Material practices of establishing ethnographic presence
Stefan Laube (Technische Universität Dresden)
Paper short abstract:
The paper focuses on two material practices of shaping ethnographic data: 'changing costume' and 'jotting notes'. It argues that these practices might establish 'ethnographic presence' and, in doing so, enable ethnographers to generate rich data.
Paper long abstract:
Different from a positivist understanding of science that assumes the possibility of representing reality independently from the researcher, recent debates on 'explicit' or 'strong' reflexivity question the viability of this methodological ideal. Most contributions to explicit reflexivity have been focusing on the positionality of the researcher, that is, how his or her position in terms of gender, education, ethnicity, etc. influences the data collected or the way in which it is interpreted. At the same time, there is only little knowledge on how the material practices of ethnographic research influence the collection of data. In order to describe how ethnographic methods actually shape ethnographer's data, I focus on two material fieldwork practices: 'changing costume' and 'jotting notes'. Both practices might be necessary for ethnographers to get access to a field and to collect data; but they are also ways to establish their social presence as ethnographers in the field. Reflecting on my own STS-inspired fieldwork in financial markets and politics, I show that establishing ethnographic presence by jotting notes and by dressing in open ways indeed affects participants and influences the collection of data. This alterations, however, do not 'bias' ethnographic observations and thereby legitimize positivist concerns about 'objective' science. Instead, I argue that establishing ethnographic presence maximizes ethnographer's possibilities to generate useful and rich ethnographic data.
Methodography of data practices in STS's ethnographic collaboration and participant observation