Accepted Paper:

Public ethnography in contested spaces: The impact of context  


Mary-Kathryn Rallings (Queen's University Belfast)

Paper short abstract:

Different events occurring within the same space can quite literally change the very nature of the space itself as well as the context of the interview site. This paper will explore whether more objective ethnographic knowledge can be obtained whilst interviewees are surrounded by familiar contexts.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will explore different events occurring within the same space as they quite literally change the very nature of that space, along with the behaviour and attitudes of those within it. Thus, the context of the space as an interview site also changes. The context of an interview may then have a considerable impact on the knowledge tendered by informants as well as the outcome of the interview itself.

Belfast city centre hosts a variety of very different events - 'green' parades, 'orange' parades, gay pride events, the Lord Mayor's show - some of which attract a certain crowd according to the context of the event. Those who identify with the theme (political, religious, ethno-nationalist, etc) of the event will generally feel comfortable surrounded by symbols, flags and people with whom they personally associate. When observing and interviewing informants in this context, how do people behave, what do they say (or sing, or shout), and how do they respond to questions about the 'other' - those not present at the event?

This paper will question whether there is a more raw indication of true behaviours and opinions within this familiar context. Conducting interviews within this environment, are biases in fact more obvious, therefore rendering accounts more objective - and providing the context for people to say and do things they would not do if surrounded by those to whom they are ideologically opposed? Further, how do we determine the impact of context on the work of ethnography itself and on the validity and objectivity of information presented by our informants?

Panel P15
Roundtable - Situating the interview