Reading Patterns of Life: Practical Tools from Ethnography

Open Access
Conference Proceedings
Authors: Tracy St. BenoitaClarissa Graffeob

Abstract: Cross-cultural liaisons and advisors face numerous challenges understanding and adjusting to different cultures and working cross-culturally to accomplish capacity building goals. While pre-assignment culture-specific training is important, it cannot adequately prepare individuals for the full range of relevant information, requiring personnel to build and refine socio-cultural knowledge “on the ground.” Ethnography offers best practices for performing such cultural sensemaking in the field. Further complicating the issue, however, is the understanding that “culture” is not a unified whole, but rather a set of complex interacting systems; globalization, disconnections between politically and ethnically defined boundaries in host nations, and the interaction of cultural and practical or situational contexts mean that learning “culture” may not be sufficient. To provide sensemaking skills and interpretive tools that are actionable across cultural boundaries and accommodate social complexity we propose a Patterns of Life (PoL) framework that incorporates observable practices, social structures, interactions, and relationships not only among humans but also including the environment, objects, and non-human actors. We then outline our Ethnographically-informed Sensemaking Protocol (ESP), an iterative, reflective process drawing from ethnographic methods (e.g., participant observation and ethnographic interviewing protocols) to develop a holistic understanding of the human domain. We finally present an illustrative use case.

Keywords: Culture, Sensemaking, Social Complexity, Cross-Cultural Competency, Ethnography

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe100205

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