CMNS 262 Lecture Notes - Lecture 11: Impression Management, Ethnography

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Field Relations- Hammersley
Impressions of the researcher that pose an obstacle to access must be avoided or
countered as far as possible, while those that facilitate it must be encouraged; within
the limits set by ethical considerations
Impression management
Such forms of dress can “give off” the message that the ethnographer seeks to
maintain the position of an acceptable marginal member
The essential affinity between researcher and hosts, without any attempt on
the part of the former to ape the style of the latter
There may be different categories of participants, and different social contexts, which
demand the construction of different ‘selves’. In this, the ethnographer is no different
in principle from social actors in general, whose social competence requires such
sensitivity to shifting situations
In the early days of field negotiations it may be advantageous to find more ‘ordinary’
topics of conversation with a view to establishing one’s identity as a ‘normal’,
‘regular’, ‘decent’ person
Such ‘neutral’ topics are not actually divorced from the researcher’s interests at hand,
since they can throw additional and unforeseen light on informants, and yield fresh
sources of data
Establishing mutuality facilitate the collection of data
The normal requirements of tact, courtesy and ‘interaction ritual’ in general, mean
that in some ways ‘everyone has to lie’
One cannot bias the fieldwork by talking only with people one finds most congenial or
politically sympathetic: one cannot choose one’s informants on the same basis as
one chooses friends
Aspects of personal front that are not open to ‘management’ and that may limit the
negotiation of identities in the field → ascribed characteristics
gender , age and ethnic identification may shape relationships with
gatekeepers, sponsors and people under study in important ways
No position of genderless neutrality can be achieved
Ethnicity not merely a matter of physical characteristics, but also implies matters of
culture, power and personal style
There appears to be a tendency for ethnography to be the province of younger
research workers
Younger person has more time to commit to the fieldwork
Junior people find it easier to adopt the ‘incompetent’ position of the ‘outsider’
or ‘marginal’ person
Field roles
When studying an unfamiliar setting, the ethnographer is also a novice. Whenever
possible he or she must put him or herself into the position of being an ‘acceptable
incompetent’. It is only through watching listening, asking questions, formulating
hypotheses, and marking blunders that the ethnographer can acquire some sense of
the social structure of the setting and begin to understand the culture of participants
The crucial difference between the ‘lay’ novice and the ethnographer in the field is
that the latter attempts to maintain a self-conscious awareness of what is learned,
how it has been learned, and the social transactions that inform the production of
such knowledge
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