Ethnography and the Bleedy Edge: Living in the Gray (Coping with Uncertainty)

Rachel Shadoan, my research partner and alma gemela (soul twin), once wrote this beyond amazing post about how to live with uncertainty in a field as constantly uncertain as ethnography. I rediscovered it today and it really helped me cope with some of the stress I have been under lately.

Rachel Shadoan Muses

I’m sure you’ve heard the cliche that the world isn’t black and white. This is true. And if you want to be a design ethnographer, you’d best get accustomed to living in the gray.

Living in the gray is a balancing act, which involves, among many other things:

  • standing with one foot in the world of a social scientist and one in the world of a designer
  • balancing a client’s agenda while protecting the interests of participants
  • staying true to the richness and variety of ethnographic results while distilling actionable insights
  • switching from hyper-analytical meta-cognitive work to the hyper-aware meditative zen in-the-moment mindset of fieldwork
  • constantly convincing people that what you do is valuable
  • empathizing without becoming emotionally invested
  • distilling without oversimplifying or overgeneralizing

And that is completely outside of the very normal student worries such as

  • how to pay off student loans
  • where to find a job post-graduation in…

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