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Ethnography Unbound

From Theory Shock to Critical Praxis

Stephen Gilbert Brown, Sidney I. Dobrin

Publication Year: 2004

These provocative new essays redefine the goals, methods, and assumptions of qualitative and ethnographic research in composition studies, making evident not only the crucial importance of ethnographic research, but also its resilience. As Ethnography Unbound makes evident, critical ethnographers are retheorizing their methodologies in ways that both redefine ethnographic practices and values and, at the same time, have begun to liberate ethnographic practices from the often-disabling stronghold of postmodern critique. Showing how ethnography works through dialogic processes and moves toward political ends, this collection opens the doors to rethinking ethnographic research in composition studies.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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pp. iii


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pp. vii-ix


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pp. xi-xii

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1. Introduction: New Writers of the Cultural Sage From Postmodern Theory Shock to Critical Praxis by STEPHEN GILBERT BROWN and SIDNEY I. DOBRIN

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pp. 1-10

A RECENT BODY OF SCHOLARSHIP has questioned the assumptions, aims, and methods of traditional ethnography—to the point of rendering it impracticable. How ethnography has reinvented itself in the wake of this postmodern critique is one of the more interesting, not to say significant, events in recent composition studies. Moreover, the emergence of critical ethnography...

PART I: Theoretical and Rhetorical Perspectives

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2. Critical Ethnography, Ethics, and Work:: Rearticulating Labor by BRUCE HORNER

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pp. 13-34

IN THIS CHAPTER, I argue that a cultural materialist perspective on the work of critical ethnography in composition studies can provide a useful framework that accounts for and can help to resolve some of the significant ethical dilemmas to which recent critiques of critical ethnography in composition have pointed (Cintron, Cushman, Kirsch, Kirsch and Ritchie, ...

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3. Mediating Materiality and Discursivity: Critical Ethnography as Metageneric Learning

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pp. 35-51

IN HIS WELL-KNOWN OVERVIEW of methodological communities comprising the field of rhetoric-composition, The Making of Knowledge in Composition, Stephen North contends that “Ethnographic studies can hardly be said to have taken Composition by storm” (272). Fifteen years later, the field’s interest in ethnography has evolved, challenging North’s critique of ethnography’s...

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4. The Ethnographic Experience of Postmodern Literacies

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pp. 53-72

THE 1980S WILL BE REMEMBERED for more than Reagan rock and big hair, at least in terms of culture and literacies. Early in the 1980s, John Szwed argued that ethnographies—field observations of literacy events and literacy autobiographies—are the best way of studying the multiple literacies in contemporary society. At nearly the same time ...

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5. Shifting Figures: Rhetorical Ethnography

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pp. 73-97

IN THE PAST TWENTY YEARS, critical ethnographers committed to understanding the cultural and political ramifications of their research method and its texts have provoked a transformation of ethnographic fieldwork and, especially, ethnographic writing. They have done so in significant part by demonstrating the inherently figurative, literary nature of their texts’ depictions. In the process ...

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6. Writing Program Redesign: Learning from Ethnographic Inquiry, Civic Rhetoric, and the History of Rhetorical Education

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pp. 99-111

IN A RECENT ISSUE OF Rhetoric Society Quarterly devoted to feminist historiography, Rich Enos asks, “How can we bring rhetorical events back to life and make them as vivid and meaningful as our colleagues in composition?” He goes on to explain, “gains in composition studies that have been achieved by using ethnographic research methods can serve as an illustration for historians of rhetoric who can hope for similar achievements . . .” (68). As ...

PART II: Place-Conscious Ethnographies: Situating Praxis in the Field

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7. Open to Change: Ethos, Identification, and Critical Ethnography in Composition Studies

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pp. 115-129

ONE OF THE TRUISMS of ethnographic research is that the research itself will change you. In the research encounter with some Other culture, your understanding of your own culture—and your own self—will transform. As Clifford Geertz has shown (Works and Lives), traditional ethnography is full of such descriptions of personal change, from Levi-Strauss’s growing disillusionment ...

