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Article

Network ethnography was first developed for the study of organizations built around digital media, and is an amalgam of different research methods derived from traditional ethnography and social network analysis. It was then further adapted to study contemporary policy mobility and governance structures, and could be summarized as an adaptation of ethnographic methods to the way contemporary organizations and associations are working due to the globalization and digitalization of society. Network ethnography involves a mapping of the policy field under study using techniques from social network analysis. Data production and analysis of mobilities and interactions within the network are conducted with network ethnography, a method that shares the fundamental principle of ethnography as a tradition. This allows the researcher to analyze network activities and evolutions, how social relations are established and performed, and how policy is being moved—and fixed—through these activities.

Article

The traditions of ethnography and participatory action research (PAR) have different roots and different priorities, but their trajectories have become entangled in educational research over the past halfcentury. In many ways, ethnography and PAR are compatible. Both make participants’ perspectives central to the research. Both rely primarily on qualitative methods. Both are ethically committed to appreciating cultural differences and promoting the welfare of the groups they work with. Taken together, each adds something important to the other: PAR offers ethnography a “stance toward research” that is more democratic and action-oriented than traditional ethnography; ethnography lends PAR legitimacy as a research approach. Nonetheless, differences between the two create contradictions and tensions when they are combined. While educational researchers remain enthusiastic about the potential of combining activism with cultural analysis, it is important not to collapse ethnography and participatory action research, or privilege one over the other, but to find productive ways to move forward with the tensions between them.

Article

The work known as critical geography, a distinct yet varied subfield of spatial analysis, seeks to understand how the social construction of both space and place interact with, resist, and reinforce structures of power and the work of individual and collective identity. A critical geography approach to qualitative educational research privileges inquiry that includes how the lived experiences of schools (i.e., students, teachers, schools, communities) are defined, constrained, and potentially liberated by spatial relationships in both discursive and material ways. That is, a critical geography approach includes how such understandings may be used, for example, to critically examine how spaces are used, by whom, when, and how in the process of learning and not learning; what spaces mean (and mean differently) for different people inhabiting the spaces of education; how spaces are used to construct identities, allegiances, and bodies; how they act pedagogically to position bodies to know and be known; and the kind of pedagogies they help make possible and intelligible for both teachers and students in classrooms.

Article

Researchers who use qualitative methods, especially ethnography in educational settings, have to make conscious decisions about how to write about their results, their methods, and their experiences as investigators. Since the 1980s, initially in the discipline of social anthropology, but later across all the social sciences, there have been vigorous debates about how texts should be written and also about how they should be read. Before that, qualitative and quantitative educational research was written up in a similar way: reported in a passive or anonymous style designed to create an authoritative account. Over the course of 40 years, ethnographic writing has developed new literary forms, polyvocal texts, and authors have become visible and individual in their own texts. A wider range of texting genres is now published, and reflexivity is central to writing and reading. The causes and consequences of those changes are analyzed.

Article

The discourse on identity of the researcher is largely centered on epistemological concerns of representation, power, and positionality in the anthropological realm. In educational research, in the context of a complex field such as school, this has raised pertinent questions about the dynamic interplay of forces when researchers are in the field, including the problems with the traditional categories of insider and outsider. A vast range of scholarly works on ethnographic methodology, Muslim identity in South Asia, feminist research, and ethnographies on schools point out that the dichotomy of insider and outsider is insufficient in engaging with the nuances of field and representation. While nativity obscures the process of identity negotiation and legitimacy, tropes of representation can hardly ever be simplified through a shared ethnic, gendered, religious, and class background in anthropological practice. The need is to expand the boundaries of reflexivity in educational research, thereby treading beyond the polarities of insider and outsider and take into account the fluidity in between the two. In negotiating with identities and boundaries, researchers often end up occupying an in-between threshold space in the field. It is by taking into account flexibility and malleability of identities that ethnographers can deliberate on the efficacy of piercing intimate relationships in fields such as schools and other educational institutions. For ethnographers unraveling the complexities of educational processes, the creation of a fresh vantage point can therefore help make meaning of the everyday life from the lens of participants.

