SOG In My Old ‘Hood – Anthropology, Ethnography, and Ethnocentricism

Great post, Steve! One of my dirty secrets is that I was an anthropology student in the early 90s, so I feel semi-qualified to comment on a couple items. First, kudos to you for being careful to say the tribesman had more free time – it is (or at least was when I was in school) considered a known truth that the hunters (men) in hunter-gatherer societies really didn’t provide the sustenance, except in some pretty barren geographies. The gatherers (women) were usually the ones filling stomachs, and it was certainly the more time consuming job. Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same.

On the ethnocentricity topic, I considered myself very fortunate to be in anthropology when postmodernism was peaking. Among other things, the topic of ethnocentric biases and impact of the observer were analyzed, and perhaps even over-analyzed [see note]. Ethnographers usually waxed on and on about all of their potential biases and the impact they had on the culture they were studying before ever getting to their findings. There were also some great introspective books at the time on how even the notion of writing all of this down is it’s own ethnocentric and culturally specific behavior. Maybe I took it a little too far, but I enjoyed books like Writing Culture : The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography and just about anything by James Clifford way more than any of my assigned texts.

I think it’s good to be introspective at this level about your work, but maybe it’s even better to be extrospective. It’s one thing to talk to just your peers about the shortcomings of your field or discipline, but maybe transparency is even more important. Publishing and declaring those thoughts is a kind of catharsis. Something I like about blogging is sharing the fact that I’m no wonk or Maven – I have more questions than answers. I have biases and influences – some that I’m aware of any surely many that I’m not.

This is also part of the reason I’m interested in analyst interviews on Redmonk Radio – sure there are various analyzing-the-analysts blogs, but the fact is that many of us analysis consumers have trouble even keeping up with the analysis, let alone the meta-context around it. Analysts should turn the camera around more often, and share their introspection through their mainstream analysis outlets. (Of course, blogging analysts normally do this as a matter of course.)

At the end of the day, we can try to get past all of those contextual factors, but they remain and should be acknowledged (mindfully). Thanks for that trip to the past, Steve.

Note: Here is a post-modern anthropology joke that will certify me as a geek: An ethnographer and his informant (the subject of the research) are talking, and after an hour or so, the ethnographer says “But enough about me… let’s talk about you!”

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4 Responses to “SOG In My Old ‘Hood – Anthropology, Ethnography, and Ethnocentricism”

  1. 1 James McGovern 4 June 2006 at 3:40 pm

    Blogging analysts haven’t yet been asked really difficult questions and are let off the hook way too often. Maybe it would be interesting to have large analyst firms disclose the following:

    1. What software do you use to run your own enterprise?

    2. What charities does your firm openly support?

    3. What mistakes do you think customers make in reading industry analyst research?

    4. Customers really do want to see non-commercial open source products right next to closed proprietary offerings but can’t seem to make this happen. Are customers out of luck?

  2. 2 scott 7 June 2006 at 6:48 am


    1. What enterprise software have you replaced in the last 2 years with a different solution and why?

    2. What have you been wrong on in the last 3 years of research?

  3. 3 stephen ogrady 22 June 2006 at 7:22 pm

    glad you enjoyed it, scott. revisiting the old school days is a pastime i’m coming to enjoy more and more, which i’m pretty sure is a bad sign 😉

  4. 4 scott 23 June 2006 at 9:25 am

    Steve – seriously… it’s odd to gradually start doing things like reminiscing, talking about what you did 20 years ago – all of the things for which I used to call other people “old”.

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