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India here we come!

July 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Kazuyo and John are headed to India. In fact, Kazuyo is probably on a plane as we speak, and John will join her in a little over a week. We’ve traveled all over the world and our stop in India is a new place for us, so we’re pretty excited.

They’re headed to Mumbai, Bangalore and Ludhiana and will hang out with a local Indian ethnographer and other folks as they learn all about luxury lifestyle. Yeah…Taj Palace, Juhu Beach, downtown Ludhiana, and so on.

I am jealous too!

Kazuyo learned during her trip to the Philippines several years ago that eating mangoes (a hot fruit) every single day didn’t go very far in helping her avoid heat exhaustion, so this time she’s going to skip hot fruits as the temperature climbs. Kazuyo lives in Boston, so as far as she’s concerned, gray skies and cold weather is much more her style.

She’s also pretty excited to learn more about Asian culture, especially considering she’s from Japan. “Although India is a part of Asia, it is very different from Eastern Asian culture and offers something really unique from that perspective. It will be interesting!”

John’s excited too. While he knows “India has an extremely rich and interesting culture, packed with an assortment of languages and traditions, and a rapidly growing economy,” he will learn firsthand what that looks like, how it sounds, and what’s changing right now.

But he’s certainly not looking forward to the long plane ride. It takes 24 hours to get there!

Stay tuned AFTER the trip. We are sure that there will be some good stories to share!

Ethnography and Travel: It’s not just about the final destination

October 27, 2009 Leave a comment

We tell our clients that ethnography brings us up close and personal with their consumers and allows us to journey into their lives–be it for a week or more, a day or a few hours. Travel is an ethnographic necessity. Lucky for us, it’s not only utilitarian (and therefore a budgetary obligation) but also an opportunity for lots of contextual understandings about whatever it is that we’re studying.

Over the years we’ve been all over the world, visiting multiple cities in Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, England, Sweden, France, Germany and the Philipines, not to mention countless U.S. cities.

Transport helps us connect with the people we visit and enhances whatever we learn during fieldwork. Several years ago we traveled to Manila to learn more about how women approach infant nutrition. After navigating the streets of Manila from our hotel, we crammed ourselves onto local Jeepneys, probably the most popular form of public transportation in the Philipines. Hot, kind of dangerous and exceedingly full, the Jeepneys brought to life the narratives of our participants around working and caring for their families, adding watercolors to our existing sketch of their daily life. When we rode the train, we better understood the role of gender in Filipino culture. Did you know the trains are segregated by gender, and while women are permitted to enter the man’s side, the men are not permitted to enter the woman’s side?

Whether it’s the on tube in London or at Gate B12 in Boston, we have ongoing access to the men, women and children who make up our consumer culture. We’re not going up to random strangers and doing impromptu interviews with them about our topic of study. No, that’s not necessary. What we are doing is observing them as they go about their daily lives, and we, ours. So it’s not always in our best interest to be checking our email, because then we miss out on the action!

Not all of us at ERI talk to strangers when we aren’t in the field. But some of us do. And when we do it ethnographically, we learn all kinds of things from our flight attendants, row companions and taxi drivers. Just yesterday we learned about a flight attendant who has lived in Spain, Turkey, Latvia and soon Greece with her boyfriend who plays in the European basketball league; about the pastor from Ghana who lived in Germany for 25 years and now resides in a small town in Ohio and has four highly educated and successful children; and, about maternal death in Pakistan and Israel-Palestine water conflicts from a Middle Eastern frequency radio station in a local taxi.

And really, now that we think about it, who better to study airline travel than us? We are constant participant observers when it comes to that. We can tell you which airports have the best TSA (Buffalo), which airlines give the best service (Midwest), who has the most comfortable economy seats (Midwest and Southwest), who makes it easiest if you miss your connecting flight (Delta), who has the best standby policy (US Airways), and on and on.

Getting there is just as interesting as being there. And as far as doing ethnography, it’s just as fruitful.

Categories: Ethnography, Travel