Research Notes 2
This one is a bit late, mostly because of having to stay up in Oxford until Saturday to sit in a theatre and hear some official Latin and become a ceremonial member of the university.
One of the things that struck me the most this week was around the validity of the social sciences and the gendering of their understanding. This article from Diana Forsythe [PDF (sorry)] is often published as part of a larger collection of her work which looks at doing embedded research in labs and science organisations, in a way that we would probably call “user research” or “design ethnography” today. Having read only a smidgen so far, I think that this is beautifully put together and incredibly relevant, and just really resonated with my experience of doing research within an institution.
SIX MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE USE OF ETHNOGRAPHY IN DESIGN
1) Anyone can do ethnography — it’s just a matter of common sense.
2) Being insiders qualifies people to do ethnography in their own work setting.
3) Since ethnography does not involve preformulated study designs, it involves
no systematic method at all — “anything goes.”
4) Doing fieldwork is just chatting with people and reporting what they say.
5) To find out what people do, just ask them!
6) Behavioral and organizational patterns exist “out there” in the world; observational research is just a matter of looking and listening to detect these
It makes more sense when you look at the next bit which is her riposte, but I think it strikes at the heart of the “policy-based evidence-making” tendency. I’d really advise you to read it.
Aside from the latin aspect of the week, I had a few good seminars. Especially enjoyed one on a complicated story about art collection, another on epidemiological anthropology and the fight over survey design between medical statisticians and medical anthropologists. I was also talking to someone on my cohort who is indigenous about their decision to study out of their home country, even at the risk of the racism that English culture can produce. They said “working as an indigenous anthropologist at home is like drowning and then being asked to take notes on the person next to you, who is also drowning and I don’t get that here”. That’s really stuck with me this week.
I went to the library. What a day.
Apart from that, I saw an old friend who is trying to branch out from years as a political philosopher, and talked to so many interesting people that I felt at the end as if my head was popping with ideas. I am managing at least one heavily underlined important word per meeting, which I think is a pretty good hit rate.
I’m planning a zine. Something based on technology and civics, with never less than 50% not-men and always with someone not white. So I’m trying to get that going now to get a first issue out by January.
I’m in Oxford Tuesday and Wednesday so a bit less separated from home, which will please the dog.
I’m still wrestling with a thing about privilege and finding it hard. You have pros and cons in each side and I’m already so conflicted about feeling good about any of my achievements that I’m not sure I can tackle this without having some unpicking time. Honestly, everything in my brain feels like highlighter fluid at the moment, which is not a normal state and not the best place to make definitive decisions or pronouncements.