O body swayed to music
O brightening glance
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
—W. B. Yeats, Among School Children. 1928, p. 215.
This excerpt, aptly quoted by Bloome, Carter, Christian, Otto, and Shuart-Faris from Yeats' own attempts as a school inspector in Ireland to understand classroom discourse, provides the leitmotif of this challenging and important book. In the context where it is cited, the authors use it to argue that “people are situated, they act in terms of the situation in which they find themselves whilst simultaneously creating that situation. ” More broadly, it signals what they mean by a microethnographic perspective and what they hope to accomplish by applying it to classroom events and practices. They are critical of approaches that start from too far “outside” of classroom “events”: Rather, they want, to “hover low” over the immediate data, as Geertz would have it. As observers, researchers, and participants in such events we cannot just bring with us some prior definition—such as what constitutes a “dance”—before we actually see the people “dancing. ” The book is full of accounts of the dance of the classroom—teachers speaking and gesturing, students responding, students talking irrespective of the teacher, texts weaving through the talk, researchers commenting—how can we know the dance from these dancers?
The authors build upward and outward from the participants and the events in which they participate. They argue that we can only claim a “warrant” to draw larger inferences when research is “grounded in the setting itself. ” But this does not mean that they are focussed only on the “micro. ”