Deciphering Culture

Posts Tagged ‘Research

Short Takes: Tracking Musical Taste — Trendsetting Cities

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Earlier this year, I prepared a literature review on changes in musical taste for a study commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony so the ephemeral subject of how musical tastes develop, shift, morph (choose a verb) is a little higher on my radar than usual. Discover Magazine recently published a quick summary of a research paper that maps the geographic flow of music on the social-networking music site Last.fm. There’s more to it than this but the researchers found that among American Last.fm users, Atlanta is the trendsetting city. There are some quibbles I have with how grand a conclusion you can make based on info. gathered from a single social media site but it’s interesting and they created some cool info graphics so I’d recommend checking it out: Which City Is the Musical Tastemaker for the US? Hint: Not NY or LA.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

May 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Short takes: the art of field notes

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A nice piece by Betsy Mason on Wired‘s Wired Science blog on the under-appreciated value of hand-drawn illustrations in nature studies in the digital age — Beautiful Data: The Art of Science Field Notes. It set me to thinking about the value of  “artful” field notes outside of nature studies (where there is a strong tradition of artist-scientists, including the venerable work of Darwin and Audubon). In the “softer” sciences (humanities, social sciences and their hybrids), less value has been placed on the art of field notes. In my own work as an ethnomusicologist, the sketches, diagrams, and doodles that accompany my written observations of a musical event often provide insights that might otherwise fall through the cracks of a strictly left brain operation, focused on accuracy and completeness.

 

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Short takes: different types of “creative metropoles”

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Interesting project winding up in September 2011 looks at the different strategies taken by eleven European cities to develop and support their creative industries. The Creative Metropoles project is based on a premise I share and would like to see shared in the U.S.: “a facilitator of innovation, creative industries are essential for the development of other sectors.” The cities (as different as Berlin and Riga, Amsterdam & Warsaw) will each identify their own best practices and learn from each other’s experiences — “the ambition is not only to present the good practices but also deal with current problem issues and generate new knowledge and approaches.” The project is working in 5 policy areas:

1. structure of the public support for creative industries

2. business capacity and internationalisation of creative industries

3. space for activities by creative industries and creative city districts as creative incubators

4. funding schemes for creative industries

5. demand for the outputs of creative industries, including municipalities in the role of consumers.

The final report, particularly the appendices (Good Practices from European Cities) offers an interesting view of the diversity of approaches to developing creative industries that have had significant success and point to the need to both localize (i.e., collaboration for mutual benefit among Berlin) and reach across national boundaries (i.e., relationship building between artisans and designers in Fes, Morocco and Amsterdam). There’s a lot of material and I’ve just been browsing but my first impression is there’s a lot to learn.c

Short Takes: Ethnographic Fiction

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One of my fascinations is the ongoing development of ethnographic fiction as a means of capturing qualitative research that is more evocative and significantly meaningful than typical ethnographic prose. I noticed that there is an interesting workshop coming up down under on ethnographic fiction & speculative design. Outside the bounds of my travel budget but well worth checking out:

Ethnographic Fiction and Speculative Design is a full-day workshop at the 5th International Conference on Communities & Technologies–C&T 2011, in Brisbane, Australia, 29 June-2 July, 2011.

Goals of the Workshop

This full-day workshop aims to explore how grounded ethnographic and action research methods can be transformed into fictional and speculative designs that provide people the kinds of experiences and tools that can lead to direct community action in the development and implementation of new pervasive technologies.

And added to my reading  list is After Life: An Ethnographic Novel by anthropologist Tobias Hecht. From the blurb by Duke University Press:

Bruna Veríssimo, a youth from the hardscrabble streets of Recife, in Northeast Brazil, spoke with Tobias Hecht over the course of many years, reliving her early childhood in a raging and destitute home, her initiation into the world of prostitution at a time when her contemporaries had scarcely started school, and her coming of age against all odds.

Hecht had originally intended to write a biography of Veríssimo. But with interviews ultimately spanning a decade, he couldn’t ignore that much of what he had been told wasn’t, strictly speaking, true. In Veríssimo’s recounting of her life, a sister who had never been born died tragically, while the very same rape that shattered the body and mind of an acquaintance occurred a second time, only with a different victim and several years later. At night, with the anthropologist’s tape recorder in hand, she became her own ethnographer, inventing informants, interviewing herself, and answering in distinct voices.

