19 SES 04 B, Methodological Reflections, Positionality and Accountability
This research project was prompted by the question, what do we mean by conducting ’ethnography’? Is it in fact ‘case study’ drawing on ethnographic techniques? My contention is that in many cases, researchers are not actually conducting ethnography as understood within a traditional sense but rather are engaging in case study, drawing on ethnographic techniques. Does that matter you might ask? Well it determines what we can expect to discover from a research project in terms of results and the unearthing of deeper complexities.
Building on the work of Hammersley (2006) I explore the meaning of ‘ethnography’. What’s the difference between ethnography and case study and can we say there is a fine between the two concepts when they both overlap? Both approaches employ research methods that are dynamic and have application to different contexts, sharing a variety of data collection techniques to answer a range of questions. Further, contemporary ethnography or new ethnographies have usefully been informed by innovative methods to collect data. The availability of technology and the use of cameras or video recorders is, however, not unproblematic with concerns among some researchers about the potential intrusiveness for some cultural groups particularly if the nature of the research involves culturally-sensitive issues (Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2007; Parker-Jenkins 1995
To explore this further, I frame the discussion around a set of closely related issues, namely: ethnography, case study and researcher positioning, drawing on ethnographic techniques and fieldwork relations. The original contribution of the piece and overall argument is that research can represent a hybrid form, and based on my own research experience and anaysis of that of others, I propose a new term ‘ethno -case study’ that has advantages of both ethnography and case study. As methods evolve the new term, that of ‘ethno-case study’, might better convey the sense of an inquiry concerning people which employs techniques associated with long-term and intensive ethnography but which is limited in terms of scope, time in the field and engagement with data.
Methodologically, I -critiqued the themes of ethnography and case study - examined my own research projects and that of others in applying these approaches and the handling of fieldwork relations ; -proposed a new term, that of ‘ethno-case study; and the benefit of this additional concept for qualitative research. Specifically, reflection on my own research concerning social justice issues has prompted a number of on-going challenges and they serve as the basis for discursive reflection on personal use of ethnographic techniques and handling fieldwork relations. As a frame to the text, I focus on ethnography, case study and researcher positioning. In part, the article builds on the work of Hammersley (2006) which helps inform initial discussion exploring the meaning of ‘ethnography’. Reviewing my funded projects (eg.ESRC, Leverhulme, Home Office, Teaching Council & DES) over the last 20 plus years, I deduced that my research drew on ethnographic techniques but they were not ethnographies as conducted by Anthropologists like Malinowski (1922). Nor were the studies reflective of the amount of time spent in the field for Beachside Comprehensive (Ball 1981). There was no occasion of myself or members of my research teams living among the community group, whereby the language and cultural nuances could be more fully understood (Mead 1928), but instead the use of ethnographic techniques by an ‘outsider’ to elicit ‘emic’ perspectives (Hoey 2014) as discussed earlier. Unlike some ‘new ethnographies’, no videoing took place in any parts of the communities or the condensing of time; nor were all interviews tape recorded due to the request of the participant; and photography was limited to pictures of school buildings , carefully omitting community members. Through research and publication, social issues were highlighted such as gender, ethnicity and employment (Department for Education and Employment 1999), the educational needs of boys and children of UK Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities (Parker-Jenkins et al 2007) and the experience of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia (Parker-Jenkins et al 2014). I did not feel that my projects were unsuccessful because they did not reach the threshold of what might constitute ethnography. With on-going critique from the steering groups formed by members of the researched community, I learnt about the acceptability and extent of using ethnographic techniques, developing ethnographic sensitivity (Mills and Morton 2013) and the importance of valuing ‘the voice’ within cultural contexts (Emmet et al 2007).
I conclude that there is an argument for reflecting on the boundaries that we set out between ‘ethnography’ and case study which serves to both cement and complicate these differences, and I propose a possible way forward in reconceptualisation practice. My own research has led me to problematize whether I am doing both or neither, and to conclude that a hybrid term which captures both ethnography and case study would be more useful. This new term ‘ethno-case study’ might better convey the sense of an inquiry concerning people, which employs techniques associated with long-term and intensive ethnography, but which is limited in terms of scope and time spent in the field. Methods are always evolving, dynamic and fluid and the same can also be said for terminology.The distinction here is in the expectation of what is to be achieved by the researcher: the scope, scale and engagement with the context and/or data. This reflects the caution expressed by Walford (2009) about how we apply the word ‘ethnography’, but also acknowledges the potential application of ethnographic techniques for a small study. Overall, the benefits of employing the term ethno- case study is that it: • sets boundaries for the researcher • acknowledges that it is a study located within a richer, wider context • conveys the sense of conducting an inquiry with people, employing ethnographic techniques • suggests limited research time and immersion in the context and/or data • gives the reader some level of expectation in terms of the project results and claims. It is this proposed new concept that I would like to put forward and explore with colleagues directly concerned with 'Ethnography and Education' at the ECER 2018 conference
Ball, S. 1981. Beachside Comprehensive: A Case-Study of Secondary Schooling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ball, S. 1987. The Micropolitics of the School. London: Methuen. Banks, S. 2004. Ethics, Accountability, and the Social Professions. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Beach, D. 2005. “From Fieldwork to Theory and representation in Ethnography”. In Methodological Issues and Practices in Ethnography: Studies in Educational Ethnography, edited by T. Troman, B. Jeffrey and G. Walford, 1-17. Oxford: Elsevier JAI Press. Beaulieu, A. 2004. “Mediating Ethnography: Objectivity and the Making of Ethnographies of the Internet”. Social Epistemology 18 (2-3): 139-163. doi: 10.1080/0269172042000249264. Di Rosa, D. 2014. “The Restless Anthropologist: New Fieldsites, New Visions”. New Visions, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 15 (1): 91-98. doi: 10.1080/14442213.2013.818748. Emmel, N., Hughes, K., Greenhalgh, J., and Sales A. 2007. “Accessing Socially Excluded People: Trust and the Gatekeeper in the Researcher-Participant Relationship”. Sociological Research Online 12 (2). doi: 10.5153/sro.1512. Feagin, J., Orum, A. and Sjoberg, G. 1991. A Case for the Case Study. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. Hamilton, L. and Corbett-Whittier, C. 2012. Using Case study in Education Research. London: Sage Publications. Hammersley, M. 2006. “Ethnography: Problems and Prospects”. Ethnography and Education 1 (1): 3-14. doi: 10.1080/17457820500512697. Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. 1998. Ethnography: Principles in Action. 2nd ed. London: Routledge. Ingold, T. 2014. “That's enough about Ethnography!”. Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (1): 383-395. doi: 10.14318/hau4.1.021. Jack , B. 2010. “Giving them a Voice: the Value of Qualitative Research”. Nurse Researcher 17 (3):4-6. Jeffrey, B. and Troman, G. 2004. “Time for Ethnography”. British Educational Research Journal, 30 (4): 535-548. doi: 10.1080/0141192042000237220. Madison, D.S. 2011. Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance. 2nd ed. London: Sage. Mannay, D. and Morgan, M. (2015) Doing ethnography or applying a qualitative technique?: Reflections from the 'waiting field'. Qualitative Research 15(2), pp. 166-182. Mead, M. (1922), Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation, New York:William Morrow and Company. Malinowski B. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagos of Melanesian New Guinea, London: Routledge. Marcus, G.E. (1999), What Is At Stake–And Is Not–In The Idea And Practice Of Multi-Sited Ethnography, Canberra Anthropology, Volume 22, Issue 2, October 1999 .
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