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Understanding the Rise of Consumer Ethnography: Branding Technomethodologies in the New Economy


  • Timothy de Waal Malefyt

    1. BBDO Worldwide Advertising, 1285 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019; and Parsons, the New School for Design, The New School University, 88 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011
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ABSTRACT  In this article, I aim to contribute to the ongoing discussion on the changing public role of anthropology by exploring the rise of branded ethnographic practices in consumer research. I argue that a juncture in the “New Economy”—the conjoining of corporate interest in branding, technology, and consumers, with vast social changes—may explain the rapid growth of ethnography for consumer research and predict its future direction. An analysis of branded propaganda from ethnographic vendors that claim their technology-enhanced methods innovate “classic” anthropological practices discloses the way corporations employ technologically mediated means to focus on the reflexive self in consumer research. In this analysis, I reveal that technological methodologies are central to the production of branded ethnographic practices, as forms of branding and technology legitimate consumer–corporate flows of interaction. The conclusion raises awareness to the ways in which modern branding practices reconstruct anthropology in public discourse. [Keywords: branding, consumer research, ethnography, reflexivity, technology]