in Curriculum & Instruction
Notes & Reflections
by Nada M. Salem
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Readings 3: October 7
- "Ways with words, language, life, and work in communities and classrooms" by Shirley Brice Heath
- "The Madness(es) of Reading and Writing Ethnography" by Shirley Brice Heath, Stanford University
- p. 256:
- bringing a culture into writing both creates the culture as book and destroys it as oral life
- To make such claims of groups such as these, immersed within the media and literacy of contemporary life in a modern society, is to overstate the power of writing, academic research, and reading.
- p. 257:
- The grown children of Trackton have scattered also, although most remain in the Southeast. Their lives have not fared so well since the early 19805, when the bottom fell out of the textile industry in the South and unemployment soared.
- Most of the grown-up children of Roadville and Trackton can no longer find their copies of WWW, I'm sure, and confess sheepishly that they never read more than the few pages they could find in the book that pertained to them.
- Knowing t hey are read and reread matters little today to the children of Roadville and Trackton .
- It is to others that the readings and rereadings of their childhoods matter now.
- p. 258:
- The conversations we hold inside our heads both during and alter reading vary from time to time, because we are inquiring individuals who construct theories about meanings in large part to fit what we see as our own needs-intellectual, sociopsychological, and directly instrumental.
- my early academic majors in English and Spanish literature clearly shaped my rendering of field data.
- I also wrote their lives into an encompassing story of repeating cycles of fate, human will, and classical struggles of power between
individuals and the forces of a capitalist economy and the state. The final paragraph of the book portrays my own sense of powerlessness within this conflict.
- If one at tempts participation in any research situation In the greatest extent possible, several subjectivities come into play in the writing of that work.
- p. 259:
- During the research and writing of WWW, I was ethnographer/academic in the communities, teacher's aide in the public schools,
and concerned parent of young children. Stepping entirely out and away from any of these roles and their associated value systems was impossible, as was any strict separation of these roles. In addition, as we are fond of saying in cultural anthropology, the researcher is instrument, and that means that we all bring along to the field our age, sex, and physical limitations and capabilities, as well as our mental strengths and weaknesses.
- Bakhtin points out that the observer of everyday life "descends to the very depths of common life" (1981:121).
- deCaslell and Walker draw from Bakhtin's description of the metamorphosis of the hero of the adventure of everyday life who moves through guilt, punishment, redemption, and blessedness (1981:111-113) .
- p. 260:
- "You must not use data collection and analysis to justify your a priori critique of what you do not approve of in classrooms."
- My own bias toward trying to keep apart what is happening (or what some might call "basic research") from clinical interventions and critiques of individual teachers, curricula, and schools that have the goal of changing students (pp, 11-12) has remained .
- > ethical and methodological conflicts inherent in attempts at such separations in research.
- p. 261:
- The point here is that while some get ahead, others fall behind, and the ethnographer attempting to avoid "taking sides" is right in there in the fishbowl of multiple and conflicting roles and values. And ultimately, there is the powerlessness that any ethnographer (as parent, local citizen, and wage earner) feels as an individual facing the state and macroeconomic forces.
- I have chosen to focus on the information and bridging skills needed for teachers and students as individuals to make changes which were for them radical, and to point to ways these cultural brokers between communities and classrooms can perhaps be the beginning of larger changes." [p. 369]
- ... my choice is only one of many I could have made, my placement of agency in teachers and students as individuals, and my use of ways and perhaps to show that alternatives exist beyond those promises and disappointments of reform I have outlined.
- It is much easier to criticize than to try to accept, understand, and appreciate. As I first started reading Heath's article, I became frustrated with her, with the way she was giving a strong opinion about the effect of her book on the people of Trackton and Roadville; on how she was just defending herself. First, how could she determine how much those people actually read from her book, how they were affected by it? Who gives her the right to predict? Second, how can she be sure about the effect her book had on those people?
- But as I continued reading, especially about the powerlessness of the ethnographer, about how they do their best to avoid taking sides (p. 261), my feelings started shifting, little by little, towards an acceptance of the fact that an ethnographer might really be helpless; they might not be able nor even have the right to influence the way things are, the status quo. I can say that at the beginning I was so adamant about the fact that anyone conducting research of any kind has the duty of doing their best to influence positively the current state of affairs. Some advice, some conclusions are needed to change the way things are, to constructively critize, which should lead to a better situation. But is this really true? Do we actually have the right or duty to do so? Who are we to even claim to know how things should be?
- When we reason about autobiography, about how complex our lives are and it is even more complex to report them... which feeling do we choose to portray? We all know that we all have mixed feelings about everything... there is never one truth... truth varies to a large extent. If I feel sad about something, I will report an incident in a certain way that is totally different from the way I would report it if I felt happy at that same moment. So, how reliable is autobiography... how much should our readers actually read between the lines to guess what we did not put on paper? What we did not want to acknowledge; what we could not face! And, in autobiography we are writing about ourselves! Can you imagine how much harder it is to write about real, non fictional others? About their lives, their feelings, their opinions, the effect of things on them! When we do so, we would actually be relying on what? On which information that they choose to give us? Oh, how hard it is do so so... but more importantly, how reliable is it?
