The De-Skilling of Ethnographic Labor: Signs of an Emerging Predicament
Article first published online: 15 DEC 2009
2009 American Anthropological Association
Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings
Volume 2009, Issue 1, pages 41–49, August 2009
How to Cite
Lombardi, G. (2009), The De-Skilling of Ethnographic Labor: Signs of an Emerging Predicament. Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, 2009: 41–49. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-8918.2009.tb00126.x
- Issue published online: 15 DEC 2009
- Article first published online: 15 DEC 2009
An oft-stated rule in design and engineering is, “Good, fast, cheap: pick two”. The success of ethnography in business has forced this rule into action with a vengeance. As a result, ethnographers now face a threat experienced by many categories of worker over the past two centuries: job de-skilling. Some mechanisms of de-skilling in business-world ethnography are reviewed, including:
- 1simplifications that invert the conventional depth-vs.-breadth balance of ethnographic knowledge;
- 2standardizations that permit research to be distributed among workers of varying cost;
- 3the rise of ethnographic piecework suppliers who rely on pools of underemployed social scientists.
I argue that pressures leading in this direction must be contested, and that only by altering the cost-time-quality paradigm that controls our work can we restore its value to our employers and clients.