Making and Breaking the Manual: - A Case of Tests and Rapport in an Interdisciplinary Team

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This article engages the concept of tests – here understood as social tests of collaborative abilities in interdisciplinary teamwork – to examine how they are central to an applied anthropologist’s positioning and influence within an organization. Presented as an auto-ethnographic methodological exploration, the article takes its point of departure in ethnographic material from Helene Ilkjaer’s work as an Industrial Postdoc with an interdisciplinary team of engineers, scientists and designers in a Danish technology start-up company. Within this ethnographic context, the article examines the case of ‘the manual’ to unfold how the dynamics of careful development but also notorious circumvention of manuals came to serve as social tests – moments that fundamentally changed the anthropologist’s position within the interdisciplinary team. Analytically, the manual serves as a prism through which to explore the slippery and negotiable nature of the anthropologist’s professional position as an Industrial Postdoc – suspended between anthropology ‘for’ and ‘of’ the company, officially employed by the company while also engaged in academic research. The article offers anthropologists a tool to visualize the different movements and placements within continua of professional positionality while working as applied researchers with(in) private sector organizations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Pages (from-to)173-188
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

    Research areas

  • Applied anthropology, Interdisciplinary teamwork, Tests, Manuals, Organizational studies, Positionality, Industrial Postdoc

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