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2017 Conference - Participant Observation as Correspondence
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Ethnography for anthropologist Ingold (2013) entails “join[ing] in correspondence with those with whom we learn” with “interventions, questions and responses of our own” (p. 389). While applied linguists have often used ethnographic methodologies to collect data, intervention has sometimes been seen as an ethically dangerous, potentially colonizing activity. In this presentation, I explore how new materialists or post-humanists see ethnography, and speculate about what difference it might make to our work if we were to eschew stances of ‘objectivity’ to adopt learning, engagement, correspondence and transformation as our research goals.

Post-human theory rejects anthropocentrism and sees humans as only part of socio-material ‘assemblages’ that are indeterminate, unpredictable and continually changing. For educational researchers, this scholarship encourages us to examine closely how material human bodies, learning spaces, available resources (furniture, books, paper, computers and so on), discourses about teaching and learning, what is considered to be knowledge, policies and practices, researcher desires, and so on are assembled and entangled with one another, and how they may be moving and changing together. The complexity of representing assemblages which are continuously changing, is daunting, but the aim is not for accuracy or truth, but for expansion, escaping, as Braidotti (2013) puts it, “the mode of linearity or the confines of the printed page, but mov[ing] outwards, out of bounds in webs of encounters with ideas, others, texts” (p. 166). Finding such expansive ways of presenting what we have learned from being witness to ‘other’ material humans and non-human objects, will continue to be a problem in posthuman literature, and solutions will be messy and plural. I present data from several ethnographies I have produced, showing how they sometimes took materiality into account, but often did not, and I speculate about what such a lens may make clearer for us.

Braidotti, R. (2013). The post-human. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Ingold, T. (2013). Making: Anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture. New York: Routledge.

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