The University of Sussex

Not being there: a pragmatic approach to workplace studies

Lydia Plowman

Ethnographic methods have been associated with the emergence of the concept of CSCW because their emphasis on the observation and description of a range of cultures has an obvious affinity with the need to understand the organisational context in which the proposed system will be used. As academic/industrial partnerships become increasingly common, particularly in the field of CSCW, there is an urgent need to consider alternative approaches to workplace studies and how they can inform system design. In this paper I will 1) outline some of the problems which arise from undertaking the empirical study of work settings in the context of a formal collaboration agreement with an industrial partner, 2) attempt to contain the zeal for ethnography in such contexts, and 3) suggest ways in which some of the precepts of ethnography can be adapted for use within the workplace, redefining these methods as 'interpretive'.

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