With truth impossible to disentangle from invention, Hecht followed the lead of Veríssimo, his would-be informant, creating characters, rendering a tale that didn’t happen but that might have, probing at what it means to translate a life into words.

A call and response of truth and invention, mental illness and yearning, After Life is a tribute to and reinterpretation of the Latin American testimonio genre. Desire, melancholy, longing, regret, and the hunger to live beyond the confines of past and future meet in this debut novel by Tobias Hecht.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

April 22, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Short takes: Ethnography in a business setting

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On the value of ethnography in a business setting (from very different perspectives)

(1) part of a series on the PARC blog last year)

Ethnography in industry: Objectives?

27 April 2010 | Victoria Bellotti

I – and I imagine you – have encountered a lot of confusion, and misconceptions, about ethnography. Especially relative to the many methods that can be used to inform technology design. This post is the first of a series intended to clarify a few things about this methodology.

What is ethnography?

First: there are some helpful definitions that can be found through a simple search.

In case you’re in a hurry, I’ll also summarize it (albeit inadequately, no doubt) for you: a holistic, in-person, and qualitative approach to the study of human behavior and interaction in natural settings.

But rather than expound on the semantic aspects of ethnography in my very first blog post here, I’d really rather respond to the obvious and eminently reasonable question I often hear in my work as a researcher in the field of user-centered technology innovation:

“What’s it good for, in my business?”

Ethnography adapted for industry

In today’s hard-nosed and often economically trying times, ethnography can be seen as a tactical weapon enabling companies to gather new insights and thus gain advantage over their competition.

Traditional ethnographic studies were conducted at a relatively leisurely pace. They had, at least as far as I can tell, no particular useful or focused objectives other than to uncover as much as possible about a culture or practice of interest in an unfettered manner. (Indeed, having an explicit agenda was considered to be rather bad form and was liable to get you kicked out of polite ethnographic circles…wherever those might have been.)

Out of the academic Garden of Eden, modern ethnographers have been driven to move and produce compelling results faster, while operating within a number of budgetary constraints and oft-conflicting business demands.

Ethnographers’ data collection and analysis methods have therefore been condensed, recombined, adapted – both systematically and as-needed – to meet these business demands. We’ll describe the methods to this madness in our next post, but in this post (below) I categorized some of the commercial objectives for which these methods are applied. (for the rest)

Ethnography & Design Thinking

While conducting research for my next presentation (as part of Module 2), I am becoming intrigued and interested (REALLY interested) in Ethnography and then on a separate note, Design Thinking.

The following excites me in relation to ethnography:

-’ its a tool for better design’…..’informs design by revraling a deep understanding of people and how they make sense of their world.’…….’a research method based on observing people in their natural environment rather than in a formal research setting.’……’helps…create more compelling soloutions’…’it lets us see beyond our preconceptions and immerse ourselves in the world of others.’…….’allows us to discover meaning, understand norms…make communications powerful…be worldy….observe reality….identify barriers….’

In a previous job, I had a boss who would say things like “We’re great, sure everyone on the street is talking about us, they all want to come here, people tell me all the time.” Getting Increasingly frustrated by this (and his lies) I eventually said “How do we know? What research have we conducted? The only facts we have is the amount of profit at the end of the year! Why don’t we just get out there and ask questions?”

If anything, adpoting a ethnographic model of research will help me understand the group / community of interest I eventually end up collaborating with. The following diagram, recently sourced also intrigues me and brought the areas of ethnography and design thinking to my forefront and attention. (for the rest)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 30, 2011 at 11:15 am

“Maybe stories are just data with a soul”

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Brene Brown is a qualitative researcher who collects stories to learn about vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame (as a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work). Her work over the last decade has investigated how we can learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity. In an engaging and fascinating talk at TED in June 2010, she discussed her work and the central importance of “wholeheartedness” in living an authentic life. And she begins with the story of how she came to declare ownership of the title storyteller.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

January 22, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Thinking about Research — Short Takes (4)

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(1) Insights often come from (or are repeated by) unlikely sources. This is the case today with a blog post from Dan T. Cathy of fast food chain Chik-A-Flik based on a point made by author Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (a self-help/business book I admit to checking out years ago). The insight is on the importance of knowing where you’re going when embarking on any project, whether it’s a new spicy chicken sandwich or a research project — the projected outcomes of the latter may be more open-ended but the basic principle still applies. Below is  a short excerpt from Why the End Matters at the Beginning

… no journey should start without a clear destination in mind. No adventure should begin without a tangible definition of what the point is. You need to know your true north before you even take your first step..

