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STIBET | Coming to Terms with Qualitative Research: An Introduction to Writing Ethnography


May 20, 2022 from 10:00 to 02:00 (Europe/Berlin / UTC200)


GCSC (SR 109)

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Qualitative research techniques, the central methodological tools of ethnography, seek quality and not quantity. Ethnographic research does not bother with the width but rather the breadth of the data; in other words, it is interested in in-depth studies about a small population that shares the same cultural codes and cultural inclinations. As such, ethnographic research does not seek to obtain data that can be used across the board, but to obtain data about a certain phenomenon in a certain small group of people. To come to grips with ethnography, one must understand first that ethnography is subjective, the main task of the ethnographer is to make “the familiar strange and the strange familiar” (Chiseri Strater 1997, p.8) in the sense that, as an ethnographer and Cultural Studies researcher, the job is to see through the ordinary and question its ordinary-ness, while inspecting the unusual and bring it into the light. For the community members that will participate in a research, their day-to-day activities, in their perspective, already counts as the usual. But for outsiders, their lifestyle can be seen as strange and unfathomable, even. The aim of one’s ethnographic research, hence, is to create a middle ground of understanding between insiders and outsiders (subjects and curious readers); to make the ordinary extraordinary, and bestow value to the taken for granted. It is pertinent to note as well that Cultural Studies, as a critical interdisciplinary field of study, is qualitative par excellence; Culturologists zoom in on the power relations that govern our societies and question the innocence of everyday events, actions, relations, discussion, and behaviors. Moreover, Cultural Studies scholars have always been interested in the social footnotes and what Lyotard calls ‘petit récit’ (Lyotard 1984, p.60) meaning (small narratives) where he argues that one must completely abandon the grand-narratives, or, according to Derrida in Of Grammatology (1997), to change and shift away from the meta-narratives found in most cultural, political, religious, and social institutions. As a result, qualitative research techniques are key to come to grips with the aforementioned social footnotes and discursive formations of said society.


Relevance and aim of the workshop

Doing research on/about people is fraught with difficulties and ethical lines which must not be crossed. As such, many researchers find difficulties approaching ‘the field’, and when they do, they face the second hurdle of translating their field notes into a paper or a dissertation. Hence, for this workshop, I attempt first to come to grips with how to switch gears from previously instilled research methods (literary criticism, quantitative research techniques, etc.) which can hinder one’s new task as an ethnographer. Second, I will delineate the different writing techniques which most students of ethnography struggle with, some of which, though highly acceptable, are still perceived as journalistic or non-academic by researchers who are not versed in the art of doing ethnography. Third, as is the case with all types of academic research, secondary sources are indispensable, therefore, I will explain how to conduct research while being able to find the right secondary sources and know-how to incorporate them in their ethnographic projects. Therefore, this workshop is relevant to researchers and students who are interested in developing their field work and qualitative research/writing techniques.


Note: Participants are encouraged to prepare a set of questions and comments which can be discussed, tackled, and answered during the workshop.


Works cited

Chiseri-Strater, E., 1997. Fieldworking: Reading and writing research. Prentice Hall.

Derrida, J., 1997. Of Grammatology, translated by G. Spivak (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).

Lyotard, J.F., 1984. The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge (Vol. 10). University of Minnesota Press.


// Farouk El Maarouf (GCSC)