Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector

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9781611323900: Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector

Ethnography is an increasingly important research method in the private sector, yet ethnographic literature continues to focus on an academic audience. Sam Ladner fills the gap by advancing rigorous ethnographic practice that is tailored to corporate settings where colleagues are not steeped in social theory, research time lines may be days rather than months or years, and research sponsors expect actionable outcomes and recommendations. Ladner provides step-by-step guidance at every turn--covering core methods, research design, using the latest mobile and digital technologies, project and client management, ethics, reporting, and translating your findings into business strategies. This book is the perfect resource for private-sector researchers, designers, and managers seeking robust ethnographic tools or academic researchers hoping to conduct research in corporate settings. More information on the book is available at

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About the Author:

Sam Ladner, PhD, works as both an academic and a practitioner. A sociologist specializing in the social aspects of technological change, she has published articles in peer-reviewed journals such as Time & Society and The Canadian Journal of Communication. Ladner successfully operated her own research firm, Copernicus Consulting, until recently joining Microsoft as a Senior User Researcher in the Microsoft Office division. She served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, where she also taught qualitative research methods as an adjunct professor. She holds a PhD in sociology from York University, an M.A. in communication from Simon Fraser University, and a Bachelor’s of Journalism from University of King’s College.


In this admirably concise yet comprehensive book, Ladner has created a strong perspective on the praxis of private sector ethnography. She has generously shared her own tradecraft, which practitioners, experienced and novice alike, will find useful to hone their skills, across the project lifecycle. This volume marks another phase in the maturing of the field and lays down a foundation for further development, documentation and reflection on its practices.”

Simon Roberts, Stripe Partners - London

This book will be key reading for professionals who want to apply ethnographic methodologies in a business setting, and/or enter the commercial anthropology area. I don't know any book that represents my experiences as accurately as Sam Ladner's Practical Ethnography and yet delights me with many well-told narratives that instruct both seasoned ethnographers as well as novices. If you work in this field, this book should be in your library.”

Martin Ortlieb, Google

"This unusual but useful handbook by sociology Ladner (Microsoft) discusses doing ethnography in corporate and nonprofit environments. Principally aimed at practitioners, it references but does not duplicate previous handbooks of ethnographic methods, most of which are aimed at academic practice. ... Especially useful are sections on technologies available to enhance data collection, down-to-earth descriptions of analytical procedures, and how the style of reporting influences whether a client will actually use research. This work does not replace other handbooks on ethnographic fieldwork but is a fine supplement for those entering this very different kind of research area. Summing Up: Recommended."

CHOICE Magazine

"From theory and analysis to working with stakeholders and creating proposals, this book touches on the key aspects involved in doing high-quality ethnography in a business setting, with relevant anecdotes from Ladner’s own personal ethnography journey. While much of the book is essentially a primer on designing, conducting and managing ethnographic projects, Ladner does not gloss over a number of other aspects that many consider important, like the rampant misconceptions of ethnography in business and how to address them, cultures of positivism versus interpretivism, managing client expectations, ethics, and what ethnography is actually meant to."

Amy Santee, Anthropologizing

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