Hi all. Now that term's over, Inkshed's over, etc etc, I've been
finally getting to some of the reading on the back of my desk, including
the last Inkshed newsletter. Quite a nice issue, eh? The cluster of
short takes on various kinds of ethnography makes a good way to start
talking about the multiple faces ethnography has assumed as it moves to
be what seems to be the current research method of choice in out field.
Why don't we liven up this list for a bit by blowing the dust off our
copies of the newsletter, or looking it up on
http://www.stthomasu.ca/inkshed/may00.htm, and throwing so ideas around
about these research reports.
I like all the offerings but I wanted to start talking about Barbara's
in particular because it intrigues me. Usually ethnography functions as
a research tool for gathering data, but it is also a set of beliefs
about what constitutes data and how it is transformed into knowledge. I
think Barbara's right that most people would not readily describe what
the administrators in her study are doing as "ethnography" in the usual
sense -- they are doing their investigation to find out about the
"quality of instruction in the program" _through_ the teachers' ideas,
rather than trying to "write the culture" of the teachers' community.
But describing their work as "field notes" invites us to bring to bear
some of the observations about knowledge construction that have arisen
in discussions of the ethnographer's craft. This gaze complexifies the
obvious explanation of what the administrators are doing when they turn
their "field notes" into a report. They are not just "hearing what they
want to hear," though that's obviously an important part of it. They're
also reconstructing the teachers' knowledge in a more global but less
complex and confusing way: making a clear "story" out of the teachers'
And it raises the question: what kind of other everyday activities can
be defined as a sort of folk ethnography rather than just becoming the
subject of ethnography? And does this (admittedly stretched) usage of
the term "ethnography" clarify or muddy our view of these activities?
Dr. Doug Brent
Associate Dean, Academic Programs and Faculty Affairs
Faculty of General Studies, University of Calgary
Fax: (403) 282-6716
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