(2) And then there are the likely sources — a recent study by the Cambridge Group delineates the strategic role of internet and mobile in developed and emerging economies. It’s a changing world (read the study report on nielsenwire).

SUMMARY: Consumers around the world are hungry for access to information and communication, especially in countries with a growing middle class. Defying classic economic models, the demand for communication (cell phones) leads traditional media growth, signifying a global, disruptive phenomenon. The demand for information via the Internet follows slower, more predictable growth patterns. The implications for marketers: lead with mobile advertising in high-growth, emerging economies. (

Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 18, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Thinking about Research – Short Takes (3)

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What is thinking outside the box?

A little gem from Seth’s Blog (marketing guru Seth Godin):

The decision before the decision

That decision is far more important and much more difficult to change than the decision you actually believe you’re about to make.

This is the one that was made before you even showed up. This is the one that sets the agenda, determines the goal and establishes the frame.

The decision before the decision is the box.

When you think outside the box, what you’re actually doing is questioning the decision before the decision.

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Thinking about Research — Short Takes (2)

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The paradoxes of choice overload — another installment of Kyle Bylin’s series on the paradoxes of choice overload of cultural products (on Music Think Tank). The article uses the I-Pod as an example and applies choice theory to the analysis and how the I-Pod can make “maximizers” miserable and turn “optimicizers” into maximizers. [A short excerpt below]

Savor Your Music: The Effect of Abundance in Culture

III.     Overloaded With Choice

As you might guess, fans who exhibit the tendency to maximize their music experiences are also those who are the most susceptible to the paradoxes of choice overload.  When a fan is overwhelmed by the number of songs on their iPod; it will be easier for them to regret a choice if the alternatives are plentiful than if they were scarce, especially if the alternatives are so plentiful that not all of them could be investigated.  This makes it easy for them to imagine that they could’ve made a different choice that would’ve been better.  All the imagined alternatives then, induce the fan to regret the decision they made, and this regret subtracts from the satisfaction they get out of the decision they made, even if it was agood song.  It is, however, not the best song.  To consider the attractiveness of the alternative songs that they rejected causes them to become less satisfied with the one they’ve chosen, leading them to keep scrolling through their iPod.  The more songs they consider, these missed opportunities add up, and collectively diminish the amount of satisfaction they get out of the chosen alternative.

Softwired for Empathy — the human condition (talk by Jeremy Rifkin)

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Hypebot.com just posted a talk (with animation by RSA ANIMATE) by social theorist & economist Jeremy Rifkin from a few months ago on recent neurological research that indicates that humans are softwired for empathy and that the PRIMARY HUMAN DRIVE IS TO BELONG (not to compete, conquer…).  Rifkin uses this research as a jumping off point to discuss the evolution of human empathy and possibilities for saving the world it has created. Rifkin’s omissions raise many questions but there is some meat here and it’s always interesting when heterodox voices come out of mainstream sources (Rivkin has advised numerous CEOs of major corporations as well as European governments). Lots of implications for those of us doing “cultural” research (in any sense).

For an expanded version, go to Rifkin’s 2010 The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness In a World In Crisis. It’s only fair to note that Rifkin is only one of many people exploring empathy — for a primatologist’s perspective see The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal, for a business perspective see Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik and there’s a lot more work out there.

Note: Rifkin doesn’t hold  himself back from some wild rhetorical flourishes (i.e., the Adam & Eve reference in this talk) and he  has been a ligahtening rod for criticism from some well-respected sources. From Wikipedia:

Rifkin’s work has also been controversial, and opponents have attacked the scientific rigor of his claims as well as some of the tactics he uses to promote his views. A 1989 article about Rifkin in Time bore the title, “The Most Hated Man in Science”.[9]Stephen Jay Gould characterised Rifkin’s 1983 book Algeny as “a cleverly constructed tract of anti-intellectual propaganda masquerading as scholarship”.[10] Stewart Brand wrote in 2009: “Among scientists who have read his work, Rifkin is regarded as America’s leading nitwit.”[11]

Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 4, 2010 at 11:55 am

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