Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Un-Naming Collaboration: An Unexpected Catalyst for Understanding Participation in Critical Ethnography

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Un-Naming Collaboration: An Unexpected Catalyst for Understanding Participation in Critical Ethnography

Article excerpt

Introduction

In this article, we trace interactions with participants in two different research projects and examine ways our respective journeys into research unfolded when we abandoned claims of collaboration in our work and asked why participants still engaged in its absence. "The student that is the ethnographer must be forever willing to learn, must expect to learn, and must expect, therefore, to be forever ignorant. Ethnographic learning is at best conditional" (Noblit, 1999, p. 8). Our purpose is to highlight salient moments in the process of research and to represent what participants shared with us when we asked them why they participated in our research projects. Rather than focus on the findings of our respective projects, we represent this tale of disappointment (Stacey, 1988), discovery, and salvage (Behar, 1991) from our respective first forays into qualitative research. Although the research settings were different, correctional facilities and a transitional housing program, we focus on what our projects had in common: a commitment to collaboration, methodological training from the same faculty, who underscored the importance of collaboration, and our respective decisions to turn away from labeling our work collaborative deep into each project's development. We shared, too, a critical orientation to research (Villenas, 1996). While each of us found that we had engaged in ethnographic work that fell short of the collaboration with participants for which we had hoped, the absence of collaboration in our work produced new questions for us, and in turn, produced new and unexpected understandings. We represent our pursuit of collaboration and what happened when we un-named collaboration.

In the sections below, we detail the similarities in our learning, stumblings, and reorientations that took place in each of our respective research projects. As a member of an evaluation team tasked with assessing an educational program in correctional facilities across North Carolina, I (Allison) became interested in the educational narratives of students who were incarcerated. I completed a series of in-depth interviews with 11 students who were taking college courses in prison. I asked questions about experiences with education and school growing up and represented their educational narratives and how they made meaning of their experiences. In my (Josh's) study, I represented the lives of two homeless mothers living in a transitional housing program. I focused on the role that education and schooling played in their daily lives, and how my relationship with each woman served as a catalyst for new understandings about education. My data collection methods included observations and formal and informal interviews. Both research projects received approval from the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects at the university we attended during the completion of our research. Below, we have used pseudonyms for all participants and for the transitional housing program.

As current faculty members who teach qualitative research methodologies, we offer our experiences to students and teachers of qualitative research as a way to layer our understandings about when and what ethnographers name collaborative work and the conditions under which ethnographers might make such a decision. Notably, we share the critical commitments we staked early in our research project designs, describe our projects and the communication with participants that taught us to un-name what had been a priori hopes for collaboration. We examine the effects that un-naming collaboration generated and new understandings about why participants shared their lives and vulnerabilities with us. Using in vivo coding (Saldana, 2013) we searched for explanations of participation and found that participants wanted to "help" us for a few reasons. Three sub-themes formed the theme "Sharing to Help." Participants helped, because (1) a "story told" might "benefit" someone else; (2) participants wanted to challenge stereotypes about people of Color, people in prison, and people in transitional housing; and (3) participants believed in our "concern" and "care" about what it was we were trying to understand. …

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