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Manchester holds International Ethnography Symposium

Academics from around the world gathered at the University of Manchester for the International Ethnography Symposium which was held in the city for the first time.

Speakers at the conference included eminent French philosopher and social scientist Bruno Latour who was also recently appointed as Simon and Hallsworth Visiting Professor at the University. The appointment involves him working with colleagues in the Alliance MBS-based Manchester Ethnography Network and the Manchester Urban Institute within the School of Environment Education and Development (SEED).

Professor Damian O’Doherty from Alliance MBS said the aim of the conference was to progress ethnographic research and develop conversation across a number of different disciplinary fields, from business and management studies through to sociology and anthropology.

Growing interest

Globally there is growing interest in the subject of ethnography, the name given to qualitative research that provides detailed, in-depth description of everyday life and practice. For research in the business school ethnographies approach questions of management and organization as complex social and political problems.

This means that they are able, at times, to explain or describe how and why organisations and/or societies operate in particular ways, which may at first appear to be baffling or even counterproductive.

For instance, the increasing use of ethnographers for marketing and consumer profiling are providing insights that reveal how there is no such thing as a consumer, and that things we have taken for granted for so long in business and management, like demand or supply, consumer taste or the economy do not exist.

Instead they may operate more like the myths anthropology has been traditionally associated with discovering in studies of non-modern societies in ‘traditional’ rural African communities, for example in Melanesia or Latin America.

Such apparently baffling results are achieved on the basis of long-term immersive research, according to Prof O’Doherty. He added: “Ethnography takes a minimum of 12 months of full-time fieldwork and produces findings and results which no other research can do.”

Like-minded colleagues

Paula Hyde, Professor of Organisations and Society at Alliance MBS, added: “This conference was a great place to mix with like-minded colleagues and people who have undertaken similar work, as well as to hear about other interesting studies and how other people deal with the specific challenges of this sort of work.”

During the symposium one area of debate was the study of ethnography around health and care systems. Indeed the roots of ethnography are closely linked to studies of health, healing, and medicine and how different societies have understood these issues in unique ways.

Health and medicine

The conference specifically looked at how global changes in health and medicine are variously linked with local changes and implementation. At the cutting edge of this research studies now show the complexity of this global/local relation that demands new concepts to understand activities and practices that are neither global or local but rather circulate in spaces that might either be scaled up to represent ‘the global’, or scaled downed and designated ‘local’.

Speaker Emma Crewe, Professorial Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of London, said ethnography was a really good research approach for answering difficult questions.

“It helps you understand not only how things are changing, but why things are changing.” She added that when you talk to people from completely different disciplines you have to explain some of the things you take for granted about your method and your theory. “That can often lead to really interesting conversations which can spark off real creativity.”

Further details about the conference can be found here.