From 10 to 12 October 2022, the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) took place in Amsterdam, with this year’s theme being ‘resilience’ (unlike many conferences, EPIC takes its theme seriously and talks actually address the theme). It’s a conference that I have been wanting to attend for a number of years, and I was not disappointed: this collection of people consists of brilliant and inspiring storytellers and question-askers. And do they love an analogy. An incomplete list of some memorable ones:
[We moved] from a matrix-style to a more divisional, business unit structure. For researchers this was a big change: this meant a new distribution and reintegration of research in various part of the organisation. It looked like research was now being diffused in the organisation: researchers were now embedded in product teams, and research skills and research competencies were now being reimagined into new roles and functions. […] Overall there seemed to be a greater amount of research communication and information flow across the organisation. […] [But] how will researchers continue to tell a shared story? How will they maintain a sense of community? Or is it more impactful that they leave little research crumbs across the organisation?Mithula Naik (Canadian Digital Service) and Colin MacArthur (Universita’ Bocconi) – ‘How a Government Organization Evolved to Embrace Ethnographic Methods for Service (and Team) Resilience’, EPIC2022.
“While in Boston, I grew a garden for the first time. […] One morning I found the beds full of worms. Worms are small and spineless yet they are the miracle workers of a garden. And they are remarkably resilient to harsh conditions. In that moment I realised that resilience doesn’t look one way: like worms it is both hard and soft”Traci Thomas (BCG Platinion) – ‘Resilience: Lessons from a Period of Disruption’, EPIC2022.
Although perfectionism is a discourse embedded in dancers’ lives on a daily basis, underlining correctness, many high ranking dancers claim that perfectionism should be seen as learning from mistakes rather than being mistake-free. Being artistically unique, rather than solely replicating moves. Can we resonate with that as ethnographers? […] To find our own voice.Almina Karya Odabasi (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) – ‘Show Must Go On: How Can Ballet Help Us Strengthen Ethnographic Practice?’, EPIC2022.
I call myself a recovering academic, which means I could lapse at any moment.Melissa Gregg (Intel) – Keynote, EPIC2022.
We’ve been talking about resiliency as a quality that is pretty anthropomorphic, as something we embody. And I want to talk about resilience of bias. Bias as the substance that is secreted – ew, gooey term – by structural asymmetries that are put under pressure. We try to remediate and we try to triage bias, we try to paint it over with representation, but we leave the structures untouched.Karl Mendonca (Google) – ‘Beyond Representation: Using Infrastructure Studies to Reframe Ethnographic Agendas and Outcomes’, EPIC2022.
Like musical instruments, each theory instrument plays a different tune, highlighting perspectives, potentials, and challenges embedded in the empirical material. When used as a set the instruments create a richer ensemble than one instrument alone. As in an orchestra, this requires players of diverse expertise, each playing a different instrument, to produce harmonious music.Jessica Sorenson and Mette Gislev Kjærsgaard (University of Southern Denmark) – ‘Theory Instruments as Tangible Ways of Knowing’, EPIC2022.
And so many more (I snuck one in too). Thank you EPIC speakers and organisers for an excellent event.