Readings Week 1
Design for Behavior & Experience
“Chapter 7 Hurried Ethnography for the Harried Ethnographer” Ethnography: A way of Seeing. Wolcott, 2008.
- What is the minimum or maximum time needed to be spent in the field to claim ethnographic validity? The researcher’s belief that enough time will produce guaranteed outcomes is at odd with the realist’s understanding that it’s impossible to exhaust any topic of inquiry.
- “Ethnographic accommodation” is a researcher’s limitations of time that are put upon an study that employs ethnographic means.
- How should a researcher handle time? As a scarce resource. Plan out time and set limits to fieldwork that take into account the other parts of the project.
- When field work is not yielding any new or novel insights, it may be time to start writing.
- Writing while still having time set aside for field work permits an initial analysis that a researcher can use to focus the remaining observation time.
- Begin writing as soon as you think you might not be able to get it all. Do not put off writing by waiting to be a more astute observer.
- Once you begin to review collected data in your head, start writing. Begin with the comfortable or well-synthesized ideas, and the writing should guide the remaining time you set aside for field work.
- Start writing if half of your total time is remaining. Writing and organizing data often takes more time than observations themselves.
- “People do writing this fashion [fieldwork first, then writing last] but this is one reason why so many monographs are uninspired.” Rosalie Wax
- Writing about your thoughts before fieldwork can help to focus your observations on its ultimate purpose, and to organize your final account.
- In subfields of anthropology, rapid fieldwork has become common but should not be dismissed. Common surveys, questionnaires, targeted interventions are not rushed as much as they are repetitive and formalized. Ethnographers are then considered data sources for teams conducting anthropological appraisals.
- Anthropological appraisals may use common interviewing techniques, or even group interviews (focus groups), where an ethnographer would partake in a less structures interview/conversation and potentially identify a key informant.
“[…] Much stands to be gained for any researcher who pauses long enough to have a look around, with the intention of putting an inquiry into some broader perspective.”
- –an ethnography precursor, permitting an initial survey or examination which is followed by a more detailed inquiry.
- A windshield survey–or a survey of a community from a drive around town–is a rapid appraisal technique that can lead to valuable observations for further examination.
- Ethnographic reconnaissance does not carry the notion that it must be done quickly, only that time must be set aside for getting one’s bearings in a new situation.
- Do not disregard intuitive feelings about what is going on in a project, even if you’re part of a team performing pre-selected rapid assessments. Reconnaissance and getting one’s bearings should aware remain forefront while doing fieldwork.
- Advice for initiating fieldwork to realize maximum return on ethnographic reconnaissance:
- ethnographic reconnaissance develops organized common sense, free from inappropriate professionalism. don’t stick to overly scientific methods for observing the nuance complexity of human activity.
- a researcher conducting ethnographic reconnaissance should try not assume a tourist or poll-taker or professional researcher identity, rather an interested human being. All of those identities could hinder natural conversation.
- do not feel pressured to “sample” the population in any certain way. There will always be “gate keepers” of the community and they are worth your time as well.
- write up notes quickly thereafter a reconnaissance effort. Initial opinions, anticipated problems, observations that go against your conceived notions are often fleeting once removed from the field.
- keep in mind you are there to learn how those in this setting make sense of their world; if they can’t answer a question, it’s not part of their world. an idealistic goal for interviewing is to get them to talk with the fewest direct questions. ask questions as they come to you.
- know what information is already out there (community history, maps) and do not feel obligated to reproduce it, but consider its biases and affordances carefully before inclusion in your reconnaissance or ethnography.
- Systematic research doesn’t always describe the existence of a community in ethnography. Care should be taken to understand when and how to count what needs to be counted, and measure what needs to be measured.
- Problems and questions that are defined or redefined in terms of computational capabilities shift the researcher further away from orienting traditions of ethnography.
- Photography, videography, and systematic research should not become ethnography–they are tools, not philosophies.
- Stepwise research should not go against timing, but instead inform it. Dedicate chunks of times to different topics over the course of the fieldwork, and observe what changes and what doesn’t.
- long-term fieldwork by ethnographers can provide “finer distinctions between change efforts and changed results, or between change and rhetoric of change.”
The Interpretation of Cultures “Chapter 1 Thick Description: Toward an Interprettive Theory of Culture” C. Geertz, 1973.
“To try to find the figure in the carpet of one’s writings can be as chilling as trying to find it in one’s life; to weave, post facto, a figure in —”this is what I meant to say”—is an intense temptation.
- New ideas take hold of the intellectual community with vigor. It is applied to many problems and many situations. The community applied is where it is applicable and desists where it cannot be extended. What is does explain is now brought into focus, and the pseudoscience falls away.
“The concept of culture I espouse […] is essentially a semiotic one. [M]an is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”
- If you want to understand science, look at what practicing scientists do. If you want to understand anthropology, look at ethnography.
- Ethnography is more than just establishing rapport, selecting informations, transcribing texts, etc. It is an intellectual effort called “thick description” by Gilbert Ryle.
- “Thick Description” is both thinking and reflecting, as well as thinking of thoughts.
- A “thin” description of events merely records actions or direct observations, but a “thick” description finds a hierarchy of meaningful structures that leads to the actions. Where was this action learned? What was the intention behind the action? What is the context of the action? What is the action codifying?
- Ethnography is a collection of data that is really a “construction of other people’s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to. [I]t does lead to a view of anthropological research as rather more of a observational and rather less of an interpretive activity that it really is.” Analysis is sorting out the structures of signification.