Article

Paulina Contreras, Eduardo Santa Cruz G., Jenny Assaél, and Andrea Valdivia

In Chile, ethnographic studies of schools started 30 years ago. At the time, most of the educational research in Latin America was done through quantitative methodologies, which didn’t show school processes in their proper contexts. In this scenario, a group of Latin-American educational researchers came together to develop a critical qualitative research network, in which Chile adopted the form of the first school ethnography research team in the country. From that, a new means of research was developed, aimed towards understanding everyday life in schools, which was what the “black box” quantitative research was unable to see. This innovation allowed these ethnographers to understand schools as a singular and complex reality. They took up a Latin American critical-historical epistemological approach, understanding that schools require a thick description, historically contextualized, that also considers the structures that determine a school’s singularity. Chilean school ethnographies in the last 30 years have focused on the ways in which concrete social relationships take place in situated historical contexts, from the dictatorship of the 1980s to current neoliberal educational policy. They have allowed the visualization of the effects that more general political, economic, and social transformations have had in the schools’ daily organization and practices. In this trajectory, there have been different approaches to educational policy; some take on a critical perspective and others aim to inform and influence policy. School ethnography has addressed a variety of topics, from school failure in its beginnings, to youth culture, civic engagement, ethnicity, learning and development, and gender and educational policy. This diversity, however, has a common interest: the subordinated or excluded cultural forms and subjectivities, which are the consequence of power relationships and normative structures that are reproduced in schools.

Article

Interviews are frequently used in ethnographic research, but it is argued that they pose particular difficulties in interpretation. While ethnographers are interested in understanding how people construct and interpret cultures in their natural settings, interviews are based on rules that counteract most normal interactions. Thus interviews in ethnography can only be interpreted within the context of that wider ethnography and the data generated has to be tested against other data generated by different means and data generated in other interviews. Although some ethnographers avoid the use of interviews, others use a range of different forms of interviews. It is argued that Basil Bernstein’s concepts of classification and framing can be used to clarify the range of forms and to highlight the potential relationships between the form of interview and class, gender, and ethnicity.

Article

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.

Article

Jennifer Bethune and Jen Gilbert

School ethnography is a qualitative research method through which the researcher immerses herself in the life of the school, usually for an extended period, and through observation, interviews, and analyses of artifacts and documents explores questions about life in school. The school ethnographer gathers data in the form of fieldnotes, interviews, images of school life, and texts that are part of the school and continually analyses all of this data in order to discover or produce meaning from the patterns that emerge: the routines that shape school life, for instance, and the disturbances that upend these patterns. Finally, the researcher creates a written product. The school ethnography, as a product of research, often emulates the research process by immersing the reader in the life of the school and by making transparent the challenges and delights of the research. By drawing on social theories that seek to understand systems of domination and oppression, school ethnographies can expose how inequalities circulate through the everyday life of schools, affecting students’ and teachers’ experiences and shaping policy and curriculum. Many school ethnographies highlight the positionality of the researcher as not-quite insider and not-quite outsider as a way to foreground the ways that power relations shape research in schools, influencing all stages of the research process, including the selection of a site, the researcher’s behavior in the field, the kinds of data that are recorded as fieldnotes, the approach to analysis, and the writerly decisions that shape the final product. Through this recursive and reflexive approach to research, school ethnographers lay the groundwork for social change that is grounded in a comprehensive, detailed, and complex portrait of life in the school.

Article

Ethnographic research in innovative education settings and initiatives has shown the practical impact of modern digital life culture and conditions on both research and professional development of curriculum and teaching strategies. Following the process of digitization, themes that are high on political and institutional agenda include “IT-enhanced learning” and the necessity of synergistic organizational and pedagogical development. Ethnographic methodology enables ongoing interpretation of school development as reflected and discussed by professionals and teacher teams, thereby facilitating elucidation of changes and consequences at technical, organizational and pedagogical levels. The general question addressed can be expressed as: How can a digital platform, associated on- and/or off-line learning processes, and the context be understood, described and explored in a practical sense? Against this background, ethnographic research is challenged to go beyond the rhetoric to explore the practical implications of the digital transformation and associated discourse. The challenge has been approached in terms of practice-oriented research facing the digital culture and renewing the ethnographic approaches across the spectrum from policy- and organizational-level to practical learning-level ethnographic investigation. The challenge is also seen as embedded in research which illustrates the potentials for ethnographic multisite studies contributing to that which I express as mapping the field of practice or paradigm, and cross-case studies crossing different learning contexts. The common highlighted theme is that changes in educational systems and practices are necessitating changes in ethnographic practices.

Article

Qualitative observation is an attempt to view and interpret social worlds by immersing oneself in a particular setting. Observation draws on theoretical assumptions associated with the interpretivist paradigm. Thus, researchers who engage in qualitative observations believe that the world cannot be fully known, but must be interpreted. Observation is one way for researchers to seek to understand and interpret situations based on the social and cultural meanings of those involved. In the field of education, observation can be a meaningful tool for understanding the experiences of teachers, students, caregivers, and administrators. Rigorous qualitative research is long-term, and demands in-depth engagement in the field. In general, the research process is cyclical, with the researcher(s) moving through three domains: prior-to-field, in-field, and post- or inter-field. Prior to entering the field, the researcher(s) examine their assumptions about research as well as their own biases, and obtain approval from an Institutional Review Board. This is also the time when researcher(s) make decisions about how data will be collected. Upon entering the field of study, the researcher(s) work to establish rapport with participants, take detailed “jottings,” and record their own feelings or preliminary impressions alongside these quick notes. After leaving an observation, the researcher(s) should expand jottings into extended field notes that include significant detail. This should be completed no later than 48 hours after the observation, to preserve recall. At this point, the researcher may return to the field to collect additional data. Focus should move from observation to analysis when the researcher(s) feel that they have reached theoretical data saturation.

