The Lost Ethnographies: Methodological Insights from Projects that Never Were: Volume 17
Table of contents(14 chapters)
In this chapter the authors describe an ethnographic project that the authors were never able to undertake. It was concerned with the use of opera (such as those of Mozart) in the construction of cultural heritage in a number of European cities, including Prague and Vienna. The authors would also have undertaken fieldwork to study the local use of music and opera as tourist attractions. The authors would have studied operatic tourism as an example of secular, cultural pilgrimage. It would, therefore, have been a contribution to the sociology of culture, heritage and tourism.
In this chapter the author discusses some insights lost in a lost ethnomethodological study of parkour. The author introduces parkour, before critically engaging with some of the existing theoretical treatments of the practice. The author then considers some of the materials drawn on by those existing studies in reconsidering what is getting done in ‘parkour talk’. In further outlining what was lost, the author considers some of the aspects of the study that would have positioned parkour in terms of its engaging ordinariness. The chapter concludes with a summary of these avenues of inquiry and closes with a plea for the continued recognition of basic social inquiry and ethnography.
The chapter sketches out a putative ethnography of Bigfooting, detailing what we can study from analysing television programmes of the practice, but also what we lose by not being there, by not embedding ourselves in the Bigfooting community, and by not participating in their woodland expeditions.
This book chapter reflectively explores the challenges of studying provocation, satire, bad taste and offence in stand-up comedy. The author’s sociological lens on the topic is situated within the broader field of humour studies, which is a relatively small yet creative and innovative field within the human, cultural and social sciences. This lost ethnographic project contains shelved and dormant interview data with a number of stand-up comedians, including the controversial and emotive late Bernard Manning and an early career Steve Coogan. The project also explores the author’s autoethnographic journey into rant poetry, as both a hobbyist and, on further reflection, a way of keeping the project informally but theoretically alive. The issues of censorship, political correctness and informed consent are key ones in the author’s confessional type analysis. Finally, the value and richness of loss, failure and resilience as marginalised yet significant and unacknowledged learning resources in our academic adventures are frankly discussed. The call here is for more lost ethnographic projects to be recognised and appreciated in academia.
This chapter explores the unknown territory of a lost project: an ethnography of a public swimming pool. The discussion is contextualised within my broader sociological theory of ‘nothing’, as a category of unmarked, negative social phenomena, including no-things, no-bodies, no-wheres, non-events and non-identities. These meaningful symbolic objects are constituted through social interaction, which can take two forms: acts of commission and acts of omission. I tell the story of how this project did not happen, through the things I did not do or that did not materialise, and how I consequently did not become a certain type of researcher. I identify three types of negative phenomena that I did not observe and document – invisible figures, silent voices and empty vessels – and, consequently, the knowledge I did not acquire. However, nothing is also productive, generating new symbolic objects as substitutes, alternatives and replacements: the somethings, somebodies and somewheres that are done or made instead. Thus finally, I reflect on how not doing this project led me to pursue others, cultivating a different research identity that would not otherwise have existed.
This chapter describes the author’s experience with a lost opportunity to learn about and from Hijra communities in India. While the author was forced to leave the field, and ethnography was ‘lost’ before it could truly begin, the author was able to learn from the experience and translate the questions and ideas generated there into a way to frame and energise new work at home in the United States. The chapter begins with a description of the proposed research context and the circumstances that led to the author’s early departure. This is followed by lessons and reflections gleaned from the experience, and recommendations that ethnographers enter and write about the ‘messy’ field and write in ways that welcome serendipity, honour intuition and value their own and others’ humanity.
My ‘lost project’ is captured in a recollection of a senior school ball, my final ethnographic encounter following 15 months of fieldwork in a middle class government high school, from which students barely get a mention in any of the publications stemming out of the overall project. Two questions are pursued in the paper, focused firstly on why students were ignored in the final rendering of my doctoral research and why I continued to continue to research student groups so actively right up to the end point of the project? Attributing this apparently contradictory set of circumstances to an anthropological commitment to holism that eschews the smallness of studies of groups and sites and fail to take account of broader socio-political contexts, the author is content enough in acknowledging that insights reported here would not have emerged without an ongoing commitment to an engaged holism throughout the whole of the project.
