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Article

Anthropological and Ethnographic Methods and Sources  

Constance Smith

For scholars of African history, anthropology offers a number of valuable and invigorating methodological avenues, from engaging directly in ethnographic fieldwork to analyzing anthropological data compiled by others. Given the asymmetries of written documents and the biases of archival material for Africa, anthropological methods and sources offer a different type of access to those who, for various reasons, tend not to appear in other forms of documentary record. The materials of past ethnographic research—texts and material objects, produced and collected by anthropologists and their assistants as well as by missionaries, government officials, travelers, and others—constitute one of the largest categories of written source material. However, the contexts in which such research was conducted can present certain challenges when using these materials as sources. For example, the complex entanglements between colonial governance and the making of anthropological knowledge make it imperative for historians to be aware of the discipline’s intellectual history and how its ways of seeing and ordering have shaped portrayals of Africa’s diverse cultures. Methodologically, historians are also experimenting with field methods that draw heavily on ethnographic techniques. The emergence of historical ethnography has developed a rich, syncretic approach, in which communities’ own relationships with, and understandings of, the past are brought to the fore. Although ethnography is known for its immersive and long-term fieldwork, elements of the technique can also be incorporated into other historical methods. This is in part a matter of approach, rather than of different source material. For example, engaging ethnographically with archives can offer different insights into issues of governance and the production of knowledge.

Article

Network Ethnography as an Approach for the Study of New Governance Structures in Education  

Catarina Player-Koro

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 Entanglements of Ethnography and Participatory Action Research (PAR) in Educational Research in North America  

Margaret Eisenhart

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

Social Work Ethnography  

Wendy L. Haight

Ethnography is an approach to the study of culture with an extensive history in the social sciences and professions. Within social work, there has been a long-standing interest in ethnography. It affords social workers a powerful and unique vehicle for obtaining an in-depth, contextualized understanding of clients’ perspectives and experiences necessary for effective, culturally sensitive social work practice and advocacy. It provides an opportunity to understand how very different cultural communities perceive and respond to the common human challenges confronted by social workers and their clients every day.

Article

Qualitative Methods, Critical Geography, and Education  

Robert J. Helfenbein

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

Anthropology in Consumer Research  

Maryann McCabe and Rita Denny

Consumer research, an emergent field in applied anthropology, examines relationships between producers and consumers as mediated by the marketplace. The anthropological purpose of consumer research is to discover cultural meanings of products and services in people’s everyday lives and to identify societal practices and discourses that inform and perform these meanings. While consumer research is inspired by and draws on traditional anthropological theory, it has also made theoretical contributions to anthropology, including consumption practices as crafting identity, consumption activities generating and maintaining social relationships, and the transformative power of consumer goods instigating cultural change. Anthropologists engaged in consumer research work in three primary areas: (1) market-making to assist organizations in defining the environments in which they operate; (2) branding to differentiate an organization’s products and services from those of competitors by attaching to the brand a symbolic meaning from the lived experience of consumers; and (3) innovation to guide business growth by analyzing consumer practices, as well as client and other stakeholder suppositions about the nature of the problem to be solved. Anthropologists in consumer research not only represent consumer voices but are also mediators of stakeholder interests. Change occurs at minimal scale by reframing problems for clients and affecting how clients address target audiences through marketing and advertising strategies, communications, or innovation; and at broader scale, by simultaneously contesting cultural ideologies (e.g., gender, personhood, ethnicity) perpetuated by business practices.

Article

School Ethnography in Chile  

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 and Interviewing in the Ethnography of Education  

