Basic questions in ethnography?

I was writing the method chapter that deals with indigenous methodologies and critical ethnography. This is an inspiring segment from Grounded Theory in Ethnography that lit up my day. I have been struggling what and how to ask questions during my field work for the past years. This segment is like a torch in a dark tunnel that gives me some sense of direction. For those of you who are not so familiar with ethnography and/or grounded theory, here is a post Difference Between Grounded Theory and Ethnography that might be helpful.

It is a chapter in Handbook of Ethnography, the chapter is written by KATHY CHARMAZ & RICHARD G. MITCHELL. The book was edited by: Paul Atkinson, Amanda Coffey, Sara Delamont, John Lofland & Lyn Lowland and published in 2001. DOI: http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.helsinki.fi/10.4135/9781848608337.n11

Here it goes:

A competent ethnographic study demands time and commitment. Grounded theory can help trim excess work but the core tasks still need to be done. Gathering rich ethnographic data means starting by [Page 163]answering basic questions about the studied phenomena:

  • What is the setting of action? When and how does action take place?
  • What is going on? What is the overall activity being studied, the relatively long-term behavior about which participants organize themselves? What specific acts comprise this activity?
  • What is the distribution of participants over space and time in these locales?
  • How are actors organized? What organizations effect, oversee, regulate or promote this activity?
  • How are members stratified? Who is ostensibly in charge? Does being in charge vary by activity? How is membership achieved and maintained?
  • What do actors pay attention to? What is important, preoccupying, critical?
  • What do they pointedly ignore that other persons might pay attention to?
  • What symbols do actors invoke to understand their worlds, the participants and processes within them, and the objects and events they encounter? What names do they attach to objects, events, persons, roles, settings, equipment?
  • What practices, skills, stratagems, methods of operation do actors employ?
  • Which theories, motives, excuses, justifications or other explanations do actors use in accounting for their participation? How do they explain to each other, not to outside investigators, what they do and why they do it?
  • What goals do actors seek? When, from their perspective, is an act well or poorly done? How do they judge action – by what standards, developed and applied by whom?
  • What rewards do various actors gain from their participation? (Mitchell, 1991)

From these questions, an ethnographer learns about context and content, meaning and action, structures and actors. Grounded theory can aid ethnographers in getting into these areas; it should not be used as reason to side-step them. Our basic rule: find data, answer the foundational questions, then develop theory. This approach also remedies weaknesses in grounded theory studies, especially those that rely on single accounts given to field interviewers. What people say may differ from what they do. How they explain their actions to each other may not resemble their statements to an interviewer. Moreover, participants’ most important explanations may consist of tacit understandings. If so, then participants seldom articulate them out loud, even among themselves, let alone to non-members.

Image Courtesy: 18th century Ethnography By J. Ratelband & J. Bouwer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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工作

不只是有薪酬的,而是一切「為了生活所執行的事務」。

或是,「需要花時間與心力去做的事情」都應該被看成工作(Smith, 2005)。

以社工實踐來講,就不只是理性清楚的「專業」的紀錄表單或是成效報表,而是包含那些讓合作得以發生、你要與之共生的的混亂與多變,每天不懈的奮鬥、協調、信任建立與各式各樣有的沒的的勞動。

以教師實踐來講,工作就不只是SSCI研究期刊發表篇數、教授課程時數與一目了然的教學評估表,而是要考慮進去研究者沒日沒夜恐懼下個獎助金可能申請不到、混亂沒系統的生涯規劃、不符邏輯去非政府組織做志工、花時間去為人權社運奮鬥等等,表格上無法呈現的真專業、真工作。

「建制民族誌提供一個眼光與探究路徑,除了處於自己立足點上的觀點,能對組織、影響自己每日生活的權力結構、社會關係能有更多認識,更能掌握統治關係運作機制的知識。就像是每個人都站在一座山上的一個座標上,建制民族誌提供一個將別人對治標的吃來的具體方式,每個人的位置都有助於我們更看清楚這座山,而非落入『只知其然,而不知其所以然』的狀態。透過建制民族誌的分析,我也藉此看清楚我與阿朱並非只是單純的兩個人相遇,所遇到的一些問題或負面情緒,不只是雙方關係中的張力,更代表了一些結構面的權力運作影響了我們的關係,或在我身上造成矛盾。建制民族誌幫助我框定我跟阿朱的工作經驗,是嵌卡在何種社會脈絡中,更看見是什麼樣的工作流程與其如何影響我們,進而對自己與世界間的關係有重新理解的可能。」

讀:阿朱上班去:建制論述中消失的人