Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Epistemological Ruptures: Flashback on Fieldwork Dilemmas While Doing Research on Friends at Home

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Epistemological Ruptures: Flashback on Fieldwork Dilemmas While Doing Research on Friends at Home

Article excerpt

Introduction

The field of anthropology largely stems from Western thought and tradition that privileges objectivity and binary logic to understand and interpret the Other in foreign contexts. We see examples of this in the early forms of anthropological work that is characterized by the nature of the description given by the social scientist over his or her subjective experience during fieldwork. Yet, even early anthropologist's work, Malinowski's (1967) diary, demonstrates that the ethnographer is not simply a transcriber of life and society, but also a human who has emotions, thoughts, and desires that always already implicates the research and/or the process of data collection. As such, this dynamic between fieldwork and the researcher is conceptualized as the silent space or a gap because of how "texts confined discussion of the personal and the emotional to particular aspects of the research process, rather than establishing them as pervasive to the whole enterprise" (Coffey, 1999, p. 3). This then explains why early anthropologists, who lost their supplies or encountered problems with natives who did not desire to meet with them, documented these issues as ones that impeded fieldwork, not part of the fieldwork in-and-of it-self. Nonetheless, fieldwork is personal, emotional, and identity work (Coffey, 1999). After all, ethnographers are human, too, and their fieldwork is not removed from the internal and external challenges one encounters along the way.

While personal thoughts and the tale of dynamics with participants that make up the internal and external challenges are not usually available unless they are documented as part of the research process while in the field, Malinowski's wife published his diary because she felt there is something to be said about understanding the "inner personality, and his way of living and thinking during the period of his most important work in the field" (Malinowski, 1967, p. ix). As such, the purpose and the role of the social scientist within modern social anthropology morphed and the notion of reflective anthropology became popular. While this is not to be understood as a separate branch, Messerschmidt (1981) maintained that this new direction "mark[ed] an end to the era of colonial anthropology and the beginning of a new maturity of purpose" (p. 197). Thus, Rosaldo (1989) conceptualized this as a crisis in ethnographic writing that manifested from an ongoing interdisciplinary program that has been transforming social thought since the 1960s.

In 2010, I conducted a dissertation research study, a qualitative bricolage (Kincheloe, 2001) that borrowed ethnographic techniques. Upon my completion, committee members suggested I include an epilogue to account for internal and external dilemmas I experienced during fieldwork when working with a friend who was the sole participant of the study. Yet, after reading the text years after I wrote it, I concluded that I barley articulated what really happened when I researched the practice of one teacher who was also my friend. Perhaps I could not capture the continuum of challenges because I originally understood the task of documenting them as an afterthought. Or, maybe I was afraid of saying something my friend would not like. By reflecting back on the past during the time I spent in the field conducting research for my dissertation, I provided myself the opportunity to articulate what really happened between the participant and me. In doing so, I better understood the epistemological rupture(s) I experienced along the way that continue to inform the work I do as a professor in a school principal preparation program.

In this article, I argue that while doing fieldwork at home and/or with people who are familiar can yield new knowledge, researchers using ethnographic techniques ought to first assume the role of apprentice and enact vulnerability before they can represent findings that represent what really happened. …

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