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The creativity of everyday uncertainty: Improvisation, material security, and wellbeing in urban households in the Northeastern United States

Tess Bird (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK) (Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, USA)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 21 May 2019

Issue publication date: 2 March 2020

157

Abstract

Purpose

Drawing on ethnographic research in selection of urban households in Providence County, Rhode Island, the purpose of this paper is to define uncertainty as an everyday experience embedded in material and social worlds and explore the relationship of uncertainty to creative improvisation and well-being.

Design/methodology/approach

This research was anthropological and ethnographic, drawing on an everyday material culture approach to the home. Participant observation and interviews began in April 2015 and ended in April 2016. The data presented in derived from interview transcripts, field notes and photography.

Findings

Responses to uncertainty are embedded in habits and practices that help sustain well-being. During uncertain periods marked by transition, change and disappointment, participants draw on domestic practices as well as narrative frameworks to foster stability. Security, well-being, uncertainty, and improvisation emerge as an important intersection in everyday life.

Originality/value

This paper offers a perspective on uncertainty at the intimate level of the home, helping nuance the difference between collective creative improvisation and the economic expectation of individual adaptability.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 12th Annual International Ethnography Symposium in Manchester, UK. I would like to thank the audience at this presentation for their commentary and Jessica Symons, Susan MacDougall, Marthe Achtnich, and the reviewers for reading and commenting on earlier versions of this paper. The ethnography presented stems from research funded in part by the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology and Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. I am indebted to my participants for their generous involvement and insights as the research progressed.

Citation

Bird, T. (2020), "The creativity of everyday uncertainty: Improvisation, material security, and wellbeing in urban households in the Northeastern United States", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOE-12-2017-0073

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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