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The Ethnographic Process

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Before we actually get down to doing ethnography, we need to understand the process and its underlying principles so that we can do justice to our research(Refer Slide Time: 0:16)
Let's start with the process. There are four parts to it. Engaging with our participants, recordingand documenting our observations, understanding, and analysing what we have learned, and Representing the knowledge we have derived. While these may appear to be mutuallyexclusive 'steps' of the process, this is not the case. Ethnographic research is not a linearprocess constituted of steps and procedures.(Refer Slide Time: 0:46)
Which is why we would like to refer to these as the elements that form ethnographic practice.This will become clearer as we look at each of these elements in more detail. Let us beginwith discussing the first element, the process of engaging with our participants. Inethnography, we learn from our participants by engaging with them, in their context, bywhich I mean their surroundings, their familiar places.(Refer Slide Time: 1:16)
Can you think & write down what are the possible ways by which we may engage and learnfrom our participants? Many of you may have guessed that observing and interviewing areways of engaging in ethnographic research. Some of you may have mentioned archiveddocuments and records as sources from which ethnographers may learn. These answers arecorrect and relevant.But besides these, there are several other ways: like making interactive games, collaboratingon projects, and so on. But for now, we will focus on the most primary one, which is,observation. Observation is not as simple as it may seem. Because observation is not thesame as casual 'seeing'.(Refer Slide Time: 2:09)
To observe means to look at the world around us very carefully and to be alert at everymoment. It is an active way of learning and understanding. To observe is to look carefully,with attention, and to apply thought, meaning and empathy.
(Refer Slide Time: 2:27)
We observe people and their activities, everyday rituals,
(Refer Slide Time: 2:33)
Special occasions.
(Refer Slide Time: 2:35)
Interactions between people.(Refer Slide Time: 2:39)
We also look at objects and physical environments that form the context.
(Refer Slide Time: 2:43)
Architecture, landscape, objects of everyday use, documents such as diaries, photograph orpapers. There are participants may have all of these towards understanding of their lives.(Refer Slide Time: 2:57)
And we do not always limit our observations to watching from a distance.(Refer Slide Time: 3:02)
.Often we join in and participate in the daily lives and activities of participants. This form ofengagement is called participant observation.(Refer Slide Time: 3:16)
In addition to observing and participating, we also have conversations with participants andeven interview them. Through these conversations, we try to understand the phenomenonfrom their perspectives. Be it observing, participating, or interviewing, the setting of ourengagements is always the context of the participant. It could be their home or workplace orany other place that is familiar to them.
(Refer Slide Time: 3:45)
Let us pause the video here and consider a research scenario. Researchers want to study aschool, to understand how teachers, students and other stakeholders of the institution feelabout it. Towards this, they consider three different ways of engaging. Can you identify theforms of engagement in each of these options?(Refer Slide Time: 4:24)
Many of you may have identified the 3rd option as interviewing. You are correct. Is any ofthese options participant observation? Recall that in participant observation, a researcherparticipates in the activities that form the life and context of the 'other'. This is what theresearchers are doing in option 2. They participate in the everyday activities of the classroom.So option 2 may be considered as participant observation. And option 1 is observation.
Here, the researchers are not participating in the class activities, but are observing from themthe outside.
(Refer Slide Time: 5:14)
Primary research is where we engage directly with participants in their familiar environment.So fieldwork of almost any kind is primary research. As we mentioned earlier, we may alsoengage with records created by our participants. This too is a form of doing primary research.(Refer Slide Time: 05:43)
Besides this, we learn from existing sources of knowledge, which we have referred to assecondary research. Secondary research could include previous studies that have dealt withsimilar subjects. All of these contribute to our exploration of the subject and form the rawmaterial of our research.(Refer Slide Time: 06:06)
We will discuss each of these forms and approaches to research in much greater detail as we
journey along. For now, we move ahead to the next element of the ethnographic process-which is recording.
