Friday, November 15, 2019

Searching for knowledge: method, gloss, and the failure of information :: Ethnography

I. Sketching Knowledge I have a recurring nightmare that I am on my way to becoming a post-modern positivist. In the dark recesses of my inner sanctum, my constant justifications of the worth of inductive, nonhypothesisdriven, participatory, and emic-centered research finally give way under the pressure of graduate student’s dismissal of methods as unimportant and an all too often dismissal of anthropology by some given that its â€Å"just† anecdotes. These fears are backed by a frightening realization that I have colleagues in other disciplines (i.e., critical geography, social work, and even sympathetic political science) who appear to take our method more seriously than we do. Is anthropology doomed? This semester I am teaching ethnographic methods to a class of first year graduate students and I am often struck by how keen they are to know â€Å"how it is done.† But simultaneously, how difficult it is for them to specify any concrete method beyond interviewing and observing. Often they are actually most interested in questions of logistics: the real â€Å"how is it done† questions. How did you get a visa, where did you live, how long did you stay, how did you afford it, did your partner come with you, were you insured? And of course, a professor who has taught the course before advised me that I shouldn’t prepare lectures, but rather just â€Å"tell stories.† So I spend a lot of my time in this class telling stories, (which satisfies my pedagogical fears over not knowing enough about method to cover 20 hours of course-time – having had a significant part of my own training in the â€Å"go out and do it† approach), but also imploring these anthropologists-in-training to think about what information they are interested in, and the best ways to get it. I tell them that we need to take data collection seriously, or at least we need to have a serious think about what will answer our questions. However, some of them seem to think of it as busy-work. As they repeatedly tell me, one of the dogmas of Malinowski-as-practiced dissertation fieldwork is â€Å"your 2 questions will change once you are in the field,† so why should they spend loads of time thinking about how to answer their original question? Also, some ask, doesn’t this jeopardize the nature of inductive research? I believe in the necessity of the anthropological flexibility that these students are highlighting through their questioning of research preparation. However, it seems to me that some of them are conflating fixity and research design, rather than giving real consideration to particular methodological

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