Evaluating ethnography: Ethnographic methodology is not usually evaluated in terms of philosophical standpoint (such as positivism and emotionalism). Ethnographic studies nonetheless need to be evaluated in some manner. While there is no consensus on evaluation standards, Richardson (2000, p. 254) provides 5 criteria that ethnographers might find helpful.
- Substantive Contribution: "Does the piece contribute to our understanding of social-life?"
- Aesthetic Merit: "Does this piece succeed aesthetically?"
- Reflexivity: "How did the author come to write this text…Is there adequate self-awareness and self-exposure for the reader to make judgments about the point of view?"
- Impact: "Does this affect me? Emotionally? Intellectually?" Does it move me?
- Expresses a Reality: "Does it seem 'true'—a credible account of a cultural, social, individual, or communal sense of the 'real'?"
Ethnographic Research- 2008 - G. David Garson
College of Humanities And Social Sciences (CHASS)- NC State University
Ethnographic methodologies vary and some ethnographers advocate use of structured observation schedules by which one may code observed behaviors or cultural artifacts for purposes of later statistical analysis. Coding and subsequent statistical analysis is treated in Hodson (1999). See also Denzin and Lincoln (1994).
- Macro-ethnography is the study of broadly-defined cultural groupings, such as "the English" or "New Yorkers."
- Micro-ethnography is the study of narrowly-defined cultural groupings, such as "local government GIS specialists" or "members of Congress."
- Emic perspective is the ethnographic research approach to the way the members of the given culture perceive their world. The emic perspective is usually the main focus of ethnography.
- Etic perspective, is the ethnographic research approach to the way non-members (outsiders) perceive and interpret behaviors and phenomena associated with a given culture.
- Situational reduction refers to the view of ethnographers that social structures and social dynamics emerge from and may be reduced analytically to the accumulated effects of microsituational interactions (Collins 1981, 1988). Put another way, the cosmos is best understood in microcosm. Situational reduction, Collins (1981b: 93) wrote, ". . . produces an empirically stronger theory, on any level of analysis, by displaying the real-life situations and behaviors that make up its phenomena. In particular, it introduces empirically real causal forces in the shape of human beings expending energy. It enables us to discover which macro-concepts and explanations are empirically groundable, and which are not..."
- Symbols, always a focus of ethnographic research, are any material artifact of a culture, such as art, clothing, or even technology. The ethnographer strives to understand the cultural connotations associated with symbols. Technology, for instance, may be interpreted in terms of how it relates to an implied plan to bring about a different desired state for the culture.
- Cultural patterning is the observation of cultural patterns forming relationships involving two or more symbols. Ethnographic research is holistic, believing that symbols cannot be understood in isolation but instead are elements of a whole. One method of patterning is conceptual mapping, using the terms of members of the culture themselves to relate symbols across varied forms of behavior and in varied contexts. Another method is to focus on learning processes, in order to understand how a culture transmits what it perceives to be important across generations. A third method is to focus on sanctioning processes, in order to understand which cultural elements are formally (ex., legally) prescribed or proscribed and which are informally prescribed or proscribed, and of these which are enforced through sanction and which are unenforced.
- Tacit knowledge is deeply-embedded cultural beliefs which are assumed in a culture's way of perceiving the world, so much so that such knowledge is rarely or never discussed explicitly by members of the culture, but rather must be inferred by the ethnographer.
How to Do Ethnographic Research: A Simplified Guide - University of Pennsylvania- School of Arts & Sciences
by Barbara Hall
What is Ethnography?
Ethnography is two things: (1) the fundamental research method of cultural anthropology, and (2) the written text produced to report ethnographic research results. Ethnography as method seeks to answer central anthropological questions concerning the ways of life of living human beings. Ethnographic questions generally concern the link between culture and behavior and/or how cultural processes develop over time. The data base for ethnographies is usually extensive description of the details of social life or cultural phenomena in a small number of cases.
In order to answer their research questions and gather research material, ethnographers (sometimes called fieldworkers) often live among the people they are studying, or at least spend a considerable amount of time with them. While there, ethnographers engage in "participant observation", which means that they participate as much as possible in local daily life (everything from important ceremonies and rituals to ordinary things like meal preparation and consumption) while also carefully observing everything they can about it. Through this, ethnographers seek to gain what is called an "emic" perspective, or the "native's point(s) of view" without imposing their own conceptual frameworks. The emic world view, which may be quite different from the "etic", or outsider's perspective on local life, is a unique and critical part of anthropology. Through the participant observation method, ethnographers
- record detailed fieldnotes,
- conduct interviews based on open-ended questions, and
- gather whatever site documents might be available in the setting as data.
"Objectivity", Ethnographic Insight & Ethnographic Authority
Students learning about ethnography for the first time are often tempted to promise fervently to be "objective" in their research and to learn what is "really" happening in the field. However, anthropologists have long since acknowledged that ethnographic research is not objective research at all. The following are some of the reasons for this conclusion:
- Ethnography is an interpretive endeavor undertaken by human beings with multiple and varied commitments which can and do affect how the research is done and reported. We all have backgrounds, biographies, and identities which affect what questions we ask and what we learn in the field, how our informants let us in to their lives, and how our own interpretive lenses work.