How do we make our observations concrete and make them available to us for laterreflection? That is where recording comes in. We record our observations by taking notes,recording audio, or by making sketches, photographs, or videos of all that we are observingor being told about.Our records are documents of our observations. They are also notes of our experiences,
perceptions and thoughts from fieldwork. For us, recording is not simply an act of note-taking; it is also a way to interpret or think through our learnings.
(Refer Slide Time: 6:53)
Take, for example, these notes I had made during my fieldwork with the Kaavad storytellers.I have made detailed notes of the events that were taking place, even the most minute ones.But I have also made notes of what I was thinking as I was observing these events. So, as Iwas observing, I was interpreting my observations. This act of interpreting is the next elementof our ethnographic process.Take, for example, these notes I had made during my fieldwork with the Kaavad storytellers.I have made detailed notes of the events that were taking place, even the most minute ones.But I have also made notes of what I was thinking as I was observing these events. So, as Iwas observing, I was interpreting my observations. This act of interpreting is the next element
of our ethnographic process. To derive meaning from an observation, we often look at it fromdifferent points of view
(Refer Slide Time: 7:33)
We take into account the perspectives of different participants and their positions in thecontext. This is called an emic perspective.(Refer Slide Time: 7:43)
And we include in it our own perspective, and our position with respect to our participants.This is referred to as the etic perspective. In interpreting our learnings and observations, webring together both. And we try to ensure that we do not place our perspective before that ofour participants.For those of you who are interested in learning more about the etic and emic perspectives inethnographic research, we have some material for you. And there's a quiz that you can take torevise and test your knowledge on the subject. As we interpret and analyse our engagements,
we may also turn to other studies, or research done in the past, to provide frameworks thatmay inform our ways of seeing.(Refer Slide Time: 8:33)
It is important to remember, though, that observing, recording, and understanding theobservations are not really considered separate from one another. They are not step 1, 2, 3.Instead, they are parts of a single iterative process, going back and forth or around each other.It is important to remember though that observing, recording understanding the observationsare not really considered separate from one another they are not step 1, 2, 3. Instead they areparts of a single iterative process.Finally, we attempt to put together the seemingly scattered pieces of observations we havemade and the connections we have drawn into a cohesive whole. This collation is essentialfor understanding the phenomenon we are studying and the social and cultural structureswithin which it is located. And in doing this, we work towards presenting the outcome of ourethnographic research, that is, the ethnographic knowledge we have constructed.(Refer Slide Time: 09:25)
And therefore, representing our research is also a way of analysing it.
(Refer Slide Time: 09:38)
To illustrate what I mean, I would like to introduce to you one of my works: the animatedfilm, The Stitches Speak. The film is an ethnographic representation, depicting my researchwith the embroidery artists of Kutch. These women embroidered elaborate tapestriesdepicting their journeys of migration and the earthquake. Some of these migrations occurredacross the border from Pakistan into India.(Refer Slide Time: 12:03)
In this clip, we heard the voice of my participant Raniben, describing the long journey ofmigration that she and her community made across the border from Pakistan into India. Theclip is composed of her spoken narrative, the embroidered images that she created depictingthis migration, and also based on my understanding of the subject gathered from multipleparticipants and sources. The making of the film was an attempt at representing these piecesof knowledge, and it was in putting them all together, that I started to see the themes thatemerged from my engagement with Raniben and her fellow artists.The ideas of home, loss of home, migration, and memories that defined the lives of myparticipants became tangible in the representation that I constructed. And so the film is bothrepresentation and analysis of my engagements with the artists.I am sure you are still wondering how is ethnography both a process and an outcome? Orwhat makes a work ethnographic in nature? Why don't you reflect on this for a bit and wewill come back to you soon.
Let us return to our question of whether ethnography is a process or a product.(Refer Slide Time: 0:12)
If you consider these elements you may notice that each is both a process and the outcome ofthat process.(Refer Slide Time: 0:20)
Ethnography is a process. In ethnographic practice, we draw on various methods of research,such as interviews and observations. We are in direct contact with our participants in thecontext of their daily, social and cultural lives. We observe various phenomena andinteractions and ask questions about what we observe(Refer Slide Time: 0:44)
And it is also a product. As a product or an outcome of a process, ethnography is a rich,descriptive account of human experience. It respects the particularity of that experience anddoes not generalise it. It acknowledges the role of theory in shaping our understanding ofhuman experience. And recognises that the representation we create is filtered through theethnographer's subjectivity.It presents the research participants as part object and part subject. This means that we learnabout our participants and we learn from them. It acknowledges their agency in shaping theircontext and our research. Let us try and grasp this idea by referring to an earlier example.
