User Research Theory

As I’ve written about recently (here and here), this issue of theory within the practice of user research is challenging and at least, provocative. To that end, I’ve started an online study group that will be looking at theory from, well, social sciences, I imagine. We’ve got a diverse group of people signed up, more than 80, with a good range of experiences, and some great discussion around where to start (i.e., who to read) and how to interact together.

We’ve just launched our first assignment and I’m reading Clifford Geertz’s essay on Thick Description. Here’s an interesting passage:

And it is in understanding what ethnography is, or more exactly what doing ethnography is, that a start can be made toward grasping what anthropological analysis amounts to as a form of knowledge. This, it must immediately be said, is not a matter of methods. From one point of view, that of the textbook, doing ethnography is establishing rapport, selecting informants, transcribing texts, taking genealogies, mapping fields, keeping a diary, and so on. But it is not these things, techniques, and received procedures, that define the enterprise. What defines it is the kind of intellectual effort it is: an elaborate venture in, to borrow a nation from Gilbert Ryle, “thick description”

He goes on to explain the difference in meaning between the same gesture – an involuntary eye-twitch and a wink.

Good stuff!


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