Ethnography is hot. You expect the P&G's, Nikes, Philips' and Apples of the world to do it since they are so directly linked to consumer wants and needs. But Intel, a chipmaker whose product you never see, unless you open the laptop or cellphone or whatever? Actually, Intel is super-big into enthnography and way ahead of many other global corporations.
Intel's effort is led by an anthropologist, Ken Anderson, Manager of People and Practice Research. He using anthropology and other social science disciplines to "develop a deep understanding of how people live and work." The knowledge is then used by Intel to inform and guide strategy and tech development.
One bit of interesting research on the Intel web is on transnationals and cosmopolitans--people who live outside their home countries and who move back and forth between countries. Anderson estimates that as many as one third of the population of cities such as London are made up of transnationals. How they use information and communication technologies (laptops, cellphones, websites, im, video cameras, et.) is intriguing. Ghanaians living in London, for example, use it to "look homeward," to keep connected to home. They also use ICTs to connect to the global grid, searching the net and blogs for information for jobs, contacts, etc. And when Ghanaian transnationals go home, they are the leading vector for introducing ICT to their towns, cities and villages.
There is more cool stuff on the Intel site. I'd love to see this kind of research done on Portland, Oregon, San Francisco or New York. Just for fun.