by Simon Roberts, Stripe Partners
In his account of the emergence of nationalism, Benedict Anderson coined the term ‘imagined community’ to describe the processes through which people who rarely, or never, interact face to face come to see themselves as part of the same community.
For much of the year, EPIC is an imagined community. Like the nations in Anderson’s analysis, we have our shared texts and common languages, and perhaps the occasional informal meet up. And as epicpeople.org has grown, this sense of community has new and growing place to come together. But our interactions are rarely face-to-face.
The annual conference is a chance for this imagined community to come together in person. As October draws closer, here are a 10 reasons why I will be attending the 10th EPIC conference.
This will be my 7th time at EPIC. Hopefully there will be many first timers. EPIC is my routine opportunity to connect with old friends and faces in the community and, more importantly, meet new people.
EPIC draws new people into the community each time it visits a new city. This will be the first EPIC in Latin America and I’m excited to learn more about what sort of work and communities of practice exist in Brazil and elsewhere in the region.
As someone who runs projects around the world, my business has a constant need to find smart and talented people who can help with projects. It’s fine to do a Skype with a potential freelancer in a far off city. Better to meet them over a cocktail at a conference.
EPIC organizers always try to ensure that attendees get the inside track on the conference city. This year EPIC promises to provide attendees with some fresh perspectives on a great city. I don’t know São Paulo, so this is especially exciting for me.
EPIC offers a great mix of formats—from the set piece keynotes and papers to the short and sweet Pecha Kucha presentations (20 slides in 6 minutes 40 seconds) and the slower, conversational Salons. Different formats suit different content, but similar themes and ideas expressed and explored in a variety of ways pushes thinking forward.
I always crawl to the airport from EPIC feeling like my brain has had a good annual once over. A peer review process and strong curation means that you’re not on the receiving end of sales pitches for 3 days. Instead, people are generously sharing the best of new thinking, theories and practices.
There are always many conversations at a conference. I love the little, incidental and unexpected ones in the gaps between stuff. But I love watching the conversation around different papers, presentations and debates bubble up and coalesce into “this year’s conversation,” published in the proceedings. There’s no better way to understand, viscerally, what the community is thinking.
The place and position of ethnography and its practitioners has changed widely over the last decade. How has our role changed in the last year? What are the challenges we now face? How are we doing and how do we need to change to remain relevant? EPIC is a great place for professionals to assess the mood and learn how to adapt accordingly.
Looking back across ten years of EPIC it’s striking to realize how lucky we are as a community to study emergent social, cultural and technological phenomena. The EPIC community really is at the cutting edge. If you want critically engaged, practically focused and theoretically informed accounts of the present, come to EPIC.
Oh, this year is the 10th EPIC conference. So the tenth and final reason to be there is to raise a glass to what I consider the body of people and ideas that is my professional community. I hope you’ll be there to toast the future with me…
Simon Roberts is a partner at Stripe Partners, a global strategy and innovation studio based in London, and was co-organizer of EPIC2012 and EPIC2013.