Doing ethnography in informal sector: Study of BOP consumers in Brazil, India, Russia and Tanzania

M. Halme, A. Kourula, S. Lindeman, G. Kallio, Maria Lima-Toivanen, A. Kostunova

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedingsScientific


    Poverty is one of the major challenges facing the contemporary society, and most of the world’s poor live in the informal sector. Suggestions for market-based solutions to poverty have proliferated over the past decade. Yet main relevant research streams such as the base of the pyramid (BOP) and inclusive market studies addressing business solutions to poverty alleviation often ignore the special features of the informal sector. Among the ignored informal sector issues are life practices of BOP individuals. This undermines the opportunities of business people and management scholars to provide effective solutions to poverty alleviation. In order to start filling the gap, we exemplify how ethnographic research on everyday practices of poor people can serve as one approach for gaining knowledge about user needs in the informal sector. This paper is a methodological account of short-term, multi-location consumer ethnography in the context of urban BOP in Brazil, India, Russia and Tanzania. We describe the research process from field study preparation to the data collection and analysis including the challenges encountered and solutions that emerged. Interactive shadowing as one method for studying practices at the BOP is introduced. Based on our collaboration with a set of companies, the end of the paper exemplifies how businesses can utilize the knowledge about informal sector BOP practices to recognize opportunity spaces and innovation ideas.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationAcademy of Management Proceedings
    PublisherAcademy of Management
    Publication statusPublished - 2012
    EventAcademy of Management 2012 Annual Meeting - Boston, United States
    Duration: 3 Aug 20127 Aug 2012

    Publication series

    SeriesAcademy of Management Proceedings


    ConferenceAcademy of Management 2012 Annual Meeting
    Country/TerritoryUnited States


    • ethnography
    • base of the pyramid (BOP)
    • practices
    • poverty
    • informal sector


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