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Expressions of Ethnography

Novel Approaches to Qualitative Methods

Robin Patric Clair

Publication Year: 2003

Expressions of Ethnography embraces the idea that alternative genres may be used to express culture. Using examples of a wide variety of cultural phenomena, contemporary ways to practice ethnography, and novel forms of expressing the cultural experience, the book offers an eclectic mix of short stories, novels, and poetry, as well as traditional scholarly reports of poignant, provocative, and powerful cultural phenomena. Included are accounts of recovery following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, life as a prison guard, surviving child abuse and coping via an eating disorder, dealing with disabilities, living the gay life, birthing babies, as well as searching for birth mothers. Special attention is given to dialogue, from dialogue with families and friends to American ethnographers interviewing Thai managers.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Front Matter

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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix

It is an honor to have worked with the contributing authors of this edited collection. Each has brought unique insights to the topic and expression of ethnography. At the close of individual chapters many of the contributors, including myself, have acknowledged the assistance of those who have helped them in one way or another with their specific chapter. With respect to the book in its entirety, ...

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Prologue: Introduction

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pp. xi-xiii

Expressions of Ethnography is an edited collection of essays that demonstrate the creative potential for novel forms of expression to speak of cultural experiences. Ethnography has a rich history replete with both political and aesthetic undertones. In Part one, chapter 1 of this book, I provide an overview of ethnography, which takes to task the colonial underpinnings of ethnographic practices. I also develop an overview of the changing story of ethnography. Ethnography ...

PART ONE: An Overview of Ethnography

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1. The Changing Story of Ethnography

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pp. 3-26

Ethnography is a practice and an expression with a capacious historical past that necessarily includes philosophical, political, spiritual, and aesthetic elements. These elements have at times defined cultures, named people, and told them who they are and what they might become. In short, ethnography grew out of a master discourse of colonization. Today, scholars question the legitimacy of that discourse (Ellis and Bochner, 1996; Burawoy, et al., 1991; Clair, 1998; ...

PART TWO: Ethnographic Perspectives

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2. Living and Writing Feminist Ethnographies: Threads in a Quilt Stitched from the Heart

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pp. 29-44

In a thought-provoking essay, Stacey (1988) poses the question, “Can there be a feminist ethnography?” And, while there is no simple answer to this question, the concerns raised by it are the focus of this chapter.1 According to Reinharz (1992), “we have been slow in weaving the connections among all the studies that exist and therefore deficient in reaching a grounded understanding of what feminist ethnography actually is” (p. 75). No single scholar, no single project can or ...

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3. Musings on Critical Ethnography, Meanings, and Symbolic Violence

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pp. 45-54

In the past decade, critical ethnography has moved from the periphery of scholarly attention to the forefront, spreading from the traditional social sciences into other disciplines, such as education, business, and nursing. However, the emergence of the perspective from the shadows of marginalization and the use by a broader range of scholars has created a rather variegated mosaic that often clouds the fundamental precepts shared by practitioners. This too often results in ...

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4. What is Interpretive Ethnography? An Eclectic’s Tale

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pp. 55-63

The question that forms the title of this essay has been posed to me countless times over the years, usually by well-intentioned persons who expect to receive a singular, simple, and straightforward reply. It is a question that has never seriously been asked of me by other interpretive ethnographers, unless it was raised in a tone of complicit comic irony and performed as an intellectual exercise, as in the philosopher’s query: What is reality? ...

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5. Postmodernism, Ethnography, and Communication Studies: Comments and a Case

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pp. 65-75

In the field of communication, ethnographers draw upon a number of theoretical traditions to ground their work. These range from “interpretive” theories of phenomenology, ethnomethodology, and symbolic interaction, to “critical” theories such as feminism and neo-Marxism (Lindlof and Taylor, 2002). This eclecticism creates a vibrant—but also potentially confusing—context for producing ethnography. Theoretical traditions typically involve complex narratives about human ...

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6. An Ethics for Postcolonial Ethnography

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pp. 77-86

When I sat down in 1991 to write the first draft of what would become my manuscript, The Four Seasons of Ethnography, (González, 2000) I did so quite freely and without self-consciousness. It was an act of expression that came out of my sincere desire to “see what would happen” if I opened to the possibility of envisioning ethnography with the eyes of my indigenous ancestors. Over the years, I shared photocopies and edited drafts with many students ...

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7. The Beauty and Logic of Aesthetic Ethnography

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pp. 87-94

The origin of philosophical conversations concerning aesthetics can be traced to antiquity. Greek philosophers proposed opinions on the topic which have engendered a continuing dialogue among scholars throughout the ages. Early on, Aristotle and Plato argued the merits of epic poetry. Plato suggested that artistic expressions were merely poor imitations of reality which should be set aside to allow reason and logic their privileged place in philosophical discussions. ...

