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 Reflexivity in Ethnography (Informal)

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RLCouturier
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PostSubject: Reflexivity in Ethnography (Informal)   Tue May 08, 2012 9:33 pm

To what extent should reflexivity be a part of modern ethnography? When and in what manners?

  • What might be said about reflexivity on the part of the ethnographer versus reflexivity on the part of the subject or a reader interacting with ethnographic material via a digital medium?
  • Why, do you think, are so many social scientists so strongly opposed to the inclusion of self-examination and reflection within their works?

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PostSubject: Re: Reflexivity in Ethnography (Informal)   Wed May 09, 2012 5:47 pm

RLCouturier wrote:
To what extent should reflexivity be a part of modern ethnography? When and in what manners?

As a biochemist, reflexivity has no real place in my research. To be unbiased a biologist/chemist one has to try and remove any personal reflection or reflexivity in one's work. Research and studies, according to the Scientific Method, must be made reproducible by any other scientist regardless of their social background. This is done in the hopes that untainted facts about a certain subject may come to light.

Anthropology, while still a science, is a science of people--and people are notorious for change. Things only get more complicated when you narrow down your researches to Ethnography. Gender, race, nationality and habitat can all have an impression on a culture. It colors everything from social norms to linguistic patterning. And, no matter how hard one might try to use the Scientific Method when it comes to something as malleable, changing and alive as culture, one will seldom have clear-cut numerical analysis (as is seen in chemistry or physics). Also, there is the very real and unavoidable problem of observations being flavored by the observer.

Since one cannot possibly avoid imposing some social bias on their observations, it is imperative that one practice reflexivity when it comes to ethnographic analysis. It allows the reader of the research to know where one is coming from. It helps other researchers in becoming, almost paradoxically, more analytical.

In the end, it is only until one acknowledges and expresses their own background and culture, that one can attempt to uncover the inevitable veil it throws over one's research. Furthermore, one has to express or preface what one's own background in order to allow successive researchers to hypothesize as to how it may have colored one's analysis. In short: in order to better create an unbiased cultural analysis, the researcher must open his or herself open to community scrutiny.




RLCouturier wrote:


  • What might be said about reflexivity on the part of the ethnographer versus reflexivity on the part of the subject or a reader interacting with ethnographic material via a digital medium?

As I mentioned above, reflexivity helps to create unbiased opinion by opening up one's own background for scrutiny. Therefore, it is important that all parties involved in ethnographic research open themselves up for analysis. It is the responsibility of the ethnographer to warn any subsequent researchers of their possible (unintentional) cultural biases just as much as it is the responsibility of the reader or subject to properly express themselves and their own background. Theoretically, when all of these opinions and viewpoints come together we, as scientists, can create a more focused and consistent analysis.

Since digital mediums have a higher rate of alteration (both consensual and no) it is especially important to keep in mind that some researchers and ethnographers that came before you may forget to express their own background in a subjective manner.


RLCouturier wrote:

  • Why, do you think, are so many social scientists so strongly opposed to the inclusion of self-examination and reflection within their works?



  • Personally, coming from a biochemistry background, I have had it repeatedly nailed into my head that I should try to keep my own personal bias, opinions and self-examination out of my work at all costs. The idea of reflexivity initially made me cringe. However, my opinion has changed since--unlike chemistry or biological functions--cultures are more apt to change, and personal bias will always color one's opinions. This is even apparent if one is doing an analysis of one's own culture, despite whatever precautions one takes to disassociate with one's own research. The only way around this, as mentioned above, is to acknowledge and express one's on background as clearly and consistently as possible.

    Although I am rather new to anthropological research, I imagine that anthropologists with a background in archaeology or some other 'hard science' background, might find it as difficult as I had to put reflexivity into practice: especially since those particular branches try to vigorously beat such leanings out of you.


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