Back in May I asked you for advice on researching
conferences etc. as ethnographic research sites.
I'm interested in conferences and conventions as
ethnographic research sites. They are sites
where dispersed communities of scholars,
activists, business people etc. (depending on the
conference) come together in one place to
strengthen their ties, share knowledge, etc.
Therefore, they seem worth studying from a
qualitative/ethnographic perspective in the
context of research questions about how knowledge
is transferred globally through specific spaces,
nodes, and infrastructures.
I've had many many very helpful responses over
the intervening months, right up to some that
just came in this week. So, it's high time I
shared. I hope I have managed to gather them all
together and that the formatting below is ok
(apologies if any slipped through the cracks).
Thanks to all of you who helped me. I guess I'll
better do something with all this now . . .
David Lodge has written some novels on academic life
with lots of scenes in conferences-- such as "Small
Harald Bathelt and Nina Schuldt have written a
bit about trade fairs as sites of knowledge
exchange. They make use of the cluster metaphor
(calling them temporary clusters), and may have
conducted some sort of participant observation.
They are economic geographers in the more
traditional sense (i.e., neither
post-structuralists nor practicing regional
scientists), but they might have something to
Becker (the sociologist, not the human capital
economist) wrote something about observations of
what happens at either music events or concert
halls (where he was volunteering with the medical
tent), and that might also provide a breadcrumb
you can follow.
One paper that I know tells of a failed attempt
to observe a seminar of anthropologists, where
the antropologists denied the author access:
Williams, Sarah & in Collaboration with Klemmer,
Frederick (1997) Ethnographic Fetishism or Cyborg
Anthropology? Human Scientists, Rebellious Rats,
and Their Mazes at El Delirio and in the Land of
the Long White Cloud. In Downey, Gary Lee &
Dumit, Joseph (Eds.) Cyborgs and Citadels.
Anthropological Interventions in Emerging
Sciences and Technologies. Santa Fe, SAR Press.
There is an emerging scholarship on trade fairs
and their role in innovation knowledge transfer.
Most of this work comes from economic
geographers, particularly Harald Bathelt. He has
a co-authored paper called "Trade fairs as
temporary clusters" (citation below), which
sounds like a good start to think through
knowledge transfers that occur among dispersed
social actors who are concentrated in space for a
short period of time. As you might know, the
literature on economic clusters in econ geography
deal with (tacit) knowledge transfer, and so this
work might provide a useful methodological start.
I also know that Wendy Larner is starting to look
at major fashion shows (e.g., New York and
Toronto's fashion weeks) as temporary clusters
from the perspective of fashion as a cultural
industry, so she might also be of help,
especially since she seems more likely to do
I wonder if Marilyn Strathern's edited
collection titled Audit Cultures might be useful, particularly part IV
with three articles focused on the academy (although I wonder if they
might not speak specifically to the academic conference as a site).
MASKELL, P./ BATHELT, H./ MALMBERG, A. (2006):
Building Global Knowledge Pipelines: The Role of
Temporary Clusters. In: European Planning Studies
(Vol. 14) pp. 997-1013.
BATHELT, H./ SCHULDT, N. A. (2005): Between
Luminaries and Meat Grinders: International Trade
Fairs as Temporary Clusters. SPACES 2005-06.
His website is here:
The Swiss economic geographer Bernhard Fuhrer has
been very busy at the last few
conferences videoing participants (Tevor Barnes, for example) to talk about
their experiences. The interviews are on the new econgeog 'facebook' at:
Harald Bathelt (UofT) with Nina Schult has also been doing some work in this
area: i.e. conferences as temporary sites for social network formation.
Susan Hanson wrote a paper (in 2000, I think) about professional "networking"
However, there have been some recent, excellent articles on using
ethnographic methods for conferences. I'd highly recommend:
Rinallo, D. and Golfetto, F. (2006). Representing markets: The shaping of
fashion trends by french and Italian fabric companies. Industrial
Marketing Management, 35:856-869.
Consuming the American west: Animating cultural meaning and
memory at a stock show and rodeo. Journal of Consumer Research, 28:369-398.
Borghini, S., Golf, G., and Rinallo, D. (2006). Ongoing search among industrial
buyers. Journal of Business Research, 59:1151-1159.
Maybe you could be interested in my particular
approaches. If you read French, you can visit my
or visit the French and English website of a
conference I organize upon fieldwork in geography
(University of Artois, June 2008) :
Michel Maffesoli deals with similar social
dimensions in his Time of Tribes. Looking at
conference attendees from the perspective of
Neo-Tribes might by quite productive.
Howard, PN. 2002. Network ethnography and the
hypermedia organization. New Media and Society
4(4): 550-74. This deals with doing ethnographies
of 'knowledge networks' and 'communities of
practice', which often cannot be conducted at the
traditional, bounded 'field site'.
Parry, B. 1998. Hunting the gene-hunters.
Environment and Planning A 30(12): 2147-62 -
proposes studying corporate elites via their
'spaces of communication'.
