Ethnographies of Education and Anthropological Knowledge Production
- Uma PradhanUma PradhanUniversity of Oxford
- and Karen ValentinKaren ValentinAarhus University
From an anthropological perspective, (educational) ethnography is much more than just a method in terms of a set of techniques but a way of taking a place in and grasping the world that ethnographers aim to represent and comprehend. With an imperative of “being there,” the ethnographer travels to specific locations to establish some form of physical presence in the field site. The idea of “location,” therefore, is central to educational ethnography in several ways. Research on education among different categories of people in Nepal, and a vast body of ethnographic literature on education around the world, demonstrates the centrality of “location” in anthropological knowledge production. This article discusses “location” as a conceptual category in order to explore the different analytical levels at which it operates in anthropological knowledge production on education. It does so in three different ways. First, ethnographers’ locations in the field—their biographical trajectories, academic backgrounds, and social positions—lay the ground for the ways in which ethnographers ‘see’ education in the field. Second, the historical context and sociopolitical developments of specific geographic locations, in this case Nepal, draw attention to ways in which existing societal concerns foster particular research interests on education and consequently shape knowledge about a given geographical location. Third, conducting ethnographic fieldwork in a variety of spatial sites within and beyond institutions of schooling allows ethnographers to explore the multiple and often conflicting meanings of education. This awareness on the multiplicity of ethnographic locations in educational ethnography promises to deepen our understanding of education, broadly defined, through a rigorous and highly contextualized inquiry that highlights multiple and contested voices and presents subjective modes of perceiving reality.