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8. State Standards in the United States and the National Curriculum in the United Kingdom: Political Siege Engines against Teacher Professionalism? by JOHN SYLVESTER LOFTY

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pp. 131-155

THE ENGLISH LIKE TO OPINE that an Englishman’s home is his castle; similarly, many teachers in the United States until recently have claimed that once their classroom doors are closed they can teach what and how they like. If independence from surveillance and censor ever was the case, then it is fast changing as the teaching profession comes under a perceived “attack” by those ...

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9. Debating Ecology: Ethnographic Writing that “Makes a Difference”

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pp. 157-180

WHAT IS THE BASIS FOR ethnographic authority? This question draws increasing attention in response to critiques of positivist claims to objectivity. According to Carl Herndl, traditional ethnographers textually construct their authority by declaring their presence at a field site, then by suppressing that presence. This device erroneously suggests that texts can transparently ...

PART III: The Nomadic Self: Reorganizing the Self in the Field

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10. Critical Auto/Ethnography: A Constructive Approach to Research in the Composition Classroom

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pp. 183-200

MARY WAS THE FIRST STUDENT to voice a connection.1 It was the last class meeting of a general curriculum composition course, and the students were ready to make a run for it. I had organized the order of the reading and writing assignments to demonstrate that autobiography and ethnography operate on a continuum and to suggest that the two forms of narrative are inextricably connected. The first ...

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11. Unsituating the Subject: “Locating” Composition and Ethnography in Mobile Worlds

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pp. 201-218

PAST CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ethnographic research methodologies in composition studies have generally proceeded on a similar course with those in anthropology.1 Questions about the authority of the ethnographic writer, the “fictional qualities” of ethnographic texts, the problematic complicity of ethnographic research and imperialist or oppressive institutions and nations, and the problematic construction and representation of “others” into texts ...

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12. Protean Subjectivities: Qualitative Research and the Inclusion of the Personal by JANET ALSUP

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pp. 219-237

SINCE THE EARLY 1980s, qualitative research has become increasingly valuedin the humanities and education as a viable mode of inquiry and scholarship. Responding to researchers such as Shirley Brice Heath, Linda Brodkey, and Mina Shaughnessy, those working in the disciplines of education and composition studies began to recognize what social anthropologist Clifford Geertz ...

PART IV: Ethnographies of Cultural Change

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13. Changing Directions: Participatory-Action Research, Agency, and Representation

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pp. 241-257

IN THE CLASSROOM, literacy education is all about intervention. Students enter the classroom and we, as teachers, work with them to make them more critical and creative readers and writers. Regardless of our pedagogical approach, the age group, or the specific goals of a course, we interact with our students. We are active and engaged and see our larger purpose as teachers to ...

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14. Just What Are We Talking About? Disciplinary Struggle and the Ethnographic Imaginary

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pp. 259

ETHNOGRAPHY IS A POWERFUL IMAGINARY, which is not to say that it does not exist. But establishing what “it” is, is a slippery venture. For some, ethnography is “naturalistic,” whereas for others it is “phenomenological.” For still others, it is both, and ...

PART V: Texts and (Con)Texts: Intertextual Voices

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15. The Ethics of Reading Critical Ethnography

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pp. 285-297

THE SO-CALLED ETHICAL TURN in composition has focused attention primarily on the responsibilities of researchers: how they interact with their informants and make use of the information they gather.1 I’d like to argue here that it is important to consider the ethical responsibility of readers as well: how readers interpret and make use of ethnographic texts. Researchers are not...

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16. Beyond Theory Shock: Ethos, Knowledge, and Power in Critical Ethnography

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pp. 299-316

THIS CHAPTER THEORIZES VARIOUS aspects of the discursive power struggle between ethnographic research and the postmodern critique of it—an analysis with broader implications not only for pedagogies of cultural change but also for the dialectical relation between theory and practice in general. I review critical ethnography’s strategic responses to the postmodern critique of ...


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pp. 317-321


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pp. 323-326

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485224
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791460511
Print-ISBN-10: 0791460517

Page Count: 338
Illustrations: 2 figures
Publication Year: 2004