Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ethnography and Time

One of readings from INF1001 contains a rather mundane observation about ethnography that has curious implications. In The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach, Daniel Miller and Don Slater note that "ethnography means a long-term involvement amongst people" (21). How long? They provide a number of examples: one year, eighteen months, five weeks (plus fifteen months). They refer to eleven years of total research at one point. In one of the INF1240 readings, Knight says that he ran a two-year study (37). Knight also introduces us to longitudinal studies that follow subjects for decades (37). Presumably, a decades-long study could have different researchers at the end than it had at the beginning. This raises an interesting question: are they all doing the same research? I mean, are they all committed to the same research question and methodology? For the sake of argument, I would say no. A researcher in 2010 can't look at a project that was designed in 1970 and think, "this research is exactly right." This scenario makes me wonder if a project can change over its lifetime. How much can it change without breaking the whole thing?

You may wonder what this scenario has to do with small-scale research. Well, imagine that you spend two years in the jungles of Manhattan, ethnographically recording the behaviour of people who sell fake designer articles on the street. Are you the same person at the end of the project that you were at the beginning? Are your concerns the same? Are your questions the same? Do you have a closet full of fake designer clothing?

You get the idea. Somehow, as researchers, we have to observe ourselves while we observe our subjects. We have to record the ways that we change. It matters, to my mind, because we can't give a faithful account of our research unless we can give a faithful account of ourselves.


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