Tim Ingold's "That's Enough About Ethnography"--The Seminar is Underway

Officially, the seminar begins on Monday. But here, to get things started are our first assignments. 

(1) Several of us are already acquainted. Others may be meeting us for the first time. Please add a few words about yourself. For example,

I am, yes, an old white man, 70 years old, a U.S. citizen of Scots-Irish-German-Alsatian descent who has lived and worked in Japan since 1980. I have been married to the same woman, who is also my best friend and business partner, for 45 years. We have one highly accomplished daughter and two grandkids, a boy and a girl. I am an independent scholar who has neither a career nor a livelihood at stake in our debates. 
 
(2) Then, to get things started, the following exercise.

Early in this article, Ingold tells us that he "will not refrain from polemic." Then, as those writing polemics often do, he contrasts a nightmare with a vision of better things.

He describes the nightmare as follows,

How many research proposals have we read, coming from such fields as sociology, social policy, social psychology and education, in which the applicant explains that he or she will conduct “ethnographic interviews” with a sample of randomly selected informants, the data from which will then be processed by means of a recommended software package in order to yield “results”? 

He then describes his vision, 

Proper, rigorous anthropological inquiry—including long-term and open-ended commitment, generous attentiveness, relational depth, and sensitivity to context.

Please tell us what this nightmare and vision evoke for you. Describe any feelings, images, or thoughts that come to mind as you read these descriptions. Be as concrete as possible.

Remember, at this point, we are not evaluating these descriptions. We want to discover how they are interpreted by each of us here, and where what they evoke for each of us may overlap or conversely be very different.

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Fieldnote-excerpt of "the current of activities in which I carried on a life alongside and together with the persons and things that captured my attention " during one of ca. 1000 school lessons attended during my previous fieldwork:

"After recess, [the teacher] demonstrates how to write big ‘A’s. She then distributes sheets with writing exercises. The pupils fetch shared cups/boxes with pencils and rubbers from shelves lining the walls. Some  girls declare that they want the red pencils. [The teacher] calls them to be quiet, then starts moving about giving individual assistance. Some start competing about who's can finish first; some of the girls seem especially concerned with scripting as neatly as possible. When finished, they are to glue the sheets into their writing books, and on the opposite page to draw pictures of things that start with ‘A’. On the blackboard hangs a sheet with some sample pictures of ‘A’-words. (…) [The teacher] moves one distracted boy [M] (Somali 2nd gen.) to a separate desk because she thinks he works better when he sits by himself. Shortly after, he vomits on the floor. Nearby shocked pupils burst out a few disgusted comments, but turn back to their work when corrected by [the teacher]. She then helps [M] clean up. (…) Several pupils have finished the assignment, which leads to the eruption of some disarray, as they do not get new instructions right away. Eventually [the teacher] tells them to form groups on their own and work with number- or letter cards as they want whilst she goes to make a phone call to [M]’s mother. "

In the mundane humdrum of moment-to-moment Participant Observation, there's usually little mind to spare for deliberated 'feeling' and 'being in the world'. At the positive side though, all this humdrum also leaves little space for too quickly trying to 'know about it'. Mostly, the anthropologist has hands full merely keeping track of all that's going on.

My point is that it's a bit hard to get a practical hang of Ingold's mission. The main reason seems to be that his technical/specialist terms are over the top-fluffy. I wonder what concrete examples of anthropological produce he would frame as state of the art according to the program he's calling for. Perhaps his own stuff; what else? No monographs or other empirically grounded anthropologies are referred. We can surely enjoy ourselves plenty with forwarding new abstract interpretations of his abstracts, though I doubt that any valuable consensus will be reached to the negative pole of his polemic, which is essentially of practical, not theoretical nature (i.e. the pragmatics of survival in the broader world of science).

In reality, in their everyday nitty-gritty-ness, processes of education through Participant Observation (or other education processes for that matter) do not play out as translucently as he presents it. The perspective he takes mainly belongs to post-hoc fieldwork contemplation. Growing one's person wisdom through pondering the kinds of essentially irresolvable absolutes that he pins on the wall here, is of limited use to all of those people who try find ways to fit anthropological methods into the actual activities of the world (hence I agree with Lee's comments about grounding these discussions in how the terms fit the variegated field realities anthropologists actually deal with).

I think our energies are best spent on translating his ideals into a more down-to-earth, pragmatically sounding framework which is explicitly willing to touch base with notions the of science higher up on the academic mountain.

