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Ethnography: more than the written field note

Barley, Ruth and Russell, Lisa (2016) Ethnography: more than the written field note. In: The Oxford Ethnography and Education Conference Plenary Session, 19-21st September 2016, Oxford. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Purpose;
Distinct from other qualitative approaches due to its unique focus, process and output
(Wolcott 1999) ethnography is one of the most amenable research methodologies and research products within educational research; it is also one of the most contested. There are continual debates about how educational ethnographies should be conducted and presented (Walford, 2008). Recent deliberations encourage the use of visual research methods, participatory techniques and creative means of gathering data. This paper argues that while the importance of the traditional written field note remains as a means of gathering, interpreting and presenting ethnographic data, other methodologies and products offer exciting additions to the absolute need to ‘hang around’ and ‘spend time’ in the field to inductively explore the everyday life of participants in one or more spheres. The depth and insight that observational data can make to an ethnographic study is difficult to gain via other research methods (Seymour-Smith 1986). However, ethnography’s multi-method approach to research means that while observation is a useful tool that always feature in the
ethnography’s armoury, it is only one of the many tools that an ethnographer has at their
disposal. Visual, and participatory, methods are increasingly becoming a prevalent feature of
ethnography, especially when researching with young people and children and is thought to be a useful tool, when reflexively implemented, to unearth children’s ‘voice’ (Clark and Moss 2001; Coates 2004).
Design/methodology/approach
Data is drawn from two ethnographies conducted by the authors. The first draws on two stages of a longitudinal ethnography with a multi-ethnic school in the North of England and incorporates two periods of fieldwork with the same group of children when they were in their Reception year (Barley, 2014) and then again in Year 4. Based on the pedagogical principles of ‘sustained shared thinking’ (Siraj-Blatchford and Sylva 2004:6) children collaboratively designed research activities which were used to initiate research conversations. These data were then collaboratively analysed alongside more traditional hand-written fieldnotes.
The second draws on a Leverhulme Trust Funded 3 year ethnography that explored the experiences of NEET young people in Northern England (Simmons, Thompson and Russell 2014). Whilst the main corpus of data included participant observation hand-written field notes in the traditional sense, life cycle maps and photographs also were utilised as a way of
engaging these ‘hard-to-reach’ youth and presenting their voice.
Findings;
This paper argues that when ethnographers open their minds to the plethora of research
methodologies available to them in their tool kit, rich and valid data ensues in the most
unexpected and delightful ways.This paper highlights that using visual and participatory
methods as a way of eliciting data can when analysed alongside ethnographic observations
produce rich and nuanced data that allows ethnographers to access young people and children's voices. By creating visual participatory data, in this way, participants are able to influence the course of a study as their position within the research project shifts reducing power differentials between the ethnographer and participants.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
Schools: School of Education and Professional Development
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Sharon Beastall
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2017 09:12
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2017 09:12
URI: http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/31012

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