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date: 12 December 2018

Writing Educational Ethnography

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

Debates about how educational ethnography, or any type of qualitative educational research, can and should be written about have been around for over 30 years. In 1986 two anthropologists, James Clifford and George Marcus, edited a collection of essays. The authors in that landmark collection argued for the same levels of reflexivity that characterized data collection and fieldwork roles in anthropology to be self-consciously applied to writing and to reading the literature. Initially controversial only in anthropology, where the monograph has an iconic status both for the author and for the people or culture it describes, other social sciences where ethnography is used gradually absorbed the same concerns. The ways in which educational research is written have changed as a result of that increased reflexivity. New literary forms, polyvocal texts, and the explicit presence of the author as a character in the text have all changed and developed, and there are journals and book publishers who disseminate the new forms. At its simplest, the use of the passive or the third person in educational research texts remains normal in positivist education research but has largely vanished in the reporting of interpretive or constructivist research, especially of ethnographies. The unexamined author, anonymous in the text, has been replaced by many different “visible” authorial approaches. Issues of genre and new types of literary convention are both exhilarating and perilous for the early career scholar.