Monday, June 29, 2009

Hammersley's "Ethnography: Problems and Prospects:" Many of the large concerns and questions that have been raised in class about educational ethnography are addressed in this article. Hammersly contrasts the use of ethnography in education with its use in anthropology as a means of questioning the viability of its use in ed. His concerns are:

1) There is always a tension between relaying the first-hand experiences of participant-observation and the need to analyze those experiences.

2) Ed ethnographies are often conducted with much less face time and no long-term immersion in the community being studies. The effect can be decontextualization due to lack of contact time.

3) Less time in the field means fewer opportunities to understand the temporal conditions of an environment.

4) The context for the study is usually smaller which may lead to gaps in understanding.

5) Interviews may not be sufficiently ethnographic in nature due to their artificial construction.

6) The highly political nature of some ed ethno creates a large amount of systemic bias.

That said, there is something (what to name it?) that we get from ed ethno that mitigates these concerns.
Priti Chopra's "Betrayal and Solidarity:" Wow, the binary relationships presented in this essay were like logic-puzzles and could be a bit paralyzing in some situations. For example, to conduct an ethnography in literacy is to reconstruct the ethnographer as literate and the previously viewed as illiterate literate, therefore, reinscribing a power structure. Using the example the study I am proposing as part of this class, the back-to-farm graduates aren't seen within our community as "illiterate" because this group has power and agency in the community. But the reason to conduct this study is that others outside the community may not share my view of the American farmer and my institution, outside of the ag department, has not discussed the needs of these specific students. Yet, as Chopra cautions, I should be careful not to create a new binary of responsibility and blame. How much of the work of ethnography in literacy is about identifying the problem with an implication of blame? We have to be careful to offer the same understanding and careful attention to the institution, people, etc. that may be blamed as a result of an ethnographic study.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Invisible Cultures and Interactional Ethno

Invisible Cultures and Castanheira's Interactional Ethnography:

"It has been suggested that microethnographic work is, in its cutltural and social structuralism, overly deterministic, ignoring the locally negotiated historical situatedness of the phenomena it documents" (Invisible Cultures xv).

I thought this criticism of microethnography was interesting because in writing my literature review, I came across the same criticism of a framework that I am thinking of using for my study. This is a fair and necessary charge--a checks and balances for structuralist theoriests, perhaps--but it isn't a particularly powerful one. The structural theory gives a way of interpreting or understanding what we see. (In the assessment article I read last night, Kane refers to this as an important first step in testing theory that teachers use consistently in the classroom.) Sometimes theories of processes and patterns give us the language to discuss what we see in an equally meaningful manner, and it can by highly useful in locating parts of the data that are "different" than what has traditionally been seen before.

Castanheira, et al make this point nicely in their essay ("Interactional Ethno") on page 361: "This approach provided a theoretically driven way of allowing us to bracket our own cultural expectations." They mention later in the paragraph that using a structuralist approach held them "accountable" to their goal of focusing on the relationships important to Aaron's school success.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Finale of WwW

Given the article we read for yesterday and the two epilogues in our edition of the book, WwW clearly has a life of its own due to such a large readership. This has probably been a blessing and a curse to Heath as a researcher. What an interesting thing to constantly be expected to publicly reflect on a work that you wrote so long ago.

On Learners as Ethnographers: "We do that everyday, and so do our students" (339).

This quote captures 0ne of the major themes of the book. That some teachers' methods of instruction are stripped of context, and therefore, don't make use of the students' already developed keen sense of their environments and the language used in them. One concern often expressed by teachers is that they can't know every student as much as they wish they could or they don't have time to use student generated research. But the methods used by some of the teachers in WwW show differently. Using ethnographic methods gives students an academic space to share their lives and what they see, and by making better use of their rhetorical skills, creates a more productive learning environment than other methods that don't respond to the school/home literacy gap. This teaches studenrs how to make use of the gap.

Monday, June 15, 2009

WwW and Chapter endings

Heath has a skill at ending chapters in a very literary manner. I like and dislike the endings--something to keep in mind when ending an ethnographic essay, article or presentation. We all want to end with a punch or strong statement, but does it distort reality a bit? Consider the endings to Chapters 5,6, and 7:

"In short, for Roadville, Trackton's stories would be lies; for Trackton, Roadville's stories would not even count as stories" (189).

"Neither community's ways with the written word prepares it for the school's ways" (235).

"For the children of Trackton and Roadville, however, an for the majority of the millworkers and students in Piedmont schools, the townspeople's ways are far from natural and they seem strange indeed" (262). ***Lends an eerie feeling to the photos that follow.

Do these statements define the entire proceeding chapter? They may cross over the line of creative license for me--not sure.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First Reaction to Ways with Words

I started reading Ways with Words last night. It is fascinating both in content and on the meta-reading level of understanding how the text may be a model to draw on in my own ethnographic studies. So, while Heath is describing Dee and the other residents of Roadville, I am trying to absorb who Dee and the other residents are while also thinking about the thoroughness of her descriptions, the types of scenes and objects she describes as well as Heath invisibility in the introductory chapters. I hope we can take some time in class to talk about why this work is so important and the impact it has had on literacy scholarship.

(Short post--just wanted to jot down my initial thoughts before they escaped me.)

On Writing Field Notes

Does anyone else have the very romantic image from movies of researchers sitting in their tents (or huts) late at night and typing up field notes? The light is dim; there is mosquito netting around the bed; and the ethnographer is wearing all khaki.

Wolfinger's article on fieldnotes was very helpful, though I don't think it said anything really surprising. It was helpful because it provided practical advise about how to "see" the event in writing. The salient and comprehensive approaches would both be useful depending on the context. I am wondering if you'd want to begin with a more comprehensive approach, assuming you're new to the environment, and then use the salient approach more later. I am uncertain which approach, probably salient, would correlate best with the Heath/Street suggestion to keep a dialogic notebook in the field. Salient would offer the most opportunity for reflection in the notebook.

Here are a few phrases and ideas from the text that I want to remember:

'many levels of textualization set off by experience' (Van Maanen on 86)

'A single minute would be more than enough time to produce material to fill pages if I simply gave that minute the opportunity to impress itself upon me' (a student ethnographer on 86)

'Concentrate on the first and last remarks in each conversation' (Bogdan and Taylor on 91)