To extend Jon's observation, Tom Boellstorff has written a brilliant chapter for Horst and Miller's Digital Anthropology where he claims that virtual worlds offer an unrivalled opportunity to develop participant observation as a method. This is because we create our online personae there more than we do in real life. What is striking about his chapter "Rethinking DA" is that he addresses the relationship between the object, theory and method of digital anthropology, a level of clarity rarely found in terrestrial ethnography.

I wanted to remind our group of the origins of the term PO which I recall as an instrument of infiltration and covert surveillance in mid-century US industrial management whereby an individual took a job on the production line and spied on his fellow-workers. But it was nowhere to be found! The anthropologists have airbrushed the history of the method to exclude such sordid practices, claiming that it originated with Malinowski's Trobriand ethnography or Frank Cushing's among the Zuni. Who knows? Perhaps I made it up. In any case Malinowski was keen to get in on industrial management towards the end.

My point in bringing this up is not just to embarrass the ethnographers. It seems to me that all this talk about fieldworker as friend bowdlerizes the field situation by projecting an image of free equality on it retrospectvely. In my experience fieldwork was a highly unequal social situation -- and this was normal at least until the end of empire and in many cases long after that. I was a rich white educated kid living with poor illiterate black adults -- in fact all my fieldwork has been as the sole white man living in a sea of black poverty. This led me to conceive of PO as the negotiation of inequality. How could unequal relations be made more equal through human exchange? This was vital, since if I did not establish a measure of equality, I could end up dead. I would go further, all relationships start out as being significantly unequal to some degree and what I think of as the ethnographer's charter -- to be seen as oneself and to see others as themselves, rather than through the cracked mirror of prejudiced categories -- is a project that we realise to a varying degree over time.

So one aspect of this discussion of PO concerns the fibs that ethnographers tell about how well they got on with the inmates they studied. Max Weber used to say that we study who we are or who we are not. Anthropologists study human beings. Well, you work it out.

Lee, Kristian, Keith, wow! Theory meets reality, in media, in classrooms, in Africa, and plainly theory needs rethinking.  Can our concept of participant observation be enriched enough to include  these sorts of research? 

Jon, I take your point. I may be stretching too far with my Ego and Other speculation, reading too much into what Ingold writes. I like very much your question,

if we abolish the distinction between theory and ethnography, are we likely to end up disagreeing with those we meet through participant observation as much as we do with our academic peers and forebears?

Perhaps we do, but without being rude about it or sacrificing our goal of understanding what those with whom we work think and feel in a critical but not judgmental manner. Consider, for example, the way I address this issue in my 1995 american ethnologist paper "Negotiating with Demons."

I start with a working assumption, nicely stated by Erving Goffman, that applies as well to the presentation of self in ritual as it does to everyday life.

"When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be [The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1959:7]"

I assume, then, that the healer is doing, in fact, what he seems to be doing: negotiating with demons. He is neither charlatan, preacher, nor pedagogue; nor is he an actor performing a play that he and others know to be fiction. He is what he says he is: a magician, trying to achieve a certain effect in the way he knows best, by magic.

Do I believe in the magic? No. Am I willing to suspend disbelief to better understand what I observe and have played a minor role in setting up? Yes. Did I contribute to improving our knowledge of popular Daoist healing ritual? If you have a moment, please read the paper and let me know what you think.



Keith Hart said:

To extend Jon's observation, Tom Boellstorff has written a brilliant chapter for Horst and Miller's Digital Anthropology where he claims that virtual worlds offer an unrivalled opportunity to develop participant observation as a method. This is because we create our online personae there more than we do in real life. What is striking about his chapter "Rethinking DA" is that he addresses the relationship between the object, theory and method of digital anthropology, a level of clarity rarely found in terrestrial ethnography.

I wanted to remind our group of the origins of the term PO which I recall as an instrument of infiltration and covert surveillance in mid-century US industrial management whereby an individual took a job on the production line and spied on his fellow-workers. But it was nowhere to be found! The anthropologists have airbrushed the history of the method to exclude such sordid practices, claiming that it originated with Malinowski's Trobriand ethnography or Frank Cushing's among the Zuni. Who knows? Perhaps I made it up. In any case Malinowski was keen to get in on industrial management towards the end.

