Posts Tagged ‘Ethnography’

This time via the Freakonomics blog, where he says that all of this is stupid and discusses his views on ethnography, stating:

The other storyline speaks to the core of academic knowledge. When you live with people, or spend years with them, as the means of obtaining your data, what are the evidentiary standards that you should follow? “Ethnographic” work is fuzzy. I’ve never lied, made up characters, or otherwise misrepresented facts. The struggle arises in ensuring that your memory adequately recorded the events, and then validating them before you go to print. Neither are very straightforward or easy to accomplish, particularly when you study crime and marginal social groups. The University prohibits me from using real names, so third-party validation is difficult to achieve. So, in practice, I work in teams, where many people can discuss what we all saw. I’ve collaborated with students and faculty in all of my research — with gangs, sex workers, public housing residents, etc.

In general, I think there is a healthy and vigorous debate among ethnographers about how our work should be conducted. This includes how we should write for the public, and I think we could all do a better job of making our work more accessible and enjoyable to read.

I’m not sure that his view of himself as a “rogue” sociologist and statements about “fuzzy” ethnography support his claims of rigorous data collection.

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Based on the terminology my students use, it appears that they think of every research project as an “experiment.”  They are often surprised to learn that there are, in fact, many different types of research and that experiments make up only a small subset of these (especially among sociologists).  My favorite is when students describe an interpretive ethnographic research project as an experiment, since I imagine the blood pressure of ethnographers rising at the mere thought of such an association.

Keep trying students, you’ll get it right eventually!

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Last week I noted that there is more to a potential job than the school’s rank, even though nobody in my family has heard of the school where I will start work in the fall.  My experiences as a graduate student (and observer of junior faculty) in a highly-ranked department led me to seek a different type of career.  To many (especially my family members), it is probably hard to believe that I would prefer the job that I received to one at a prestigious institution such as Columbia, but I am constantly reminded of this fact when reading things like this (the original post has since been taken down):

The back story here is that I applied for a small grant from Columbia and they replied saying, “A serious research proposal should go beyond your impressions of and personal history with one institution. If it does not, it will remain at the level of anecdotal, single-case evidence, and will count as autobiography rather than systematic research.” Translation: ethnography isn’t real research. To their credit, my senior colleagues rallied around me, agrily responding that the rejection was ridiculous. They wrote a letter on my behalf, asked me to send a chapter from my book in contract, and leave it be. The response just came back from the VP’s office. It was worse than ever. This time, not some under-VP, but the VP himself responded,

“At this moment, the submitted material is highly readable, but the FDC [faculty development committee] believes that it does not sufficiently display an exercise of the research abilities we expect in a major research university. It will be work that displays such abilities that will also be important in meeting the standard for tenure.”

While I have considered the difficulty of publishing and its effects on tenure, I hadn’t considered that being awarded tenure at a “prestigious” institution would be related to the type of work one does, in addition to the quality.  I want no part of this world.

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