“What the ethnographer is in fact faced with […] is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon or knotted into one another, which are at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render.”
- Human behavior as symbolic action has a significance. The communication by an action’s agency is of significance. With this componential analysis of culture, “culture is composed of psychological structures by means of which individuals or groups of individuals guide their behavior.”
“The cognitive fallacy—that culture consists of ‘mental phenomena which can [should] be analyzed by formal methods similar to those of mathematics and logic’—is as destructive of an effective use of the concept as are the behaviorist and idealist fallacies to which it is a misdrawn correction.”
- Ethnographers seek to speak to and with individuals, not for them.
“Culture is not a power, something to which social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed; it is a context, something within which they can be intelligibly—that is, thickly—described.”
- Behaviors are the vehicle for culture. Behaviors’ relationships to each other is intrinsic, but it’s their role in patterns of life that give them meaning.
- Inspecting events his how we interpret symbols and symbol systems, not by setting them up and organizing them into our own patterns.
- Searching for sound, overarching order in cultural proceedings discredits analysis; do not divorce interpretations of events from the events themselves.
“If anthropological interpretation is constructing a reading of what happens, then to divorce it from what happens—from what, in this time or that place, specific people say, what they do, what is done to them, from the whole vast business of the world—is to divorce it from its applications and render it vacant. A good interpretation of anything—a poem, a person, a history, a ritual, an institution, a society—takes us into the heart of that of which it is the interpretation. When it does not do that, but leads us instead somewhere else—into an admiration of its own elegance, of its author’s cleverness, or of the beauties of Euclidean order—it may have its intrinsic charms; but it is something else than what the task at hand—figuring out what all that rigamarole with the sheep is about—calls for.”
- There is a distinction being speaking and writing. An informant speaks; speaking is the event. An ethnographer writes (inscribes); writing is the thought of speaking… or the meaning of the speaking.
- Cultural analysis is guessing at meanings and assessments of such guesses; it is not all-encompassing or robust, rather its nuanced and situational.
- Ethnographic descriptions are…
- …interpretive of the flow of social discourse.
- …attempts to rescue the “said” of discourse from ephemerality.
- …microscopic by nature.
- Any larger, broader implications or abstractions of culture are often from extended acquaintances with extremely small matters, not a wide variety.
- “To regard [ethnographic findings] as anything more (or anything less) than [particular] distorts both them and their implications, which are far profounder than mere primitivity, for social theory.”
- This methodological critique of the microscopic nature of ethnography is valid, yet not to be resolved by considering the events as an actual microcosm, but resolved by “realizing social actions are comments” on society, with no bounds nor guarantee where the interpretation can go.
- Generality of cultural theory grows from the “delicacy of its distinctions, not the sweep of its abstractions.”
- Cultural analysis does not build on other analysis; it “plunges deeper into the same things” and enriches the understanding of both analyses.
- Cultural theory is not predictive. It guides the lens to which we can view past events, and potentially anticipate future occurrences of the event.
“In ethnography, the office of theory is to provide a vocabulary in which what symbolic action has to say about itself—that is, about the role of culture in human life—can be expressed.”
- Cultural analysis is, by definition, incomplete. They are sustained by continued debate and discussion. Yet, the more narrow the details, the less complete they become.
“The danger that cultural analysis, in search of all-too-deep-lying turtles*, will lose touch with the hard surfaces of life-with the political, economic, stratificatory realities within which men are everywhere contained-and with the biological and physical necessities on which those surfaces rest, is an ever-present one. The only defense against it, and against, thus, turning cultural analysis into a kind of sociological aestheticism, is to train such analysis on such realities and such necessities in the first place.”
*An old Indian story goes: The world rests upon a platter that is on the back of an elephant and that elephant stands on the shell of a turtle. Each turtle, in turn, rests on another turtle.
“Ethnography” in The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed. D. Randall and M. Rouncefield.
What is Ethnography?
- “Ethnography is a qualitative orientation to research that emphasizes the detailed observation of people in naturally occurring settings.”
Why use Ethnography?
- “Perhaps the main virtue of ethnography is its ability to make visible the ‘real world’ sociality of a setting through detailed descriptions of the ‘workaday’ activities of social actors within specific contexts.”
- Ethnography seeks to observe and record activies as social actions embedded in a socially organized domain.
Doing Ethnography – Relying on the Kindness of Strangers
- The social world ethnographers plunge into is often not organized in the way researchers expect to find it.
- Recording the richness of everyday activities is often difficult because of its commonplaceness.
- Ethnography does not take immense amounts of training, nor is its goal to search for hard-to-find things; nor is it simply hanging around or experiencing another community. It is listening and watching to the guiding principles that structure others’ activities.
What does an Ethnographer do?
- An ethnographer does not need to go look for data; they look for communities and actions within these contexts to observe, the data is then presented to them in that context.
“The point of fieldwork is to understand the social organization of activities within the setting.”
- “In terms of what the fieldworker collects by way of data, […] it will be dictated not by strategic methodological considerations, but by the flow of activity within the social setting.”
- Everything an ethnographer experiences or witnesses or observes is data. There is no sense in having all the data, but nevertheless your record of it should far exceed your use of it.
- Ethnography is “the deliberate attempt to generate more data than the investigator is aware of at the time of collection” (quoted in Dourish (n.d.: 2). Mass amounts of data collection tends to happen as a consequence of the ethnographer’s immersion in a setting. Recording things often comes naturally as a foreigner in a new country wants to document everything they don’t understand.