a multi-disciplinary and cross-faculty team of researchers Bruno’s appointment is expected to help generate new collaborations equal to the unprecedented challenges faced by contemporary business such as climate change, war and terror, and the end of ‘human’ management.”
*The International Ethnography Symposium runs from August 30th until September 1st. Other speakers include: Professor Bill Maurer from University of California, Irvine; Professor Emma Crewe form SOAS, University of London; and Professor Hugh Willmott from CASS, London. For further details contact Prof O’Doherty at d.o’firstname.lastname@example.org