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Best Practice in Ethnographic Research

19 Apr

Bose offers a description of best practice in ethnographic research that rests upon skepticism toward data, building trust with one’s research subjects, and having flexibility in the research process – “including adjusting research strategies in order to refine both research questions and the appropriate methods of investigation, reporting back to communities, and making publicly available research findings” (288). This approach is itself based upon Reason‘s concept of “participative inquiry” (1998). The basis of this approach is that the principal investigator(s), while maintaining responsibility for creating an outline of the research issue and key questions, “must be open to having his or her views and designs challenged, complicated, and even modified by the participants in the project. The goal is to leave the research itself as an emergent process, where issues become crystallized not as a top-down directive from the researcher, but as a dialogue and debate between discussants” (289). This understanding itself shares some correlation with that of Kipnis‘s concept of “good-faith communicative reason”, which presupposes that politics in scholarship should not become reductive to the point where scholarship simply becomes politics: “In contrast to the forms of identification that facilitate scholarly relational objectivity, politicized identities are marked by a lack of specificity….One reason for these contradictions is that political identities exist, not for intellectual precision, but to create large constituencies. Their very purpose is to gloss over significant difference” (2008, p. 133). It is worth pointing out that Kipnis’s “good faith” is not a question of politicisation versus depoliticisation; as Kipnis points out, “[t]he production and reception of a good-faith work of scholarship can have politicizing effects. It can challenge the powers-that-be views and question prevailing assumptions. The challenging and questioning, however, does not take place in the spirit of reinforcing a permanent state of politicization and enmity, but in seeking a reply that might move the entire dialogue in an unexpected direction (ibid., 138).

Bose, P.S. (2012), “Mapping movements: interdisciplinary approaches to migration research”, in C. Vargos-Silva (ed), Handbook of Research Methods in Migration, Cheltenham, UK & Massachusetts, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 273-294.

Kipnis, A. (2008), China and Postsocialist Anthropology: Theorizing Power and Society after Communism. Norwalk, CT: EastBridge.

Reason, P. (1998), “Three approaches to participative inquiry’, in N.K. Denzin and Y.S. Lincoln (eds), Strategies of Qualitative Inquiry, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 261-91.




Refuge and the Meaning of Migration

19 Apr

The term diaspora may be understood both as a term for migration as well as a methodological framework. For a theorist like Gilroy (2000, p. 123), the terms serves as a kind of conceptual framework encompassing physical, cultural and economic spaces. Others have preferred a more delineable usage of the term, preferring to restrict its use to descriptions of forced migration and displacement. Ong, for example, argues that “the terms ‘transnational migration’ and ‘diaspora’ are often used in the same breath, confusing changes in population flows occasioned by global market forced with earlier forms of permanent exile (Ong, 2003, p. 86).

One of the problems encountered in migration research is that of deciding precisely what physical geography to focus on. As Bose notes, one may not be looking for Germans in France, Lebanese in Nigeria, or Chinese in Indonesia, but rather sub-nationalities – Gujaratis living in New Jersey, Han Fujianese in Manila, Istanbulites in Berlin, Albertans in Ontario, Liverpudlians in London. Bose asks: “Is such data even collected?” (Bose, 2012, p. 278).Another difficulty is how official recognition of categories of migrants and migration affects the choice and viability of research subjects. The former approach can facilitate moving the focus of research from nationality or the nation-state to structural, sub-national, sub-cultural, regional or institutional (neighbourhoods, businesses) determiners of identity. In other words, the local environment is prioritised over the constraints of macro-level forces like laws around citizenship or laws applicable in sending and receiving nations. One of the early proponents of this approach was Saskia Sassen and her call for attention to the specificities of “global” cites (1991). Others, like Nina Glock Schiller and Ayse Calar (2009), have theorised a localities approach that focuses on post-industrial restructuring, while the empirical work of Romain Garbaye (2005) demonstrates that despite a national “French” citizenship model, access to politics for immigrants and the second generation differ significantly depending on local party systems and the organisation of municipal government. This latter problem in particular often resolves itself in the paradoxical situation of governments who neither afford protections to nor recognise “developmental refugees” (those displaced by any number of projects and policies, ranging from resource extraction to land reform and urbanisation).This is often in spite of the fact that governments may be implicated in the processes that have catalysed the displacement. Such displaced peoples may only appear as “economic migrants”, aggregated within the figures for internal migration of diverse populations within a country (Newbold, 2010). There is no internationally sanctioned category of “developmental refugees.” Such people instead tend to fall into the indeterminate category of the Internally Displaced Person and are not afforded the protections available to those under refugee status, though they may have been forced from homes, livelihoods, cultural practices, and territorial homelands (UNHCR, 2006).

Garbaye, R. (2005) Getting Into Local Power: the Politics of Ethnic Minorities in British and French Cities. Oxford,UK: Blackwell.

Gilroy, P. (2000), Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Colour Line, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Glick Schiller, N. and Calar, A. (2009) “Towards a comparative theory of locality in migration studies: Migrant incorporation and cityscale” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 35(2): 177-202.

Newbold, K.B. (2010), Population Geography: Tools and Issues, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Ong, A. (2003), “Cyberpublics and diaspora politics among transnational Chinese’, Interventions, 5, 82-100.

Sassen, S. (1991) The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bose, P.S. (2012), “Mapping movements: interdisciplinary approaches to migration research”, in C. Vargos-Silva (ed), Handbook of Research Methods in Migration, Cheltenham, UK & Massachusetts, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 273-294.


Qualitative and quantitative methods of sampling informants

19 Apr

Social activists tend to take “research as necessarily a progressive political enterprise” and judge validity in terms of political ethics; consequently, if a research finding is judged to have undesirable political considerations it may be concluded to be false (Hammersley 2002:12; cited in Chan 2011: 11).

Phenomenological research is concerned with the investigation of behavior. For this reason having access to variability or diversity within a given population may yield more productive results than simply aiming for a numerically larger sample (Bernard 1995: 72). It may be unnecessary to sample informants according to a premeditated methodology or numerical imperative. As Chan writes in her study of zanryu-hojin,

“I did not choose sampled informants methodically or numerically, but rather they were      investigated and further investigated through repeated and continuing informal         discussions and conversations with those with whom an immediate rapport was        established during the first encounters. Fortunately, this simple random sampling          allowed for a much wider range of informants, who later became the purposefully chosen             primary and designated specific samples for this research. I socialized intensively with      the targeted informants and they provided generous, unpretentious, and diverse data.” (9)

Kipnis also notes some of the value gained in numerically smaller but qualitatively richer ethnographic work in Producing Guanxi, noting that, “The strength of ethnography, of doing long-term research with a limited number of people in a single place,is that it offers the researcher the opportunity to develop a sense of locally significant questions and the strategies for answering them within the context of the field experience. Conceivably a researcher could develop significant questions from the secondary literature on a given place and design a wide-ranging survey that would result in data from a larger range of informants. However,in most research situations the secondary literature is partial at best and insufficient for survey. This was certainly true for Fengjia” (1997, p. 19)

Chan,Yeeshan (2011) Abandoned Japanese in Postwar Manchuria: the lives of war orphans and wives in two countries. London and NY: Routledge.

Bernard, H Russell (1995) Research Methods in Anthropology: qualitative and quantitative approaches, 2nd ed. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Hammersley, Martyn (2002) “Ethnography and the Disputes over Validity”, in Debates and Developments in Ethnographic Methodology, edited by Geoffrey Walford. Amsterdam: JAI.

Kipnis, Andrew B. (1997) Producing Guanxi: Sentiment, Self,and Subculture in a North China Village. Durham and London: Duke University Press.