My point in bringing this up is not just to embarrass the ethnographers. It seems to me that all this talk about fieldworker as friend bowdlerizes the field situation by projecting an image of free equality on it retrospectvely. In my experience fieldwork was a highly unequal social situation -- and this was normal at least until the end of empire and in many cases long after that. I was a rich white educated kid living with poor illiterate black adults -- in fact all my fieldwork has been as the sole white man living in a sea of black poverty. This led me to conceive of PO as the negotiation of inequality. How could unequal relations be made more equal through human exchange? This was vital, since if I did not establish a measure of equality, I could end up dead. I would go further, all relationships start out as being significantly unequal to some degree and what I think of as the ethnographer's charter -- to be seen as oneself and to see others as themselves, rather than through the cracked mirror of prejudiced categories -- is a project that we realise to a varying degree over time.

So one aspect of this discussion of PO concerns the fibs that ethnographers tell about how well they got on with the inmates they studied. Max Weber used to say that we study who we are or who we are not. Anthropologists study human beings. Well, you work it out.

It's funny that I didn't see before I actually got there the vapidity of the methodological pre-conception of trying to simply tune in with the experiential realities of the school kids and their teachers. De facto, that would have meant such things as trying to learn the alphabet anew and adopting the teachers' pedagogic practices, behaviors which soon proved quite ridiculous and inappropriate. The wisdom I've taken from this is that anthropology is perhaps less valid as a science of meanings and their making, than as of natural sociality. Making the study of cultural ontologies secondary to tracking and explaining face-level social interaction patterns I now think of as the way that PO can come to its richest scientific fruition.

Ingold's version:

doing ethnography  Participant Observation as being there reflectively in the flow-------->theoretically informed ethnography  Anthropology as further reflection on the learning experience of being there in the flow.

What many other people may consider to be the case:

Ethnography as an experience of being thrown into a difficult social situation which in various ways challenges prior assumptions about how society works based on ethnographer's autobiography, followed by---mostly flawed attempts to create some kind of connection with other people in that setting (based on faulty assumptions of what they are aiming at) ---attempts to establish some kind of common life and a modicum of equality and sympathy with them---attempts to understand what the hell is happening by venturing certain kinds of behaviour and searching around for clues---periods of terrible boredom and malaise interspersed with moments of euphoria and excitement---the confirming of certain friendships and workable relationship despite a still inept ability to comprehend the situation---growing recognition of a process of learning due to the reiteration/variation of specific events and meanings which start to acquire a certain formality---gradual or sudden arrival at moments of insight into what is going on from the point of view of the people involved---the jotting down of these insights as proto-concepts in some genre that appeals to the anthropologist--poetic, techno-scientific etc.----the bringing to bear of some ideas and techniques from the wider narrative of anthropology to see if those fit in some way with what has been learnt so far...

Then the cogitation-writing of An Ethnography as a post hoc summative statement that accounts for this learning process oriented toward engaging with the arguments of theorists whose ideas the ethnographer considers to be important---the articulation of fieldwork insights with what there is to know about the wider social-cultural ensemble---a general shift from passively learning to stating and arguing---slow and torturous writing down of lines of words on a page which in some way totalise the concept-world/utopia that has been/is being built up---arguments and discussions with anthropologists and others about the claims being made and why they might be of relevance etc...

Three powerful statements grounded in personal experience.

Ethnography as an experience of being thrown into a difficult social situation which in various ways challenges prior assumptions about how society works based on ethnographer's autobiography, followed by---mostly flawed attempts to create some kind of connection with other people in that setting (based on faulty assumptions of what they are aiming at) ---attempts to establish some kind of common life and a modicum of equality and sympathy with them---attempts to understand what the hell is happening by venturing certain kinds of behaviour and searching around for clues---periods of terrible boredom and malaise interspersed with moments of euphoria and excitement---the confirming of certain friendships and workable relationship despite a still inept ability to comprehend the situation---growing recognition of a process of learning due to the reiteration/variation of specific events and meanings which start to acquire a certain formality---gradual or sudden arrival at moments of insight into what is going on from the point of view of the people involved---the jotting down of these insights as proto-concepts in some genre that appeals to the anthropologist--poetic, techno-scientific etc.----the bringing to bear of some ideas and techniques from the wider narrative of anthropology to see if those fit in some way with what has been learnt so far.. [Huon Wardle]

