The blind ethnographer: material ethnography and new ways of seeing in the world

Mark Thorpe


If the X Factor was ever brought to the research industry then ethnography would surely be a finalist; hotly tipped for success by both the panel and pundits. Ethnographic principles have had a significant impact within the market research industry, particularly over the last decade or so; they have contributed to a transformation in the way we think about qualitative research and have helped to open up, structure and inform critical discussions on methodology, research practice and new ways of thinking. There has been a long-standing desire amongst many research practitioners to get closer to respondents in order to better understand their lives, thoughts, attitudes and behaviour.1 The incorporation of elements of ethnographic practice into the qualitative armoury have often been framed as a key methodological mechanic for achieving this greater degree of 'closeness' (by escaping the (supposed) limitations of group discussions, to understanding what really happens behind closed doors).