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Lay ethnography and unpopular culture

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Unpopular Culture (Weeks 2004), is the ethnography of a large British bank, but it is also an ethnography of lay ethnographers. The bank, which I call BritArm to disguise its identity, was notable for the amount of complaining that went on within it and for how unpopular the culture of the bank was among its members. No one in BritArm, from the chief executive down to the junior clerks, had a good word to say about that organization's culture. Not once during the fieldwork that I conducted in BritArm did I hear it mentioned in a positive context. Complaints, on the other hand, were common. Not everyone agreed about what was wrong with the bank's culture- indeed, millions of pounds were spent by BritArm on contradictory culture change programs-but everyone agreed it was a problem. I found the complaining in the bank, and the complaining in particular about what was regarded as the bank's culture, intriguing, and it became the focus of my study. This is a special case of a general dilemma that confronts all ethnographers-to what extent does our participation alter what we are studying. I discuss this at length elsewhere (Weeks 2004) and will not refer to it here. The second issue, and what this paper is about, is that the explanation I gave for my presence among them caused BritArm employees quite naturally to ask me, again and again, what I thought of their culture and if I agreed with all the complaints? This is a natural and obvious question to ask, but it touched right at the heart of my study and created for me a series of dilemmas that I discuss in this paper.

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en

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application/pdf

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http://flora.insead.edu/fichiersti_wp/inseadwp2006/2006-47.pdf

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