NOTES - Urban Ethnography

Background in Anthropology and Ethics.
Field work is a heavy and immersive experience. People ‘become native’
This methodology is shared across the science.

Seeing a reimergence of native art in contemporary arts. Utilitatrian ideas as a way of learning specific things within a design.


1958 - Clifford Gierts (and unnamed wife) - Bali Cockfighting.
Deep play - a game that the stakes are very high, and its irrational to play it. Victory/loss tied to culture and symbolic class structures.
He is visibly not part of the community (a fly in the milk) His outsider status makes him socially invisible. Heightens the colonial guilt element of being the outsider.
The mistrust by the native population is part of an attempt to resist colonialism.

The cock fights are illegal. The police raid the one he’s at. Everyone flees. Including Gierts. This is a moment where the distance breaks down. They build trust with the loals who see that they are ‘the same’. Partaking in a deeper way in someone’s culture is revealing and builds connections with each other.

Some ‘rules’

  • It’s a good thing to know the language. - Its the best method of communication. This is a way of understanding the culture as another manifestation of the language of a people/place.
  • Jargons and slang come together through diverse culture.
  • The essence of ethnography is participant observation, whilst also taking part in the life of the society that you’re observing. Creating distance and proximity at the smae time. Nativatin gthis moment/idea/space. Finding barriers or feeling stressed in your own outsider status. These are normal things within the process of ethnography. The host/guest dynamic - building and keeping trust.
    BUT this is all within an old fashioned tribal sense. Works in uniform ethnical spaces (if such exist anymore)

Within the scity we do find the ethnically diasphoric spaces. But they are influenced by/influence a city in multiple ways.
So we can focus on a group or type of group. Or we can focus on a practice: walking, a single street, neighbourhoods, a type of consumption, a specific product… etc

It is something we can bring about ourselves - the thing we’re trying to find out about is best to be placed at the centre. - Something that brings people together in order to find out the common held view on it.
A city might foster many different lifestyles so its important to be closest to the ones we’re trying to understand.
e.g BAngladeshi/packistani communities playing cricket in German - gender, diasphora, but also the material of play. a public exposure. Influencing their environment directly.

So this may be a safe space that we find, or that we create in order to bring them together and find out more about it.
The driving force with TiP is urban resilience (not ethnography) - suggesting ways of reaching out to stakeholders - useful to see how different urban groups respond to each other.
How do you recognise an under represented group within this kind of space though. Do we make an ethical decision about reaching out/excluding these communities. Do you make an attempt and keep trying even if not successful, or do you try and then give up? This is part of the negotiations that we work with in order to find out the answers we’re trying to find.

SIDEBAR Consider the bribe - food, drink, coffee biscuits, drinks, free pizza/beer.
Communities and social groups are overlapping circles.
If the question is ‘who are you are designing for?’ yourself or someone else. People known/unknown to you?
Who Where when what and why? - this is the starting point for the design element. Do these elements always work with all people and ideas?
Maybe you start with a people, or a place, or an event we want to capture. Perhaps physically mapping a space. Record sounds, draw maps, get lost. Share these with others - this is where the ideas can emerge from.

A primary way of connecting with the environment and it’s people. Perhaps you depend on interlocutures.
Monuments - the stories that cities tell themselves
Graffiti -
Infrastruture - industrial archelogy

Good feedback tell stories - people carving names onto benches makes you think about how many people carry knives on dates.

SIDEBAR a paradox - who should we include in a community. Hunch - the people who most appreciate the work that is done by game designers is most useful to those who are outside of the community.
Playing creates a zone where the familiarity is broken down. This is what attracts all.

Is the game forming a community, bridging a community, or doing something else.

If the game is trying to tackle a concept how do you know if the players have touched on that subject? If you are ‘changing the way people are thinking’ how do you measure the impact of the session before and after?
This can be done through ‘debriefing’ during the game
We cannot gaurantee that what we want people to take away is what people wil. It is an emergent phenomena.
Sometimes games handicap people with more experience - perhaps we can design for this in the urban game setting - creating community shepherds. What are the tiers of player we consider within the game design. An asymetrical game design can strengthen this.
Coming in from the outside and attempting to flatten a social heirarchy from the outside can be tone deaf.
The documentation can be the game - being honest with the position of outsider/insider.
Trying to capture the thought process that goes on outside the game (where the interesting stuff really happens)

Consider showing up 2 years later in the same spot with an echo.
The factors that are the most important at the time aren’t always what stick around afterwards.
The game isn’t the end product but the tol to bringing people to the end product - a community. So how do we define the community.

Understanding a cimmunity through a game vs creating a community through a game
Put that notion of ‘community’ or ‘trust’ openly on the table. Can it be resolved through design features, or can we iterate through feedback?
Can it be used to reconcile tensions between antagonistic communities? Are there ways of breaking this down.
Football groups. Protest groups and government workers. - N. England communities resisting fracking. Doesn’t hit the groups that they really want to hear the message.

The difficulty of designers - what you want to do vs, what is needed of you? What you do vs what happens outside the thing we created. Sometimes the mundane everyday stuff becomes the centre of the work we’re doing. Breaks the prescriptive nature of the design.

Hashtags, dislocated community building. Can provide resources to draw together a community.

Ethnographic Methodologies

  • Language
  • Participant observation - can take at least a year
  • Partaking in rituals - this can be a game
  • Participating in everyday life - this is more difficult within cities. there is no uniformity of social expression. Focusing on actions or activities might be better (commuting etc) A place that could constitute the beginning of a community. Perhaps this community doesn’t want to be part of the community. They are ignoring it.
  • Note taking through thick description. Create the diary and codebook. Representing sights, senses, feelings. Contains everything you see, and what your position within that might be.
  • Returning to your own archive to see what dots now connect that you didn’t see before.

Trying to be in the space and not in the space - holographic game design.
Designer/player/facilitator - what do you do in the middle space?
Trying to find that time/space to step back and immerse into it. Can you pass the observation role over to someone

Games have their own communities (if they scale) - this creates the own community within the game created. As the designer you are both inside and outside that community. The community is always slightly different to what the game is as well.
Sometime sthe game breaks, sometimes the city breaks. They’re 2 different OS and the have to break to come together.

Three parts of the setting in a city
Site specificity, Actors/the agenda (politics) and the knowledge (inlaid in the place)
If this is the base of the design - the herd mentality can take over and the city tells itself how to play the game.

Ethnographic research
Working alone is more flexible. But the bigger the thing you study the more perspectives are needed. This could be a scale issue, or a perspective issue. Ethnography i always subjective. Points of view create overlaps.
The interview process is really useful - open ended questions. Semi-structured questioning - bullet point question ideas = not ‘do you play games’ but ‘what do games mean to you?’ Giving the space to the person who you are speaking to define themselves.

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