Reflecting about ethnography

During these weeks, I have spent time exploring the ethnographic methodology and the Social Network Analysis (SNA) more thoroughly. I think both methodologies have important characteristics for the study of my research topic, which is the management of social movements in cybernetic social networks, in particular, the #YoSoy132 movement and the networks of solidarity that derived from it.

This type of topics is usually approached from the SNA, however, despite allowing valuable access to information, there are other issues that are left aside and that ethnography allows to identify. Taking into account that according to Giddens (1994), ethnography is the direct study of a group of individuals during a certain period of time, through participant observation or interviews to know their social behavior, ethnography will allow us to have answer to the following questions:

  1. How is this solidarity group structured?
  2. What kind of relationships and values predominate in the conformation of collective identity?
  3. What kind of meanings are produced and reproduced in cyber social networks?

Now, I think that the ethnographic approach can be characterized as an own knowledge of interpretative sociology in which social reality is analyzed as a construct of the agents that are related and that produce and reproduce meanings. Ethnography allow us identify the interpretations that intercede in cognitive processes and in actions (Schütz, 1993).

Due to this characterization, ethnography doesn’t allow us to make generalizations, so I think the framing and complementation with quantitative approaches allow us to strengthen data collection. Ethnography seeks that the researcher achieve a description of the meaning and cognitive processes of the social actors in their daily lives. For this description to be more accurate it is necessary to commit and be sufficiently involved to be able to have understanding of the worldview of the group analyzed.

Ethnography involves some practical issues, such as encountering very tight communities or groups. In this case, this turns out to be a challenge for the researcher, since he or she must work on empathy and rapport in order to obtain information. Another issue that has been discussed in the course is the evolution of the “field” of study. For example, the use of social networks, which involves aspects of classic ethnography but also involves important changes that must be taken into account. Also, there are ethical issues such as the consent and anonymity of the informant.

Ayala Fader is an anthropologist at the New York University and recently, he wrote an article that studies the way ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders in New York face what they call a “crisis of faith” and what they perceive as new challenges for orthodoxy, such as the Internet.

Fader points out that the data he used to wrote this article comes from fieldwork from 2013 to 2016 with double lifers, including ethnographic interviews with rabbits and also participant observation at the anual religious therapists’ convention and four anti-Internet rallies. The autor concludes that ultra-Orthodox Jews resolve these challenges through the change of the semiotic ideology, modifying the discursive interiority, building the idea of strong faith as protection against evil and contamination, dominant in actuality. This opens the historical and ethnographic debate by pointing out the link between interiority and the political, public and material issues.

On the other hand, I consulted an article about the transformation of social norms on gender and sexuality in Puerto Rico men. This was interesting, since it is approached from the social psychology and in contrast to the studies of sociology, based on the description and understanding of the group, its main objective is the intervention and modification of ideas and customs.

This article was written by a group of researchers from the Institute of Psychological Research of the University of Puerto Rico. Their methodology consisted of several stages. The first consisted of the visit of 37 bars of the community and the performance of non-participant observation, making detail descriptions of the places, environment and the social dynamics carried out. Of those 37 bars, 4 were chosen as intervention scenarios. In these 4 scenarios, participant observation was carried out to identify the key informants to achieve the research objective.

In a third stage, the opinion leaders of these scenarios were identified and invited to participate in the project, promoting equitable relationships between couples for the prevention of HIV.

Both articles applied ethnography but in a different way. However, the importance of commitment as a researcher can be identified, as well as the importance of this methodology for social research.

References:

Fader, A. (2017, ). Ultra-Orthodox Jewish interiority, the Internet, and the crisis of faith. HAU: Journal of  Ethnographic Theory. 7 (1): 185-206.

Giddens, A. (1994). The consequences of modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Schütz, A. (1993). La construcción del mundo social. Introducción a la sociología comprensiva. BarcelonaPaidós.

Torres, Blanca Ortiz-, Ortiz, Rafael J. Rivera-, & Mendoza, Sigrid. (2013). Etnografía acelerada para transformar normas sociales sobre género y sexualidad en hombres puertorriqueños heterosexuales. Revista Puertorriqueña de Psicología, 24, 01-19. Recuperado el 31 de octubre de 2017, de http://pepsic.bvsalud.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1946-20262013000100006&lng=pt&tlng=es.

 

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2 comentarios en “Reflecting about ethnography”

  1. Hello Paul, interesting blog post, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    ‘I think both methodologies have important characteristics for the study of my research topic, which is the management of social movements in cybernetic social networks, in particular, the #YoSoy132 movement and the networks of solidarity that derived from it.’

    You might already be familiar with digital ethnography, however if not you might find it could offer some interesting ways of using ethnography to investigate cybernetic social networks. I wonder whether there are things you might learn from the observation of online communities that might not emerge from more conventional participant observation and conversation?

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