It seems to me that all this talk about fieldworker as friend bowdlerizes the field situation by projecting an image of free equality on it retrospectvely. In my experience fieldwork was a highly unequal social situation -- and this was normal at least until the end of empire and in many cases long after that. I was a rich white educated kid living with poor illiterate black adults -- in fact all my fieldwork has been as the sole white man living in a sea of black poverty. This led me to conceive of PO as the negotiation of inequality. How could unequal relations be made more equal through human exchange? This was vital, since if I did not establish a measure of equality, I could end up dead. I would go further, all relationships start out as being significantly unequal to some degree and what I think of as the ethnographer's charter -- to be seen as oneself and to see others as themselves, rather than through the cracked mirror of prejudiced categories -- is a project that we realise to a varying degree over time. [Keith Hart]

It's funny that I didn't see before I actually got there the vapidity of the methodological pre-conception of trying to simply tune in with the experiential realities of the school kids and their teachers. De facto, that would have meant such things as trying to learn the alphabet anew and adopting the teachers' pedagogic practices, behaviors which soon proved quite ridiculous and inappropriate. The wisdom I've taken from this is that anthropology is perhaps less valid as a science of meanings and their making, than as of natural sociality. Making the study of cultural ontologies secondary to tracking and explaining face-level social interaction patterns I now think of as the way that PO can come to its richest scientific fruition. [Kristian Garthus-Niegel]


Each of these statements challenges the abstractions deployed in Ingold's explanation of participant observation. Let us assume, however, for the purposes of further discussion that they "correspond" to what Ingold says. Can we identify in them specific ontological commitments or educational projects?

Or, turning to another tack, to what extent do these descriptions of fieldwork experience reflect specific times and places, the times and places of the fieldwork or the times and places of the projects that informed the anthropologists' research?

I go for timeless, John. We enter families as babies with parents, education as students with teachers. Women have to struggle with the presumption of male superiority. Race is old and permeates everywhere. We confuse the aspiration to greater equality with the social reality. Although it doesn't always work the same way, it is normal to find oneself superior or inferior in a relationship and the humane thing is to try to reduce the gap. Nor is it a matter just of the objective social indicators. I was desperately lonely when I arrived in Ghana and greatly in need of human warmth, play, a chance to laugh -- which my hosts had plenty of. I gave them money, letters, rides, help with officials. Very disparate things, but if we had ended up with the racial stereotypes, my fieldwork would have been over.

"We should drop both the ethnographic and the field from ethnographic fieldwork, and refer instead to our tried and tested way of working, namely participant observation."

Again, I agree, but Ingold does not  complete his thought on that.  He says or implies participation and observation are not simultaneous, which  I  agree,  but I want to read more about participation being a separate method.  It is a separate method  because it is only about gaining access to the data in the field.

I  feel nostalgic about this.  In the 80's  and 90's, the indigenization of psychology was huge in my country.  The topics that had come up again and again were the interpersonal skills of the field researcher and the inter-human interactions in the field.  Filipino social scientists, specially those of postcolonialist mold, are still using  those skills in their interactions in the field.  It is clear to me that the application  of those  skills is a method that is participation.

Imagine if it is required that you have to possess and be mindful of the following before you can gather data in the field.

 

Core value or Kapwa (togetherness)

Kapwa, meaning 'togetherness', is the core construct of Filipino Psychology. Kapwa refers to community; not doing things alone. Kapwa has two categories, Ibang Tao (other people) and Hindi Ibang Tao (not other people). Filipinos value conformity because unlike non-Asian countries, its culture is predominantly Confucian. This runs into conflict with individualism (kanya-kanya) which was brought about by Western colonialism.

  • Ibang Tao ("outsider") There are five domains in this construct:
    • Pakikitungo: civility - In Confucian ethics, right behavior meant right demeanor towards authorities (Parents, Elders, etc.).
    • Pakikisalamuha: act of mixing - This is a social value that is primarily communitarian and Confucian. It espouses the ability to adapt.
    • Pakikilahok: act of joining - This translates to participation of the entire community to help a person.
    • Pakikibagay: conformity - This runs into conflict with individuality which many Filipinos in fact willingly throw away in favor of conformity with demands of those who are in charge.
    • Pakikisama: being united with the group.
  • Hindi Ibang Tao ("one-of-us") There are three domains in this construct:
    • Pakikipagpalagayang-loob: act of mutual trust
    • Pakikisangkot: act of joining others
    • Pakikipagkaisa: being one with others

Pivotal interpersonal value

  • Pakiramdam: Shared inner perceptions. Filipinos use damdam, or the inner perception of others' emotions, as a basic tool to guide his dealings with other people.