PART THREE: Dialogue and Interview as Expressions of Ethnography

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8. Ethnographic Interviewing as Contextualized Conversation

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pp. 97-105

In-depth interviewing is one of the instruments of ethnography that aids researchers in our attempts to describe and understand the unique experiences of others. In this chapter, we question the assumptions that guide ethnographic interview practice and challenge researchers to reconceptualize interviews as contextualized conversations rather than traditional researcher-dominated interviews. We begin by comparing the tenets of interviewing and conversations. ...

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9. Contextualized Conversation: Interviewing Exemplars

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pp. 107-118

In the preceding chapter, we argued that in an effort to achieve the unique promise of ethnography for communicating the experiences of others (see Spradley, 1979), the traditional method of ethnographic interviewing needs to incorporate the assets of interpersonal conversations. Further, we suggested that a reconceptualization of interviewing practice must include redefining interviewer and interviewee roles as coparticipants in the creation of knowledge while continually emphasizing the contextualization of the interview conversation. ...

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10. Hearing Voices/Learning Questions

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pp. 119-125

If one listens with concern, one might hear in many contemporary expressions of ethnography a growing variety of expressions of regard for others, which in turn embodies a call, a call to place ourselves in question, if not in suspension. This call is addressing us, whoever and wherever we “selves” are—we, who have principal access to the means of amplification and thereby silencing. In this crucial, recurring, postmodern predicament, there are also those who seem to be encouraging, ...

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11. Sighted, Blind, and In Between: Similarity and Difference in Ethnographic Inquiry

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pp. 127-137

I’m a fully sighted individual. Seems odd to say that, doesn’t it? I mean, of all the characteristics about myself that I could share, such as age, gender, race, sexuality, marital/parental status, education, occupation, or geographic location, I chose visual acuity. Of course, I haven’t always thought of myself as a fully sighted individual. In fact, I never thought of my vision as part of my self-concept until I started studying communication and visual impairment. ...

PART FOUR: Personal Narrative as an Expression of Ethnography

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12. Ethnography as the Excavation of Personal Narrative

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pp. 141-151

In the following essay, I share some of my answers to three questions that challenged me for the first time as I wrote about the closing of Old Comiskey Park back in graduate school (see Krizek, 1992a, 1992b). They were born out of a need to feel a sense of congruence between what I was doing as an ethnographer-intraining and what I was learning in my communication seminars, between a method that spanned disciplines and my discipline. I continue to ask them even today in regard to my current research endeavors. “What exactly is it that makes ...

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13. Telling the Story of Birth

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pp. 153-158

The moment of birth, the emergence from one world to another, is perhaps one of the most personal moments a mother or child will ever experience. Our private experiences, however, are often defined and negotiated in very public ways such that the boundaries between the personal or private and the public become reciprocally fluid, negotiated, and political (Clark and Lange, 1979; Deetz, 1992; Fraser, 1989; Parkin, 1990). In this essay, I explore how desires, ...

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14. Watching the Watchers: Making Sense of Emotional Constructions Behind Bars

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pp. 159-172

For nearly one year, I engaged in participant observation with correctional officers at a county jail and state women’s prison. My quest? To better understand and tell a story about the emotional dilemmas faced by those who keep, watch, care for, and guard society’s deviants. Criminal justice research paints a picture of correctional officers as hardened, cynical, stressed out, ritualistic and alienated (Poole and Regoli, 1981; Walters, 1986)—problems that have been linked to high ...

PART FIVE: Short Stories as Expressions of Ethnography

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15. Hands

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pp. 175-176

... I stare at the eighty years ingrained in my grandfather’s hands. Culinary hands that kept enlisted men fed in the second World War. Supple hands that stroked my grandmother’s raven hair. Strong hands that repaired the old dam restraining the eager Mississippi. Calloused hands that constructed my father’s childhood home on Elm Street. Proud hands that cradled his three boys, and later, eight grandchildren. Paternal hands that carved holiday turkeys. Nurturing hands ...

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16. He Touched, He Took

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pp. 177-184

... The hazy, elusive quality of certain memories in her life make grasping them difficult, if not impossible. But they come to her again and again, disrupting the most peaceful of moments, calling into question everything she has thought to be true about her life. ...

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17. Happy to be Writing

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pp. 185-188

... It was dark. The flash of the car’s headlights had already passed by the planter where our life-size scarecrow Happy, stood guarding our house since the first of October. After pulling into the garage, we both jumped out of the car to inspect the scene of the crime. Sure enough. No Happy. And no stake that held Happy in place in front of the cobwebs, ghosts, and spiders decorating the front of our house. ...