It's not exactly what you are asking for, but in
case it's helpful in some way... Deborah
Tannen's work might be a useful reference at some
point. If you're not familiar with her, she
studies gendered discourse, and I think she might
mention conferences in:
Tannen D 2002 Agonism in academic discourse Journal of Pragmatics 34 1651-1669
Also, Emily Toth (The Ms. Mentor columnist in the
Chronicles of Higher Ed) provides some tongue in
cheek moments about conferences--in the archives
of her column and in her book (Ms. Mentor's
impeccable advice for women in academia).
Presumably in your literature search you came up
with Stanley Cohen's article from 1997;
'Conference life: The rough guide', The American Sociologist, Volume
28, Number 3, September 1997 , pp. 69-84
While not strictly ethnographic, it is peppered with insights and is
actually one of the most (intentionally) amusing academic articles
I've read for a while. Describes some of the unusual behaviours of
conference attendees, and I recommend this to everyone. And especially
if you're thinking of putting on a conference in the near future.
You'll know what to look out for...
"Laboratory Life" by Latour & Woolgar shows how
scientific facts are made in a laboratory (just
change "laboratory" into "conference"). Another
good book would be "Science in Action" by Latour.
Anne Meneley and Donna Young (Eds.) 2005.
Auto-ethnographies: The Anthropology of Academic
Practice. Peterborough: Broadview Press.
Deborah Reed-Danahay (Ed.) 1997.
Auto/Ethnography: Rewriting the Self and the
Social. Oxford: Berg.
I wonder if Janet Conway's work on the World
Social Forum would be at all applicable?
Do you know the book by Analiese Riles - titled "The Network Inside Out"?
the last chapter
in The Vulnerable Observer by feminist anthropologist Ruth Behar.
You might want to look at the work of Harald Bathelt, Peter Maskell and
Anders Malmberg - they have written on this quite a bit (trade shows,
conventions, 'events' etc as 'temporary clusters' or global pipelines) -
although I am not sure they have really explicitly discussed the
methodological aspects of this but perhaps useful?
Organization, Vol. 15, No. 2, 233-250 (2008)
© 2008 SAGE Publications
Fear and Loathing in Harrogate, or a Study of a Conference
University of Bradford School of Management,
Bradford, UK, [log in to unmask]
University of Bradford School of Management,
Bradford, UK, [log in to unmask]
There have been no studies in organization
research of conferences as part of the world of
work. This paper describes a reflexive
ethnographic study of one management conference.
It finds that upon arrival at the places and
spaces of the conference processes of self-making
as conference attendee are set in train.
Self-making subsequently takes place within
processes of domination and subordination,
achieved through fear, infantilization,
disparagement and seduction. Reading this through
the lens of Freudian-informed interpretations of
the Hegelian master/slave dialectic, the paper
argues that conferences are one of the means of
control over academic, managerial and
professional employees. Control is achieved
through dialectical interactions between
conference and employee.
Key Words: conferences ? Hegelian dialectic ?
Jessica Benjamin ? mechanisms of control ?
When you go to such journals as Symbolic
Interaction, you will find a number of examples
there of ethnographic research on internet
events. The work by Denis Wakul is particularly
I have the highest regard for geographers for
they seem to be doing so much cutting-edge
I am looking at the bicycle trade show as a performance of
trade. Goffman, who I'm sure you've come across, is always suggested
to me. However he seems to focus more on the subtle points of
interaction such as facial expressions while I am more interested in
how the actual structure is put together to facilitate the performance
(ie the booths at the trade shows). I'm not sure if my descriptions
are the best but here are a few articles I've been looking at on the
Gregson, Nicky; Rose, Gillian (2000). Taking Butler elsewhere:
performativities, spatialities and subjectivities. Environment and
Planning D: Society and Space. 18. pp. 433-452
-This article examines two cases of performance and how they define the good.
Crang,P (1994). It's showtime: on the workplace geographies of
display in a restaurant in southeast England. Society and Space.
12:6 pp 675-704
-this seems to be the quintessential source (perhaps I am being to
generous) on ethnomethodolgy. It's all about how the restaurant works
and the social interactions that build the customer experience.
Moisio, Risto; Arnould, Eric J (2005). Extending the dramaturgical
framework in marketing: Drama structure, drama interaction and drama
content in shopping experiences. Journal of consumer behaviour. Vol
-This is more of a businessy paper on using performance of the
customer in market research
Gereffi, Gary et al... (2008). Value chains, networks and clusters:
reframing the global automotive industry. Journal of Economic
Geography. 8 pp/ 297-321
-He talks about value chains and the importance of trust. It's not
really ethnographic but rather shows the importance of trust (may not
be so useful to you)
Performance, Ethnomethodology and Dramatology seem to be somewhat good
words for searches.
At the Society for Applied Anthropologists 2008
meeting, I attended a presentation in which the
author discussed conservationists and NGOs, whom
she was studying ethnographically and using
conferences as part of her way of doing so. The
relevant presentation was by Maria A. Colom B and
titled "Conservationists and NGOs in Central
Africa: An Ethnographic Approach". The SfAA
program should have the full abstract. Her
contact email, as listed in the meeting's
<mailto:[log in to unmask]>[log in to unmask] .
Dr. Eugene McCann
Department of Geography
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia, V5A 1S6
Email: [log in to unmask]
Phone (Direct): 778.782.4599
Phone (Departmental Office): 778.782.3321