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Friday, August 29, 2008

Visualization of cultural patterns to "see" the consequences

I recently saw a twitter comment from der-mo that took mi to a post at his blog, and it made me think about ethnography as a box tool that goes beyond "qualititive" research.

Ethnography is sometimes tagged as "qualitative research". For some reason, I've never felt comfortable with calling myself a qualitative researcher. Putting Ethnographic research under the Qualitative as an inclusive tital, disconnects ethnography from statistical methods, or any mathematical tools. There's a false opposition between qualitative and quantitative, that is clearly visible through ethnographic research.

Ethnography is an approach focused in understanding what's going on in a setting, and it's predominantly inductive. Statistics are also inductive and really can help to achieve a better understanding of a setting. Ethnpgrahers don't neglect or evade numbers. On the contrary, we need statistical accounts of a reality to keep making more relevant connections and interpretations of our fieldwork.

Chris Jordan’s TED talk is great. In his latest project, Running the numbers, he writes:

Running the Numbers looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

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