This chapter reflects on an undergraduate dissertation study that explored the idea of school choice with parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds who were all connected through their son’s football team. The project became ‘lost’ when the author’s doctoral work took a different direction; however, this loss was not complete as there was an extended physical engagement with the research site, a social tapestry of ongoing connections, and a psychological and intellectual reflexive process that has both influenced and guided the author’s future studies and writing. The original study involved individual interviews with the boys’ parents, discussing the transition from junior school to secondary school. As well as some informal ethnographic observations of the football games and wider community activities. It employed the theory of reasoned action (TRA) and the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) to explore the extent to which parents have a ‘choice’ about their children’s education. The findings of the study supported the premise that there are pervasive forms of classed based inequalities in education and the idea of a ‘fallacy’ of school choice. The theoretical frameworks applied highlighted the ways in which ‘choice’ is constrained in relation to finance, place, class and ideas of belonging and community. The ‘lost’ project would have taken a longitudinal approach to follow the journeys of boys using multimodal forms of ethnography. The chapter argues that even though projects may be lost, they are not forgotten. It details how the author’s ideas for following up the football boys and the findings of the initial study have done, and continue to permeate the author’s thinking, research and understandings of place, class, stigma, constraint and the absence of choice for individuals and communities.
Exorcising an Ethnography in Limbo
The author feels haunted; troubled by the ethnography that the author conducted some years ago of a new partnership group that was attempting to set up a community learning centre. The author is aware that it doesn’t sound like a particularly alarming research topic, and perhaps that is where some of the issues began. The author did not expect an ethnographic haunting to occur. The partnership recruited the author less than a year into the creation of the project and spent two years as a sort of ‘researcher in residence’. The original idea was that the author would observe the initial development of the project and then, when the community learning centre was established, the author would research the centre’s activities and how they were experienced by village residents. However, fairly soon into the project, problematic dynamics developed within the group, leading to irreconcilable conflict between members. The community learning centre was never established and the author was left to piece together an ethnography of a failed partnership. Researching an increasingly dysfunctional partnership was an emotionally exhausting activity, especially when relationships between members became progressively hostile. Managing data collection and analysis at this time was difficult, but the author was shocked that, a number of months (and now years) later, revisiting the data for publication purposes remained uncomfortable. The author managed to produce the PhD thesis on the back of this study, but the author has not felt able to go back to the data, despite there being findings worthy of publication. This ethnography is in a state of limbo and is at risk of becoming lost forever. In this chapter, the author explores the reasons for this and discusses lessons learned for future projects.
In revisiting the very first ethnographic research the author ever completed has ‘unearthed’ a significant project that speaks to policy makers, educators and teachers with a greater impact than it did when written and shelved over a decade ago. This insider’s journey in reclaiming teaching, conducted within a public high school in Australia, captures the author’s experiences of daily events and is intertwined with the narratives of other teachers interviewed. This ethnography occurred during the implementation of a ‘School Development Plan’ that was sweeping swiftly though the institution. The execution of this plan was unreservedly implemented with little, if any, consultation, explanation or collaboration with the teachers on site. Even though it had been anticipated, and indeed encouraged to publish from this nascent thesis, it did not happen. In reaching for it once again off the shelf, dusty and neglected, was the discovery of a ‘lost thing’. This was a recommendation ‘found’ on the final pages of the thesis; that if one should choose to partake in a similar journey in reclaiming teaching, then they would be wise to garner the support of significant ‘others’. Throughout this chapter, the author finds her own silenced voice (no longer a nom de plume) and the voices of her neglected colleagues to ‘speak back’ to neoliberal policy practice with renewed confidence and clarity. It is the teachers’ voices within their collective ‘present’ that this ethnography unifies and provides transforming nexus points and dialogic spaces to discover, and also maintain hope, possibility, trust, respect and relationships in teaching.
At the end of a project (if we know it is the end or if we are forced to end it), the ethnographer is faced with the choice to leave (or leave off researching) – a decision that may entail grief and relief – or to continue. In this chapter, the author argues that all ethnographies are lost ethnographies because there are inevitably missed moments, things we turn away from and endings of various kinds. The author suggests that ‘getting lost’ (Lather) and being lost (and at a loss) may be a necessity of ethnographic fieldwork. Drawing examples from the author’s own and others’ work, the author reflects on the edges and the end of ethnographic projects and considers what it might mean to let go, to end research projects, as well as what might be possible by returning.
- Publication date
- Book series
- Studies in Qualitative Methodology
- Series copyright holder
- Emerald Publishing Limited
- Book series ISSN