Ethnography: Discovering the obvious that everyone else overlooks


Date Thursday July 15th 2010
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium, PARC

PARC Forum

In this talk, I will focus on what I’ve learned over 30 years about doing ethnography, and illustrate what I see as ethnography’s central payoff for designers of technology and organizations by drawing on a recent comparative study of automobile dealers.


Stephen R. Barley is the Richard W. Weiland Professor of Management Science and Engineering and the Co-Director of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization at Stanford's School of Engineering. He holds an A.B. in English from the College of William and Mary, an M.Ed. from the Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in Organization Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Prior to coming to Stanford in 1994, Barley served for ten years on the faculty of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. He was editor of the Administrative Science Quarterly from 1993 to 1997, the founding editor of the Stanford Social Innovation Review from 2002 to 2004, and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 2008-2009.

Barley has written over sixty articles on the impact of new technologies on work, the organization of technical work, and organizational culture.  He co-edited a volume with Julian Orr on technical work entitled Between Craft and Science: Technical Work in the United States published in 1997 by the Cornell University Press.  In collaboration with Gideon Kunda of Tel Aviv University he authored Gurus, Hired Guns and Warm Bodies: Itinerant Experts in the Knowledge Economy, an ethnography of contingent work among engineers and software developers that was published by the Princeton University Press in 2004.  

Barley has been the recipient the Academy of Management’s New Concept Award, was the Organization and Management Theory Division’s Distinguished Scholar in 2006, and is a Fellow of the Academy of Management.  He was a member of the Board of Senior Scholars of the National Center for the Educational Quality of the Workforce and co-chaired the National Research Council’s committee on the changing occupational structure in the United States.  The committee's report, The Changing Nature of Work, was published in 1999.  Barley recently served on the National Research Council’s committee on the Information Technology Research and Development Ecosystem.

Barley teaches courses on technology and work, the management of R&D, social network analysis, and ethnographic field methods.   He is currently researching corporate power in the United States, the rhetorical history of telecommuting, and how sophisticated mathematical modeling tools are altering the work of engineers who design automobiles.

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