Practicing the Four Seasons of Ethnography Methodology While Searching for Identity in Mexico

Article excerpt

Experienced ethnographers express with much heart that "doing" ethnography is as much about learning and experiencing other cultures as it is about your own; it is as much about others as it is about selves (see for example, Ellis, 2007; Gonzalez, 2000; Goodall, 2000). It is about the interconnection between others and selves. I have come to know not only this tenet of ethnography, but also to understand it in an experiential manner. This is the account of an experience that resulted in an understanding of the doing (the methodology) and the being (the ontology) of ethnography. Simply, we become ethnographers by doing ethnography. My purpose in writing this is to mark what might otherwise be unremarkable moments in fieldwork in order to share with emergent ethnographers the smaller, but crucial, ethnographic moments that underlie a larger ethnographic text. In this sense, it is a "confessional tale," an explicit attempt to "demystify fieldwork or participant-observation by showing how the technique is practiced in the field" (Van Maanen, 1988, p. 73). I frame this narrative as I experienced it, in Gonzalez's (2000) Four Seasons of Ethnography. I intend to evoke the experience of the Four Seasons of Ethnography by exposing my own struggles and success with the methodology. At the forefront of this narrative are the daily methodological and ontological complexities of conducting fieldwork. Narrative descriptions of place and identity in Mexico City form the background. Thus, the central focus of this account is on the process and experience of the Four Seasons of Ethnography. More importantly, this text makes transparent a process not generally available to emergent ethnographers about the experience of doing ethnography, and how it can sometimes take five years to find out what the important thing is that you have to say.

The experience began with a guided introduction to Gonzalez's (2000) Four Seasons of Ethnography methodology during a cultural immersion in Mexico City in the summer of 2002. Gonzalez (now de la Garza) facilitated the study; Mexico City guided my experience. The purpose of the cultural immersion was to experience the Four Seasons approach by investigating an aspect of Mexican culture. I chose to focus on the connections between place and identity (see Basso, 1996, for an excellent work on this matter). Through the process of the Four Seasons methodology, I found, however, that as I was focusing intently on Mexican identity, my own identity was focusing intensely on me. That is, despite my attempts to focus solely on the "other," my identity became increasingly salient to me as I progressed through the Four Seasons methodology.

The Four Seasons of Ethnography

Surprisingly, in the decade since its publication, there have been no major ethnographic works reporting on the adoption and significance of the Four Seasons approach. It deserves attention as a rigorous, socially important, and humanly sensitive approach to ethnography. The Four Seasons is an ontologically-based methodology that centers on the awareness of the researcher as human instrument and the natural cycles of knowledge and ethnographic research. This methodology offers an alternative to traditional, linear approaches to ethnography in favor of a more organic process nested in indigenous meanings and natural cycles. Organic, "or natural," as Gonzalez (2003) describes it, means "finding its order from the signs and signals provided in one's environment ... requir[ing] a development of attention to the small details of one's everyday contexts, rather than simply to one's ideas, intentions, or desires" (p. 503). This approach necessitates sensitivity to self and other, but also to the natural process of (re)discovery (Gonzalez, 2000). As such, natural experiences are guides in how the research is done and what it will look like when it is complete (Gonzalez, 1998). The Four Seasons includes all phases from preparing to enter the field (spring), to "experiencing" data (summer), creating meaning (autumn), and finally writing up reports (winter). …