The current issue of The Atlantic has an article on ethnography specifically as a financially viable, privatized form of data collection/analysis. Here is a short excerpt, followed by a response by a commenter to the on-line version (link):
The corporate anthropology that ReD and a few others are pioneering is the most intense form of market research yet devised, a set of techniques that make surveys and dinnertime robo-calls (“This will take only 10 minutes of your time”) seem superficial by comparison. ReD is one of just a handful of consultancies that treat everyday life—and everyday consumerism—as a subject worthy of the scrutiny normally reserved for academic social science. In many cases, the consultants in question have trained at the graduate level in anthropology but have forsaken academia—and some of its ethical strictures—for work that frees them to do field research more or less full-time, with huge budgets and agendas driven by corporate masters.
The world of management consulting consists overwhelmingly of quantitative consultants, a group well known from the successes of McKinsey & Company, the Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company. ReD’s entry into consulting represents an attempt to match the results of these titans without relying heavily on math and spreadsheets, and instead focusing on what anthropologists call “participant observation.” This method consists, generally, of living among one’s research subjects, at least briefly. Such immersive experiences lead not only to greater intimacy and trust, but also to a slowly emerging picture of the subjects’ everyday lives and thoughts, complete with truths about them that they themselves might not know.
Absolut, which paid ReD to observe home parties, is using both quantitative analysis and this new form of ethnographic research. “We are intensive consumers of market research,” Maxime Kouchnir, the vice president of vodka marketing for Pernod Ricard USA, which distributes Absolut, told me. “The McKinseys and BCGs of the world will bring you heavy data. And I think those guys sometimes lack the human factor. What ReD brings is a deep understanding of consumers and the dynamics you find in a society.”
Below the article, on-line, Cynthia Rouse comments:
In less than 10 years, they will develop technology that will be able to read your mind, and suck the intellectual property right out of it, all for the benefit of 1200 billionaires, on a planet of 7B people. Orwellian. If they don’t like what they see, they will send a flying robot to correct your thinking, “Minority Report” style.