Business Ethnography: Inducing Liminality in Pursuit of Innovation

  • Patricia Wall Manager, Work Practice & Technology at PARC, A Xerox Company.
  • Jennifer Englert Senior Cognitive Engineer at PARC, A Xerox Company.
Keywords: Ethnography, qualitative research, representations, transformation, liminality, innovation, future of work


Ethnographic studies have become an integral part of many projects at Xerox: guiding product improvements, inspiring new product concepts, uncovering technology and organizational issues, and informing strategic directions. Ethnographic methods provide a deep understanding of technology usage in context and have the potential to shift the perspectives of the researchers themselves, the study participants, and the business stakeholders. These transformations facilitate the creation of innovative solutions that are meaningful and useful for the practitioners they are designed to support. In this article, we draw on three case studies to demonstrate how ethnographic methods invoke liminality, and how these studies support transformation in the perspectives of the researchers, practitioners, and stakeholders who participate in the studies.