Geoffrey Walford

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

School Ethnography  

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

Ethnographies of Education and Anthropological Knowledge Production  

Uma Pradhan and Karen Valentin

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

Power, Positionality, and Ethnography in Educational Research  

Madhulika Sonkar

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

Anthropologies of Cancer  

Nickolas Surawy-Stepney and Carlo Caduff

Cancer is a relatively new subject for the discipline of anthropology, but scholarship on the topic has already yielded a distinct and important body of literature. In biomedical terms, cancer can be thought of as the wide range of conditions characterized by the uncontrolled (and ultimately pathological) proliferation of cells. It is a disease that is responsible for the deaths of millions of people worldwide each year. As such, it is the focus of a vast number of discourses and practices in multiple areas, ranging from scientific research and media discussion to health insurance and government regulation, to name just a few. Anthropologists concerned with cancer typically use the methodology that is a hallmark of the discipline, long-term ethnographic fieldwork, in order to investigate these discourses and practices. This involves conducting participant observation among doctors, patients, nurses, family members, scientists, politicians, policymakers, and pharmaceutical representatives. Cancer is examined as a lived experience, revealing the numerous ways that local, regional, national, and transnational histories and politics shape the embodied realities of disease. Anthropologists also investigate the regimes of risk and statistical analysis to which bodies are subjected and the technologies around cancer, such as methods of screening or vaccination that aim to prevent it and the different ways in which these and other interventions and technologies fit into—or push uneasily against—the local words in which they are implemented. Anthropologists aim to look beyond the problem as simply one of biology and medicine, instead investigating cancer as pervasive within multiple dimensions of social, cultural, political, and economic life. Anthropological studies displace the prominent biomedical notion that cancers are the same in diverse locations and reveal the incoherence and intractability of cancer as an object. In paying close attention to this object in varied settings, anthropologists offer a critical account of discourses and practices that destabilize and decenter some of the assumptions on which global oncology is based.

Article

Observing Schools and Classrooms  

Alison LaGarry

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

Writing Educational Ethnography  

Sara Delamont

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

Ethnographic Methods for Researching Innovative Education  

Karen Borgnakke

Ethnographic research in innovative education settings has shown the practical impact and conditions on both research and professional development of curriculum and teaching strategies. Following the process of innovation in the educational sector, themes that are high on political and institutional agendas have included “information technology–enhanced learning” and currently show how organizational and pedagogical development also becomes a matter of digitalization. In online learning projects the curriculum development and the process of didactization are already digitalized and refer to the new digital learning culture. Ethnographic methodology enables ongoing interpretation of educational development as reflected by professionals and teacher teams, thereby facilitating elucidation of changes and consequences. The general question can be expressed as follows: How can innovative education, associated online and/or offline learning processes, embedded digitalization, 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 innovative process and associated discourse. The challenge has been approached in terms of research facing the innovative practice and renewing the ethnographic approaches across the spectrum from the policy and organizational levels to practical learning-level investigation. The challenge is also embedded in research contributing to mapping the field of practice or "mapping the paradigm” and cross-case studies covering different learning contexts. The common highlighted theme is that changes in educational systems and practices are necessitating changes in ethnographic practices.

Article

Post-Critical Ethnography  

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

Education Ethnography of Sensitive Issues  

Martin Bittner

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

Ethnography Across Borders  

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

Collaboration in Educational Ethnography in Latin America  

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

Anthropology and the Study of Africa  

Jessica Johnson

Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures. It developed from the 19th century with a focus on the study of societies located outside Europe, often colonized peoples. It has since transformed and diversified but maintains an interest in cross-cultural comparison and social and cultural diversity. Anthropologists often conduct long-term ethnographic research, or fieldwork, living among a community in order to learn their language and become familiar with local norms, ways of life and cultural assumptions. The method is also referred to as participant-observation, which captures its dual nature. Anthropologists aim both to join in, and learn though participation, and to maintain a degree of critical distance from which to observe and question what they see and hear around them. Their findings are generally written up in the form obf ethnographic monographs and articles detailing their research and discussing their observations in relation to the work of other anthropologists working in similar and/or distant locations. Africa has long been central to anthropological research, particularly for British-trained anthropologists. This is in part a reflection of British colonial history, as colonialism afforded opportunities for anthropologists to travel to Africa and live among African communities. African scholars and research assistants have played important roles in developing the anthropology of Africa and continue to do so. Contemporary ethnographic writing tends not to be holistic in the sense of aiming to produce a exhaustive account of a particular people and their way of life, but rather focuses on particular issues of interest in connection to wider debates, both scholarly and policy-oriented. In the 21st century, anthropologists of Africa study a wide range of topics, from gender relations to religion, development projects to social media.