Linking socio-personal value

  • Kagandahang-Loob: Shared humanity. This refers to being able to help other people in dire need due to a perception of being together as a part of one Filipino humanity.

Accommodative surface values

  • Hiya: Loosely translated as 'shame' by most Western psychologists, Hiya is actually 'sense of propriety'.
  • Utang na loob: Norm of reciprocity. Filipinos are expected by their neighbors to return favors—whether these were asked for or not—when it is needed or wanted.
  • Pakikisama and Pakikipagkapwa: Smooth Interpersonal Relationship, or SIR, as coined by Lynch (1961 and 1973). This attitude is primarily guided by conformity with the majority.

Confrontative surface values

  • Bahala Na: Bahala Na translates literally as "leave it up to God (Bathala)" and it is used as an expression, almost universally, in Filipino culture. Filipinos engage in the bahala na attitude as a culture-influenced adaptive coping strategy when faced with challenging situations.
  • Lakas ng Loob: This attitude is characterized by being courageous in the midst of problems and uncertainties.
  • Pakikibaka: Literally in English, it means concurrent clashes. It refers to the ability of the Filipino to undertake revolutions and uprisings against a common enemy.

Societal values

  • Karangalan: Loosely translated to dignity, this actually refers to what other people see in a person and how they use that information to make a stand or judge about his/her worth.
    • Puri: the external aspect of dignity. May refer to how other people judge a person of his/her worth. This compels a common Filipino to conform to social norms, regardless how obsolete they are.
    • Dangal: the internal aspect of dignity. May refer to how a person judges his own worth.
  • Katarungan: Loosely translated to justice, this actually refers to equity in giving rewards to a person.
  • Kalayaan: Freedom and mobility. Ironically, this may clash with the less important value of pakikisama or pakikibagay (conformity).

 

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filipino_psychology

"In the mundane humdrum of moment-to-moment Participant Observation, there's usually little mind to spare for deliberated 'feeling' and 'being in the world'. At the positive side though, all this humdrum also leaves little space for too quickly trying to 'know about it'. Mostly, the anthropologist has hands full merely keeping track of all that's going on."

Kristian, is that the case because the participation part of the "Participant Observation" is shallow and the anthropologist does the observation as an outsider and looks at his informants or at the people in the community as specimens for his gaze?

Is that also the case because the anthropologist has limited resources to take his time in the field? Does he look everywhere and look quick so he  can go home and  write  his  dissertation? 

 

Yes, Kristian, I too wondered if you were doing anything in the classroom apart from observing. This opens up another line on PO -- what is actually involved in participation? Maybe standing in a corner and taking it all in is a sort of participation.

I'm game. I just turned 40 this month, and just finished a PhD last December.  Getting the latter seemed to take forever, while making it to the former seemed nearly instantaneous.  In other news I teach as a lecturer at a Cal State here in socal and live in the high desert where I spend my free time chasing a two year old around.

I think Jonathan is right that much of the early discussion seemed to blow right past Ingold's main point, which is to separate anthropology and ethnography.  I also think that his discussion about when ethnography actually takes place (after the participant observation and fieldwork) is valuable.

A few of you have commented that something seems incomplete or missing about this piece.  I agree--I think this should be read in concert with Ingold's "Anthropology is not ethnography," which can be downloaded here:

http://www.proc.britac.ac.uk/tfiles/825683A/154p069.pdf

Jonathan also brings up one of the key points of the article, which isn't actually about the bogeyman of positivist "ethnography" versus the utopia of ethnography.  As Jon points out, Ingold is also calling attention to how we label some forms of knowledge production "ethnographic" (that which occurs in the field), while we label others "education" (this kind occurs inside the academy).  Ingold argues that we need to break down the "pernicious distinction" we make between the education that takes place outside the academy and inside of it.

I am drawn to Ingold's idea that practicing anthropology is "to undergo an education." Why, he asks, do we think so differently about the learning that takes place in the field (and what we do with that learning), compared to the learning that takes place with colleagues, profs, and others inside the academy?  For me this brings us to a another distinction: the difference between anthropology as practice (and, maybe, way of thinking and being in the world) versus anthropology as an institutionalized discipline.  I think we often conflate those two as well.  Perhaps this calls for another offshoot article titled "Academic anthropology is not (necessarily) anthropology."

That last line was sort of a joke.  But not really.

I have a two year old crawling on me now so I have to cut this short!

