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date: 16 November 2019

Summary and Keywords

Ethnography and sensitive issues come together by way of the question, “What can someone know?,” which is a situational dilemma. An ethnography of sensitive issues creates a particular perspective of knowing. It distresses the overall social assumption that persons, practices, actions, structures, and institutions are based on their re-negotiation of stabilization and their safety of different forms of knowing. The ethnography of sensitive issues addresses the fluidity and fragility of the social and observes the vulnerability of persons, practices, fields, and settings. Sensitive issues of the social situate beyond the sociological and historical divide of (intimate) privacy and the public sphere. Sensitive issues touch on the violation of intimacy within public and private institutions by neglect, punishment, maltreatment, violence, bullying, and sexual violence. The problematizing perspectives on such disruptive social practices are particularly relevant for pedagogy and education. An education ethnography of sensitive issues thus asks for the risk of violation within pedagogical arrangements and describes the how and what of the vulnerability of the child and the indicated transgression of or within education practices. However, education settings—children engaging in institutions like the family, the school, and social care services—are constructed through the (unconscious) boundless aim of well-being, pedagogy for good, and positivity by education in its normativity. How do children learn to believe that what others say or do is for their good? How do educational arrangements cover vulnerable situations? Where are the borders or limitations within practices of education in pedagogical institutions? An education ethnography of sensitive issues problematizes the implicit, tacit, and practical knowledge of pedagogical arrangements and questions how those involved perform violence and, within the practices, at what stages of vulnerability.

Questioning violence and vulnerability points out that children sadly are not always recognized as equals and are equated by the other (child or adult). Sensitive issues in education and care situations define a greater net of responsibilities and its totality of practices of the powerful. Thus, it seems socially and educationally mandatory to gain descriptions and theories about the circumstances of sensitive issues in the examples of neglect of the individual in his or her rights and psychological and emotional situatedness, as well as physical punishment and sexual violence against children.

Focusing on violations and problematizing educational practices through research has ethical and moral restrictions that seem to contradict an ethnographic approach. It is (normatively) impossible for the ethnographer to participate in situ in situations of sensitive issues of violence and maltreatment against children. Additionally, seeing ethnography as a methodological and theoretical approach, an ethnography of sensitive issues could not be restricted to those who (autoethnographically) experience violations and maltreatment by themselves. Instead of arguing for a constrained ethnography of sensitive issues, the particular perspective on sensitive issues highlights the ethnographic approach. This goes along with understanding borders and transgressions as well as the taboos in the field and the challenging task of positioning oneself as an observer to be trusted in the uncertainty, unsafety, and instability of the nearest possible worlds. Hence, an education ethnography of sensitive issues considers researching intimacy at its boarders, limits, heterotopia, and transgressions of pedagogical practices within educational institutions and care situations.

Keywords: education ethnography, children, sexual violence, sensitive issues, institutions, epistemology, ethics, participant observation, ethnographic interviews

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