Article

Diana Milstein, Angeles Clemente, and Alba Lucy Guerrero

There are epistemological, methodological, and textual dimensions of collaborative educational ethnography (CEE) in Latin America that have spread and consolidated over the last twenty-five years. The beginnings of CEE were marked by sociopolitical struggles (social resistance movements and repressive dictatorships) but also were enlightened by thinkers like Fals Borda and Freire, who foresaw social transformation through a theory/action/participation tie. The result was several educational ethnographic studies carried out by groups of researchers working in networks. To a large extent, they aimed to problematize contradictions between official school education and the sociocultural realities of teachers and students. This type of research also aimed to understand and intervene in social change processes, which encouraged the incorporation of teachers as researchers in ethnographic studies. Teachers’ participation in research processes opened debates about fieldwork, but more particularly about relationships between researchers and interlocutors. In short, the history of CEE in Latin America reveals a marked development of collaboration, from being enacted but not made explicit in the written ethnographic report to open, explicit, and declared participation of nonacademic collaborators of all sorts: teachers, children, youngsters, indigenous communities, and so on. The work of these collaborative teams not only differs in ways and degrees of research involvement (co-interpreting, co-investigating, co-authoring, and co-theorizing) but also in what a dialogic and sometimes contested research process entails in terms of knowledge production for counteracting Eurocentric, androcentric, adult-centric prejudices. Teachers’ participation, children/youngsters as active collaborators, and language as a topic of research and as a research tool are three main themes. The stance of the researcher in CEE inevitably connects with his or her interlocutors as situated others—subjects with agency and rights and capable of involving the researcher in a joint process of reflexivity. Moreover, collaborative experiences in educational ethnography create new and feasible possibilities for the development of knowledge not only in education but also in research approaches to ethnography.

Article

Marta Sánchez

Ethnography is about cultural representation, which implies a gaze and set of questions and assumptions about who is being represented, by whom, and what for. In this sense, ethnography always is conducted across borders where borders imply a set of differences to confront and understand, even while the ethnographer is expected to effectively overcome these through embedded practice in the field. If the enterprise of conducting these studies is always marked by border crossing, then what are the different ways in which border crossings happen in knowledge production through ethnography? How does the definition of “border” change the way ethnographic studies are performed? Potential shifts in the meaning of “borders” heightens the importance of interrogating cultural representation, the social locations that ethnographers occupy, see, and speak from, and how perspectives on cultural representation and actual representations will differ. These dynamics build up when, as here, ethnography across borders implies the presence of the nation-state, either as palimpsest or direct actor in the relations and daily lives of the community-participant in the ethnography. Borders are necessarily evoked—geopolitical, social, cultural, national, regional, global, and personal ones, such as gender, race, class, and ethnicity. Ethnography across borders emerges in this instance as a methodology and a stance to deconstruct the ways in which ethnographers and ethnographies are radically situated in their own histories, and how radical contextualization of those histories is required to understand across borders and uncover the limits of cultural representation, language, and ethnography as a tool to understand the lives of people, their histories, and communities.

Article

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.

Article

Allison Daniel Anders

Committed to research as an ethical and political practice, post-critical ethnographers work to center emic perspectives, local knowledges, and critiques in everyday languages in order to illuminate the exercise of power in the re/production of systemic inequities (e.g., economic, cultural, geographic, linguistic, political, racial, and social). Post-critical ethnographers underscore the importance of positionality and reflexivity in the practice of ethnography and pursue multiple, complicated understandings and complex representations, often experimental, in the writing and production of research. Informed by critical, interpretivist, and postmodern theories, post-critical ethnographers critique dominance, oppression, and inequity. In educational research, they choose schools, student, teacher, administrator experiences, and often local contexts to frame their research. Addressing both the particularities of experience and historical geopolitical contexts, post-critical ethnographers offer incisive analyses and ask their audiences to challenge systemic inequities and consider what could be otherwise in inequitable relations but is not yet.

