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Edited by Russell W. Belk
Chapter 32: Pushing the Boundaries of Ethnography in the Practice of Marketing Research
32 Pushing the boundaries of ethnography in the practice of market research Rita M. Denny Data are produced, not gathered This is a chapter on ethnography as it is practiced in the commercial world, how ethnography is conceptualized in practice and the boundaries that limit its utility. I argue that, if ethnography is to live as an analytic and theoretical construct in marketing practice, then its theoretical foundations must be continually made explicit, the opportunity it oﬀers for multi-sitedness and multiple voices must be embraced and, ﬁnally, that both the theory and the voices must be pushed through into reporting (and representation more generally). Otherwise, culture as a theoretical construct will remain invisible in commercial practice and ethnography will have little impact on ways of managerial thinking. Two decades after the (re)introduction of ethnography to the commercial world of marketing not much has changed in its conceptualization in the world of practice, other than the fact that now ethnography is a standard oﬀering of agencies, suppliers and companies. Beyond this currency of familiarity its conceptualization as ‘getting below the surface’ still reigns. From the Harvard Business Review (Leonard and Rayport, 1997) to U.S. News and World Report (Koerner, 1998) or Marketing Week (2004), whether US-based (Wellner, 2002; Yin, 2001), English (Barrand, 2004) or Canadian (Smallbridge, 2003), the fundamental articulation of ethnography is grounded in metaphors of depth and digging. Truth is somehow fathomable if we just keep on burrowing. Thus ethnography is couched as looking beneath, plumbing...
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