ethnographic sources

I’ve been moving ideas from this blog and others into “my” thesis. I’ve run into some interesting challenges that relate directly to having done so much research on a blog. For one, I cannot mask the identities of people I spoke with. Some people used pseudonyms, but others used real names.

You might say, “well shit, since it was all public in the first place, you don’t have much to worry about”,

to which I reply “well actually, it is all public but that doesn’t mean amplifying the message won’t have an affect on the author of it! If a post was embarassing to someone, certainly re-posting it in my thesis isn’t a good thing to do!”

Especially when everything I am writing about in the thesis has already been said on this blog somewhere, and in this way it is easy to track down original discussions.  Hence it is much harder to obscure such interactions.

Further, I’m writing about things other people have also written about. When discussing open access and peoples access to information, I have a number of sources to draw on. I can cite interviews done in person, other peoples books, and other peoples blog posts. By using interviews done by me it looks like I’ve done something original, whereas if I quote someones blog, it seems like I was lazy and didn’t do the work myself.

How do you feel about this? Have you ever used interview material instead of quoting published work, as a way of “making it your own”? It feels like a nice plagiarizing strategy. Take the basic argument from someone, then go out and “back it up” with “empirical evidence” developed in the form of face-to-face interviews.

In fact, I would say I can find everything I learned in interviews, on peoples blogs. Especially now that I know what to look for. I’m researching a topic people are already vocal about, and these online expressions are as informative as any interview I did in person. What arguments might exist for using interviews over public blog posts… (when it is easy to find the desired points in both places…)


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by gregdowney on March 7, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Dear Owen —
    You might be interested to check out one of the early chapters of Maurice Bloch’s book, How We Think They Think, which specifically addresses this issue as it arises in normal fieldwork. He discusses how he already knows many of the answers to questions that he asks people through his own apprenticeship in local ways of seeing and doing things. But he asks the questions in order to get his informants to say what he already knows.

    In fact, there are good reasons that this occurs, such as 1) informal mechanisms of cultural apprenticeship and learning are much more powerful, pervasive and useful for some tasks than explicit conversations, 2) much more of human interaction is carried out in combined practical, nonverbal, and verbal ways than is carried out through explicit, topical conversations, as in interviews, and 3) it is only after the practical apprenticeship in perceiving, performing and pragmatics in another cultural context that an ethnographer can facilitate through pointed questions the process of conscious articulation of non-conscious knowledge.

    It’s pretty normal, I’d say, but not generally discussed, especially since the ‘native’s POV,’ in the specific form of long quotes, has become so important to the ethnographic genre. It was definitely an issue in my own fieldwork because the practical context — playing musical instruments and directly participating — made it virtually impossible to even take notes during interaction. Moreover, because I became reasonably competent at the practice I was studying, my fellow participants found my ‘playing it dumb’ ethnographic interview questions farcical. They wouldn’t go along with explaining things that they knew damn well I already knew.

    I don’t think you’re going to get in trouble pulling quotes off other people; that is, I doubt very much a dissertation reader would be dismayed by ‘lack of originality’ in this context, especially as there’s a torrent of writing on the web that you could be citing. Editing in this torrential fieldwork and spotting the truly insightful bits is itself a creative intellectual process (in fact, on the web, I’d say it was an extraordinary challenge).

    Most ethnographers feel a bit like frauds during a substantial part of their write-up as about 90% of what we write is just about common knowledge where we worked.

    Good luck, and whatever you do, keep writing,
    Greg at Neuroanthropoloogy


  2. Dear Greg,

    Thanks for the supportive comments. I’ll check out Bloch’s work asap. I also developed some fantastic feedback in the writing ethnography class I’m taking, which I hope to digest over the next week. So yes, and thank you for the enthusiasm, I will keep writing 🙂


  3. […] ethnographic sources « another anthro blog By using interviews done by me it looks like I’ve done something original, whereas if I quote someones blog, it seems like I was lazy and didn’t do the work myself. […]


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