Community-Based Ethnography: Breaking Traditional Boundaries of Research, Teaching, and Learning

Community-Based Ethnography: Breaking Traditional Boundaries of Research, Teaching, and Learning

Community-Based Ethnography: Breaking Traditional Boundaries of Research, Teaching, and Learning

Community-Based Ethnography: Breaking Traditional Boundaries of Research, Teaching, and Learning

Synopsis

Co-written by a professor and 10 students, this book explores their attempts to come to grips with fundamental issues related to writing narrative accounts purporting to represent aspects of people's lives. The fundamental project, around which their explorations in writing textual accounts turned, derived from the editor's initial ethnographic question: "Tell me about the [previous] class we did together?" This proved to be a particularly rich exercise, bringing into the arena all of the problems related to choice of data, analysis of data, the structure of the account, the stance of the author, tense, and case, the adequacy of the account, and more.

As participants shared versions of their accounts and struggled to analyze the wealth of data they had accumulated in the previous classes -- the products of in-class practice of observation and interview -- they became aware of the ephemeral nature of narrative accounts. Reality, as written in textual form, cannot capture the immense depth, breadth, and complexity of an actual lived experience and can only be an incomplete representation that derives from the interpretive imagination of the author.

The final chapter results from a number of discussions during which each contributing author briefly revisited the text and -- through dialogue with others and/or the editor -- identified the elements that would provide an overall framework that represents "the big message" of the book. In this way, the contributors attempted to provide a conceptual context that would indicate ways in which their private experiences could be seen to be relevant to the broader public arenas in which education and research is engaged. In its entirety, the book presents an interpretive study of teaching and learning. It provides a multi-voiced account that reveals how problematic, turning-point experiences in a university class are perceived, organized, constructed, and given meaning by a group of interacting individuals.

Excerpt

The genesis of this book is in a series of graduate courses I taught at Texas A&M University in 1993-1994. I was in the United States to study the theoretical underpinnings of the qualitative research methods that were an integral part of the community development practices my colleagues and I had formulated at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University in West Australia. the courses I taught in Texas stemmed from my experience in a wide range of Australian organizational and educational contexts and enacted community development as both pedagogical process and research method.

My first course, Community-Based Ethnography, was presented in the spring semester of 1993 to a class of 18 students; it was so well received that I was asked to teach a similar course, Qualitative Research for Educators, in the summer term of that year. Fifteen students, including some who had attended the first course, enrolled for the second. Each course was structured to teach qualitative research methods, contextualized as both community building and action research. the accounts presented by Shelia Baldwin, Lois Christensen, Deana Henry, Kenneth Henry, Terresa Katt, Vicky Newman, Rhonda Petty, and Patsy Tinsley-Batson relate to the first spring semester, class, although Vicky, Kenneth, and Deana also participated in the summer term class along with Mary Frances Agnello and Patricia Nason. Readers may find it fruitful to compare and contrast the various interpretations of these experiences, revealing as they do the ways that the same or similar events can be represented in such different ways.

The process of exploring the academic and practical dimensions of this approach to research was so productive that 12 students from the previous class attended an advanced methods class I offered in the fall semester of 1993. the major purpose of this class was to investigate further the methodological and philosophical issues related to "the writing of text" that had emerged in the previous classes. Most papers produced in that advanced methods class are included in this book. They are the outcome of our attempts to come to grips with fundamental issues about writing narrative accounts purporting to represent aspects of people's lives.

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