ETHNOGRAPHIC OBSERVATION AS METHOD: AN ASSESSMENT OF ITS THEORETICAL RIGOUR
The method of ethnographic observation as refering to the research of the political or the societal encounters its ain series of plausible deadlocks in footings of theoretical cogency. This is a job that may be related to the possibility/impossibility of epistemology and nonsubjective cognition claims as evinced in the greater post-modern paradigm. Such a job Lyotard summarizes as follows: “The Grand Narrative has lost its credibility.” [ 1 ] In this denouncement of “Grand Narrative” , Lyotard implies that the built-in subjectiveness to any history shatters its position as an history possessing a pure objectiveness. However, if this is true what is the possibility for consistent ethnographical discourses? In this paper we shall analyze the strengths and failings of ethnographical observation.
Ethnographic observation has emerged as method because of its evident fidelity to the sharp-sightedness of empirical scientific discipline. That is, there seems to be a theoretical cogency to ethnographical observation because of its evident dedication to the recording of “raw data” . Fielding notes that: “as agencies of deriving a first penetration into a civilization or societal procedure, as a beginning of hypotheses for elaborate probe utilizing other methods, it is unparalleled.” [ 2 ] Ethnographic observation attains this cogency through an evident decrease of its field of survey to a remarkable object ; furthermore, it is to enter this object in its natural scene. Ethnographic observation is hence critically based on the impression of location. It relies on an implanting within location from which the ethnographic narration is later constructed. This attack is described harmonizing to EVALSED ( The European Union Resoruce for the Evaluation of Socio-Economic Development ) as follows: “Observational techniques, a signifier of realistic enquiry, allow probe of phenomena in their of course happening scenes.Participant observationis where the research worker joins the population or its administration or community puting to enter behavior, interactions or events that occur.” [ 3 ] Thus, the evident sharp-sightedness in ethnographical observation germinates from the embedding of the perceiver him/herself in the natural environment of the object of survey ; moreover, the perceiver is to keep an stolid position that ideally leads to a methodological fidelity to the natural information itself, harmonizing to the distance of the perceiver from the object in inquiry. That is, ethnographical observation relies on an inter-play between the elements of distance and embedment. Insofar as the perceiver “joins” the community, he/she observes the community in its natural home ground ; nevertheless, in the emotionlessness of the perceiver, he/she remains distanced from his/her object itself. It is this yoke of two seemingly contradictory places, which is a strength of the method: it does non fall into some false duality, but attempts to asseverate both possibilities together. Therefore, the strengths of ethnographic observation appear as follows: the fidelity to its object of survey in footings of acute empirical recording ; the inquiry of location which emphasizes that the observation is to happen in the natural home ground of the object ; the corruption of the duality of subject-object, through the proposal of a passive, yet embedded, observer.
Concomitantly, the method of ethnographical observation possesses some seemingly cardinal theoretical bounds. This job may be found in the syntagm ethnological observation itself. Ethnographic observation as method seems to connote two premises: the observation of its object “ethnos” , coupled with the authorship of this observation. At first glimpse, there are two registries at interest in the method: that of perceptual experience and that of linguistic communication. However, to believe of these two registries as distinct is instantly debatable. As Kouritzin notes, “The thought that word pick and narrative construction are of import considerations in the authorship of ethnographic fieldnotes is non new. Particularly since the publication of Sanjek’s ( 1990b ) book on fieldnotes, field research workers and theoreticians have argued that such picks reflect a priori premises. Yet few, if any, writers have followed this statement to its logical decision by analyzing fieldnotes.” [ 4 ] In Kouritzin’s history, we see this immediate split: On the one manus, field notes seem to stand for the strictly perceptual history of the object under ethnographic consideration ; the “writing of the fieldnotes” later constitutes the evident narrative construction, wherein the natural empirical informations of the fieldnotes are so transformed into a scientific text. Kouritzin nevertheless notes that it is a error to overlook the composing of the fieldnotes themselves as cases of “narrative writing.” In this instance, the evident split between the two registries of perceptual experience and linguistic communication become obfuscated. Furthermore, Kouritzin ‘s point becomes radically critical in the sense that the seemingly a-lingual perceptual experience is a priori affected by the cultural and lingual backgrounds of the percipient. Therefore, linguistic communication appears to come in into any ethnographic observation from the really beginning. If the methodological purpose of ethnological observation appears to be a faithful history of its object, it would look this possibility is instantly lost harmonizing to the subjective nature of the Acts of the Apostless of observance-writing. Harmonizing to Kouritzin ‘s scheme, it so becomes clear that the cardinal failing of ethnological observation as method is that the perceiver holds a place of power over the object ; as effect, the objectiveness of the object itself is needfully lost in such a conventional. As Garfinkel abstracts this point: “Objectivity of histories are non independent of the socially organized occasions of their use.” [ 5 ] Thus, in this version objectiveness becomes a myth in visible radiation of the societal character of the perceiver him/herself. Ethnographic observation so encounters a series of deadlocks: the position of the author of the narrative, a socio-cultural context and the ubiquity of linguistic communication itself.
In analysing the strengths of ethnographic observation qua method, it appears that both its cardinal possibility and impossibleness prevarications in the figure of the perceiver. The perceiver is the critical motor for the method, whilst at the same clip being the beginnings for its bounds. Insofar as composing seems to stand for a strictly subjective act, or one that is socially or culturally conditioned, the agencies of the history seems to denominate a intervention from a culturally or separately colored position.
However, at the same clip, as Garfinkel notes, we are to recognize that descriptive anthropology in itself is a culturally comparative discourse. It is a possible manner of meeting a civilization, a society, a political formation. That is, it is one manner among many: nevertheless these other agencies are besides contextually limited. Therefore, to understand the strength and failings of ethnographic observation, we must foremost understand it as a peculiar manner of intra-cultural brush ; and because of this specialness, its ain possibilities are to be understood in footings of this specialness. In other words, any brush is limited by the context of the brush – in this sense, as method, ethnographical observation, is every bit limited as any other brush. Therefore, its cardinal failings are tied to a greater ontology of the universe itself: the thought of worlds as interpretative existences and the world of a multiplicity of different contexts for discourse.
EVALSED: The Resource for the Evaluation of Socio-Economic Development ( 2007 )Measuring Social Economic Development: Sourcebook, accessed at: & lt ; & lt ; ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/docgener/evaluation/evalsed/downloads/sb2_evaluability_assessment.doc & gt ;
Fielding, N. ( 1993 ) “Qualitative Interviewing” , in: G.N. Gilbert ( ed. ) ,Researching Social Life, London, UK: Sage.
Garfinkel, H. ( 1999 )Surveies in Ethnomethodology, Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Kouritzin, S. ( 2001 ) “The “Half-Baked” Concept of “Raw” Data in
Ethnographic Observation” , in:Canadian Journal of Education, 27 ( 1 ) , pp. 119-138.
Lyotard, F. ( 1999 )The Post-Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge,Minneapolis, MN: The University of Minnesota Press.