To wrap up this comment, I think Ingold is making a powerful point when he argues that we need to think of the learning, engagement, and knowledge production that takes place outside of the academy as educational, not ethnographic.

Also, I think Ingold's main point here (as the title says: enough about all this ethnography stuff) is to argue for a return to anthropology.  That's the last line of the essay: "In calling for a halt to the proliferation of ethnography, I am not asking for more theory. My plea is a return to anthropology."

So the task is reading Ingold to find out what he means when he says "anthropology." Some of that is outlined in this essay (eg when we do anthropology we undergo an education), but also in the other one I linked to above.

More soon!

-ryan



Jonathan Mair said:

Hi All

I hope it's in the spirit of things (rowdy anthropology) for me to gently suggest that we're largely missing the point of Ingold's paper here. He's not saying anything of substance that attacks the kind of research carried out in other disciplines -- surveys and experiments surely have their place. He doesn't like the blanket application of the term 'ethnographic', which he thinks conflates several things that should be kept separate. Although he starts off by getting us on side by complaining about those nasty positivists, it seems to me that his main criticism is aimed squarely at anthropologists, and it's not really about terminology, though he does define a number of things and his definitions are very helpful in unearthing his argument (I agree with Huon that it's a bit buried in this paper):

1. Ethnography = writing about the people, it may have methods, but it is *not* a method, it's valuable in it's own right

2. Fieldwork = activity that assumes interactions will result in ethnography, he doesn't like that, and prefers...

3. Participant observation = a practice of attending, leading to...

4. Education = learning about being in the world...

5. Theory = thought abstracted from the world

6. Ethnography (distinguished from theory) = accounts of the world treated as exotica and divorced from our understanding of being in the world

7. Anthropology = the interstitial space that would be the union of (5) and (6) if they were not defined by their mutual exclusion

So anthropology and ethnography (applying his definitions) are quite distinct products, both of which *may* be, and in practice often are, based on knowledge acquired through an education based on participant observation. Ethnography, in the sense of 'writing about the people' is valuable in its own right and not a preliminary to a more general comparative anthropology (391). 

His key point, it seems to me, is the call for the abolition of the distinction between knowledge we get from academic books and teachers (theory) and the knowledge we get through participant observation (ethnographic knowledge) -- that's why he's calling for the abolition of the term 'ethnographic' as applied to knowledge and fieldwork.

That's quite a radical proposal. 

Jon

Keith, Izabel, no, I didn't only sit around in the corner simply observing, though I did that quite a lot too. To the contrary, I engaged extensively with the kids in their activities in classroom and on the yard, and with the teachers in day-to-day talk, seminars, lunch- and planning meetings etc. etc.

But doing prolonged PO-centered fieldwork up the home-street in an institutional setting like this definitely places definite constraints on how you can operationalize yourself in the field. In a OECD-ified primary school classroom, the roles and activities are pretty explicitly prescribed, and coming in labeled a 'researcher', assimilating too far just gets awkward; its plain to yourself as well as most informants that your stay is transient, your horizon analytic. Also, you enter and exit the field every day, which serves as a constant reminder of the in/out of field split, and you focus more on the institutional context itself than on the totality of your informants lives. So there's more than timelessness here; field particularities do seem to run quite deep into what kind of PO you can do.

Nevertheless, I did develop sincere, trustful, warm, 'resonnant' (as U. Wikan once termed it) relations with many informants whilst in the field, though not by giving them things they otherwise didn't have, but by presenting myself as a researcher with a sincere curiosity for what education was from their point of view, and signalizing being on their wave-length (as opposed to how they felt about much other more technocratic edu-research). And the kids grew to like me mainly, I think, because I was an adult who didn't pamper them as much as the rest with rules, expectations and corrections, instead cutting them a slack.

Maybe you'd want to trace these relations in (a)symetry/(in)equality-terms Keith? I'm uncertain about how well it would hit the mark of how my PO got grounded; at least the substantiating properties would at least differ quite a lot from those marking your Ghanian experience.

There's a very funny Norwegian/Swedish movie called "Salmer fra Kjøkkenet" ("psalms from the kitchen") which caricatures well the practical lunacies of neutralist natural observation schemes (Swedish sociologists setting themselves up as anonymous observers in the corner of Norwegian kitchens to chart the culture specific kitchen behaviors of Norwegian men); an excellent commentary to the artificialness of the participation-observation dichotomy.

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