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I suppose I sit on the fence here. Having been a youth researcher for many years I’ve also been doing my own ethnographic research for the last 2 years with a group of early adolescents for my doctorate which I’m in the process of writing up. I think the present encompasses a particular time for research. There’s a recession, but clients are still looking for insight and knowledge, and in increasingly sophisticated ways. And we have a long and well respected history in this country of youth studies based on ethnographic research.

Describing the true meaning of ethnography in 3 minutes at this month’s MRS Youth Conference was an amazing feat achieved by my co-panellist Dr Julie Tinson from the University of Stirling, dispelling any thoughts of protracted academic explanations. She spoke of ethnography’s origins in anthropology and the way in which it was embraced by the Chicago School in the 1930’s. The adoption of ethnography in the study of ‘Youth Culture’ really came about from the Birmingham School and she described the way in which British sociologists have analysed ‘the sign systems, codes and conventions practised by subcultures to understand the meanings and practices of everyday life’. So increasingly we are using ethnography in market research, although as panellist Sam Buckley from Firefish pointed out, sometimes this is used to describe no more that accompanied activity, and is not ethnography in the true sense.

Back on last week’s theme of co-creation, panellist Dr Peter Nuttal from the University of Bath described his study with teenagers designing their own questions, collecting their own data and interpreting their findings to contribute to an understanding of adolescent music consumption. The extension to co-creation though might be to involve participants in the marketing process. Doug Dunn from Tuned in Research argued that increasingly companies want a continual dialogue with their target audience (not respondents). ‘When doing this we are asking research type questions, but clients also want to see if these consumers want early access to products and this often results in the participants turning into seeding platforms, achieving the vital word of mouth exposure that is so effective in influencing attitudes and purchase behaviour. A good example is P&G’s tremor panel’. For more details of the MRS Youth Conference see

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