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18. The Millennium Waltz: A Story in Three-Quarter Time

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pp. 189-192

If such a thing exists, on a normal day in Las Vegas, time doesn’t much matter. Food, drink, and entertainment are available constantly, 24–7. No clocks are present in casinos because the management does not want to distract the slot players and the players at the gaming tables from the business at hand. Of course, a show might start at a certain time, and one must place bets at the sports ...

PART SIX: Novels as Expressions of Ethnography

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19. Geocommunication: A Paradigm of Place

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pp. 195-215

The material in this chapter has roots in two vastly different places. One of those places is a nineteen-year-old, working-class woman from Buffalo who rode a motorcycle 9000 miles in search of her birth mother, a connection to nature, and spirit. The second is a forty-year-old gay man from the expensive suburbs of the Midwest who found himself lost in a benevolent desert, geographic as well as cultural. We met by way of empirical fiction. Each of us was working on ...

PART SEVEN: Artifacts as Expressions of Ethnography

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20. “Reality Ends Here”: Graffiti as an Artifact

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pp. 219-230

The original graffito is now gone. It was painted over. Then it reappeared. However, eventually they tore down the old film school and built a new one. And yet, the graffiti lives on. The graffiti has been transformed. But it will never die. The graffiti has taken on new forms, in new contexts, and means new things to the students and professors at the film school. This study is about a piece of graffiti, and its life as an artifact. ...

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21. Sense-Making Artifacts on the Margins of Cultural Spaces

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pp. 231-240

Graffiti are universal communicative artifacts. For example, epigraphologists used the graffiti found on the walls of the city of Pompeii, which was destroyed by a volcano in A.D. 79, to accurately reconstruct many cultural features of the people who inhabited the city (D’Avino, 1964; Lindsay, 1960; Tanzers, 1939; Varone, 1991). No doubt, most peoples and cultures throughout the world anonymously write, draw, and paint on walls and other surfaces. These acts ...

PART EIGHT: Genealogy and Postcolonial Identities as Expressions of Ethnography

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22. Genealogy as an Ethnographic Enterprise

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pp. 243-256

Ask any family historian who has roots in the Coal Fields region of eastern Kentucky, and she or he likely will know of George “Goldenhawk” Sizemore, an allegedly one-half or three-fourths Cherokee resident of the area during the early to mid-1800s. As one newspaper article in the Salyersville area argues, Goldenhawk remains a legend of sorts to many people in the region, as many colorful stories continue to be told about his adventures (Mueller, 1999, June 7). The ...

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23. In Search of Naunny’s Ethnicity: An (Auto)Ethnographic Study of a Family’s Ethnic Identity

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pp. 257-269

When my sisters and I were little kids, my father, who was born in Los Angeles in 1930, referred to himself as “Mexican.” Our grandmother, whom we called “Naunny,” used to tell us that we were not Mexican but were “Spanish.” She said that no one in our family was from Mexico, though no one seemed to be from Spain either. Naunny herself was born in southern Colorado, and her ancestors had lived in New Mexico for generations, long before it was part of the ...

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24. Rhythms of Dis-Location: Family History, Ethnographic Spaces, and Reflexivity

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pp. 271-279

To me ethnography embodies a rhythmic cultural process that we sometimes accomplish, but always continue over a period of time and space. As ethnographers, we come to our sites, fields and places with assumptions, presumptions, and beliefs about our own cultural reality (Agar, 1996; Clifford and Marcus, 1986). Accordingly, discussions about ethnography and ethnographers are not only discussions about culture, but also serve as conversations about postmodern ...

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25. Starvin’ Marvin’s Got an Injun: A Visit to the Homeland

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pp. 281-288

As a tired traveler who had finally arrived in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I appreciated nature’s welcome. My friend, Cat, who had driven us, seemed to appreciate the ability to loosen her grip from the steering wheel after long hours of traversing winding mountain roads. We arrived later than expected; and so, we gently shut the car doors behind us. Cat and I stretched, breathed in the late night air, and looked toward the star-speckled, sable-colored sky. I inhaled ...

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EPILOGUE: Future Directions

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pp. 289-290

Ethnography, a way of engaging and expressing cultural phenomenon, holds rich possibilities for contributing to cultural awareness despite its checkered past. At times, ethnographers have unveiled cultural mysteries; and at other times, they have disguised or oppressed cultural distinctions with colonial biases. The long history of ethnography provides moments of glory and moments of shame. However, recognizing our own cultural biases should help us to create ...

List of Contributors

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pp. 291-296


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pp. 297-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780791486320
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791458235
Print-ISBN-10: 0791458237

Page Count: 318
Illustrations: 3 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2003