We return to the study of the students and teachers in a school, to explore their relationship
with their institute.(Refer Slide Time: 1:46)
If you were designing this study, what are the different ways that you would use to engagewith the participants?What activities, contexts, interactions will you include in your fieldwork?Pause the video and list down all the ways you can think of. Now let us see if some of yourresponses match with ours.(Refer Slide Time: 2:11)
We could use multiple methods of engagement to learn about our participants. We couldobserve the formal and informal interactions between teachers and students in the classroomand outside of it. We could spend time with students and the teachers in spaces such as thestaff room, the library, the canteen so on. We could also accompany some of them to theirhomes(Refer Slide Time: 2:38)
We could map a day in the life of the classroom by asking our participants to plot their dailyactivities across the timeline of a day. In this mapping, we could learn about the activities,artefacts, and relationships that make up the classroom.(Refer Slide Time: 2:57)
We could interview students, teachers, administrative staff and others. We could also
participate with some of them in their daily activities like learning or teaching. (Refer SlideTime: 3:12)
By using these methods, and maybe some others too, we would engage with our participantsin a direct and sustained manner. We would learn about them and their context throughdifferent kinds of observations and interactions. And we would ask them and ourselvesquestions regarding our observations.(Refer Slide Time: 3:32)
In this manner, we would be conducting a research that is ethnographic in its process. Forour study to be considered ethnographic in its outcome, it would have to reflect a certain kindof understanding and knowledge.
(Refer Slide Time: 3:48)
This would include an understanding of the relationships that the participants have with eachother. The study would represent the perceptions of various participants about theirclassroom.(Refer Slide Time: 4:01)
So, the study would present what the classroom means to different participants. For instance,the classroom could be seen as a space for learning. Or as a space for meeting friends andmentors. For some, it could be, an escape from home. For others, it could be a restrictive,dull space.
(Refer Slide Time: 4:23)
The study would include an understanding of the particular contexts, experiences and ideas ofindividual participants, such as the participant's understanding of themselves, their home, andtheir relationships.(Refer Slide Time: 4:30)
These individual perceptions would help us understand the specifics that form the sharedexperiences and ideas in a classroom.(Refer Slide Time: 4:45)
The study would draw connections between the contexts of individuals and that of the school.So, the study may look at: the physical location of the school, its fee structure, the academicperformances of its students, and so on. These various insights would find support inexisting theories of learning and teaching. And maybe theories of community bonding, and ofrelationships between people and spaces.
(Refer Slide Time: 5:23)
In representing all of these observations and analyses, the research would present the agencyand knowledge of individual participants. Their reasoning, their perceptions and theiropinions would also be presented in the outcome. At the same time, the study would describethe circumstances and events acting upon the participants.(Refer Slide Time: 5:42)
It would acknowledge the subjectivity of the researcher, their ways of seeing and theirassumptions.
(Refer Slide Time: 5:48)
In fulfilling all these criteria, our study would be ethnographic in its outcome. You may note,that in the listing of these attributes, it is hard to distinguish which attributes refer to theprocess, and which refer to the product. This is an inherent quality of ethnographic research.(Refer Slide Time: 6:09)
It is through following an ethnographic process that we may create an ethnographic product.For instance, we need to observe and engage with the home-contexts of individualparticipants. This is a process related attribute.But it is this process that enables us to present particular experiences of individualparticipants. And this, as you can see, is a product-related attribute.
(Refer Slide Time: 6:39)
So, it is the very attributes that make ethnography a process, that also make it a product. Letus take a break now. We will return to unpack some fundamental concepts that inform theprocesses in our next section.