- Not all fieldsites are "foreign" for ethnographers in the same way. Some ethnographers are native to the communities in which they study, whereas some enter as complete strangers with no obvious common ground. Even though they may learn somewhat different things, both kinds of researchers are legitimately able to undertake ethnographic research.
- Ethnography is not replicable research (like many kinds of science).
- Ethnography is not based on large numbers of cases (like quantitative research).
How can any research done under such circumstances, which is not even pretending to be objective, have any worth at all? In other words, how can we claim ethnographic insight into cultural practices? What is the basis of ethnographic authority under these conditions? Anthropologists have seriously considered these charges, and concluded that there are several ways in which insight and authority in ethnographic research can be persuasively claimed:
- Anthropologists generally subscribe to some form of cultural relativism, meaning that we believe that there is no one standpoint from which to judge all cultures and ways of being in the world. Because of this, we are conditioned to see various perspectives as "positioned" (Abu-Lughod 1991), and the things that we learn in the field as "partial truths" (Clifford 1986). Therefore, there is not one single truth in a research situation to be uncovered; there are many.
- Ethnographers are expected to be "reflexive" in their work, which means that we should provide our readers with a brief, clear picture of how the research we have done has been or could have been affected by what we bring to it. This can take the form of revealing details of our own experience or background to readers up front.
- Ethnographers should have more than one way to show how we arrived at the conclusions of our research; we expect to have a collection of fieldnotes, interviews, and site documents (where possible) which work together to support our claims. This is called triangulation.
- Ethnographic research takes place in depth and over a great deal of time, often months or years for professional ethnographers. Ethnographic conclusions are, therefore, arrived at only after lengthy consideration.
- Sanjek (1990) recommends that readers and writers of ethnography focus on what he calls the "validity" of ethnography. In this way, we can judge the clarity with which decisions regarding the application of theory to data are explained as well as follow ways in which events in the text are persuasively linked in making the conclusions presented there.
Guiding Questions in Ethnography
One of the first things we need early on in order to conduct a successful ethnographic project is an appropriate guiding question. Having a guiding question before beginning fieldwork is a good idea because it gives you some way to focus your attention productively in early visits to your fieldsite. Of course, this question might change in the course of the research as more is learned; this happens often and can be a step towards especially insightful research!Ethics in Ethnographic Research
Guiding questions are aimed at the basic point of ethnography: gaining the world view of a group of people.
Since ethnographic research takes place among real human beings, there are a number of special ethical concerns to be aware of before beginning. In a nutshell,
The American Anthropological Association's statement on professional ethics is considered standard for ethical ethnographic research, and all researchers - including students completing term papers - are required to adhere to it. Read the latest version of this document before beginning your project.
- researchers must make their research goals clear to the members of the community where they undertake their research and
- gain the informed consent of their consultants to the research beforehand. It is also important to
- learn whether the group would prefer to be named in the written report of the research or given a pseudonym and to
- offer the results of the research if informants would like to read it. Most of all, researchers must
- be sure that the research does not harm or exploit those among whom the research is done.
Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association
While there is no single canonical way to approach ethnographic data, the following points may be useful in helping us arrive at some conclusions:
- Read through the fieldnotes, notes on interviews, interview transcripts, site documents, or whatever data has been gathered several times. Becoming very familiar with the information at the start helps to to proceed.
- Mark the data and take notes on any patterns, connections, similarities, or contrastive points in the data. Does anything stand out as a usual way of doing things at the site? What seems unusual, and why? What becomes clear analytically that was not clear before?
- Consider facilitating the above process, called coding, by using a computer-assisted data analysis program like Nud/ist or Ethnograph. Students should see the computer lab TA for assistance in getting started.
- Follow up on what you noticed above by looking for "local categories of meaning" in the data. What terms do the informants have for things? What can you as a researcher identify as themes, even if the informants don't? Remember that the main purpose of ethnography is eliciting "native points of view"; these "local categories" are its components. Try to come up with a list of "local categories" from the data.
- Test the categories and explanations you have started to draw out of the data against the variety of cases you have recorded. Are there alternative explanations for what you think you have seen so far? What can you learn from looking at the data from a variety of perspectives?
- Try triangulating among the various forms of data you have gathered. If a point or an explanation holds across several sources you have gathered - if, for example, it can be supported by fieldnotes, interviews, and/or site documents - then you can be more sure that you have found something integral to understanding your site.
- Consider trying "respondent validation", or explaining your developing conclusions to your informants. The informants might be in a position to share additional things which help to confirm or complicate what you have learned. Remember, of course, that the informants are still socially positioned, and may or may not agree with the analysis in part based on their positions or perspectives within the social network have investigated. Agreement from informants doesn't necessarily mean we're right, and disagreement doesn't necessarily mean we're wrong.
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