The Dō and Jutsu of Strategic Ethnography: Balancing the way and the art of understanding



In Japan, martial arts emerged from a long period of violence. Once warring ceased, philosophical practices formed on this foundation of efficacy. These martial arts are called by names ending in —jutsu (“technique”) and —dô (“way”), respectively. From ethnography's rich tradition of understanding grew the practical art of understanding as a means to an end. But strip portions of the practice from the way, and problems sprout. For social research to remain relevant, practitioners must strive to embody the essential spirit of ethnography – understanding people. In the martial arts, Dô and Jutsu practiced by masters are identical. In the field of design research, we similarly balance understanding and application to deliver strategic outcomes. However, external factors push this practice to become more predictable and thereby threaten the balance. Using the analogy of Dô and Jutsu in the martial arts, we explore the challenges that strategic ethnography faces today.