Article

While specific applications of critical realism to ethnography are few, theoretical developments are promising and await more widespread development. This is especially the case for progressive and critical forms of ethnography that strive to be, in critical realist terms, an “emancipatory science.” However, the history of ethnography reveals that both the field and its emancipatory potential are limited by methodological tendencies toward “naïve realism” and “relativism.” This is the antimony of ethnography. The conceptual and methodological origins of ethnography are grounded in the historical tensions between anti-naturalist Kantian idealism and hyper-naturalist Humean realism. The resolution of these tensions can be found in the conceptual resources of critical realism. Working from, and building upon, the work of British philosopher Roy Bhaskar, critical realism is a movement in the philosophy of science that transcends the limits of Kantian idealism and Humean realism via an emancipatory anti-positivist naturalism. Critical realism emerged as part of the post-positivist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. From its Marxian origins, critical realism insists that all science, including the social sciences, must be emancipatory. At its essence, this requires taking ontology seriously. The call of critical realism to ethnographers, like all social scientists, is that while they must hold to epistemological caution this does not warrant ontological shyness. Furthermore, critical realism’s return to ontology implies that ethnographers must be ethically serious. Ethnography, if it is to hold to its progressive inclinations, must be about something. Critical realism for ethnography pushes the field to see itself as more than a sociological practice. Rather, it is to be understood as a social practice for something: the universalizing of human freedom.

Article

Maropeng Modiba and Sandra Stewart

Postcolonial ethnographic studies in Africa and, specifically, in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region tend to demonstrate varying sensitivity to local knowledge systems and culture. Ethnographers, both local and international, differ in the ways in which they engage with these aspects. Studies expose shifts, or lack thereof, in the mindsets of researchers. In general, researchers take for granted their cultural ideals and how to embrace broader responsibilities beyond the education or development initiatives they are studying. Although rhetorically supportive of the education/development of the subaltern, some studies selected and reviewed in this article indicate the researchers’ missionary dispositions and reliance on preconceived notions in making sense of the behavior and environments studied. To varying degrees fragmentations in perceptions, anthropological empathy, reluctance to acknowledge African contexts and ways of living as adequate in themselves stand out rather than deliberate efforts to preserve the internal cultures and knowledge systems of the communities and expand their knowledge and skills in sustainable ways.

Article

Multi-sited global ethnography is a methodological contribution to educational research methodology, and more broadly, ethnography. This new methodological framework was designed specifically for the research project “Elite Independent Schools in Globalizing Circumstances,” which studied seven elite schools, one school in each of the following geographical locations: Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Australia, South Africa, Barbados, and England, over a five-year period from 2010 to 2014. The aim of this article is to give a detailed methodological rendition of the epistemologies, and theoretical and conceptual bearings that underpin multi-sited global ethnography. Drawing attention to how the methodology reinvigorates conventional ways of doing ethnography, “different strokes” is used to allude to the new methodological elements we introduced in multi-sited global ethnography. Overall, the article highlighted the insights, hindsight, and oversights gained during and after fieldwork, so that further research can enrich multi-sited global ethnography.

Article

This article examines the possibilities of a comparative approach for ethnographic investigations on teachers’ work. It draws on contributions from a study carried out from 2006 to 2010 in private schools in Buenos Aires. Due to the deep socioeconomic crisis in Argentina in the 1990s, those schools reorganized themselves into cooperative schools. From a holistic approach, the study develops a comparative analysis related to the presencias estatales (state presences) in schools and how teachers experienced this. As the investigation progressed, a series of correlations between theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches were unfolded, allowing teachers’ work, from their “lived experience” perspective, to be recontextualized. The article is organized in four sections. The introduction presents the aim, the methodology, and an overview of the international context for developing comparative ethnographic investigations. The next section provides an overview of studies on teachers’ work in Latin America and Argentina, as well as the possibilities of comparison in the particular thematic field. Moving forward, it describes: (a) the theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches in detail through comparative analysis about the presencia estatales in cooperative schools, and (b) the ways in which teachers experience this. The conclusion presents a synthesis of the comparative analysis and propose new inquiries for further investigations.

Article

There are several different ways of understanding ethnography. On one extreme there are studies that use certain “ethnographic techniques” for practice observation, and on the other, there is the assumption that it is a complex theoretical-methodological framework that implies an ideological, political, and sociocultural approach, in order to describe the perspective of the participants. A third perspective seeks to broaden the understanding of the complex construction of scientific knowledge in the classroom. Surveys can unearth a clear tension between the etic and emic approaches, each one related to the theoretical-methodological allegiances of their researchers which can be modified somewhat through their findings. A future inquiry into the complex and heterogeneous contexts of Latin American classrooms can suggest a way to bridge macro with micro contexts of different socioeconomic and cultural and political conditions. Other growing topics that could be developed more thoroughly in the future are, for example, the multimodality of communication processes within the classroom, and studies on scientific education from an intercultural perspective, particularly considering the debt we have with the 50 million indigenous people in our region in taking into account their cultural perspectives and contributions to knowledge.