I’ve chosen the ethnographic study on the role of the internet in social change in the Middle East to review, and I’m finding the explorations of different facets and applications of ethnography very interesting. Shaffir and Stebbin’s articles demystified some of the methodology, especially on the issues of personal preparation for working in the field, which my experience of the direct interview had brought well forward for me as I wrote in my previous post. I found Stebbin’s reminder that the researcher needs to have a credible level of competence in the area of study, and Shaffir’s discussion of the role that modifying oneself or even dissembling to some extent, might play in winning the confidence of the subjects of study (people!), especially notable. Whether the encounter is structured, semi-structured, or informal, I am now acutely aware of how much difference the researcher’s knowledge of context could make to the direction and depth of the Q and A process. Empathy also comes into it. Which is where participation can change the character of the interaction in some fundamental ways, as Boellstorff also emphasizes in his observation that while it’s impossible to fully observe and fully participate simultaneously, it’s in that paradox that the best connection can be made.
The van Dijk article’s exposition of critical discourse analysis and his dissection of how discourse control in policy debate functions to manage public views and the status quo in the maintenance of racism struck a particular chord with me. Derrrick Bell (Faces At the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism) has some amazing multi-layered and multi-disciplinary analyses in this area. Critical theory and many other theoretical approaches tell us that power relations are a fundamental aspect of social analysis; the role of racialization in those relations can hardly be exaggerated and would be especially important in ethnographic studies of a wide range of topics and contexts, yet discussion of its role has been so successfully discredited or otherwise discouraged that in my experience it’s rare outside of specific forums dedicated to that discussion.