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Session Overview
RN20_07: Situatedness and Data Collection III: Comparing and Extending (Ethnographic) Cases
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Christoph Maeder, University of Teacher Education Zürich
Location: UP.3.209
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Third Floor Oxford Road

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Pushing the boundaries of Ethnography: doing Comparative, Collaborative and Continuing Ethnography

Gerben Moerman, Christian Bröer, Gerlieke Veltkamp, Archana Ramanujam, Carolien Bouw, Loes Verplanke

University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, The

Since 2016 we have been setting up a large-scale study on eating, drinking, physical activity and sleeping of children between the age of 0 and 4. Our research is intended to shed light on health practices in everyday life. The ethnographic panel study is concerned with practices within the family and socio-environmental resource pathways leading to health inequality and child overweight. The study is part of a cohort research programme initiated by Sarphati Amsterdam. Our design is meant to lead to a large data set which enables ad-hoc and post-hoc questions and can help to make sense of epidemiological and register data.

In this paper, we want to share our methodological reflections on setting up and performing this Comparative, Collaborative Ethnographic panel study. We will show how we designed the comparison of practices within the family with different researchers while trying not to sacrifice depth. This is only possible when trying to push the boundaries of what is commonly considered ethnography.

Distinguishing the Typical From the Idiosyncratic. On the Adequacy of Using Ethnographic Case Studies as Pars Pro Toto Representations of Society.

Niklaus Reichle

University of St.Gallen, Institut of Sociology, Switzerland

The process of becoming a minority after the end of Apartheid has been contradictory and ambivalent for the relatively small white Afrikaans-speaking population segment of South Africa: While for some, social downward mobility has become a reality, the majority remains privileged when compared to the rest of the South African population in terms of wealth and income. However, an increasingly uncertain socioeconomic outlook as well as symbolic and political marginalization have created an overall sense of decline and precarity.

This paper gives an insight into an on-going ethnographic project that examines how white Afrikaans-speaking students who live in student residences on two university campuses in South Africa perceive, experience, and cope with precarity and socially downward mobility.

Based on data from an initial phase of fieldwork, the paper addresses the question of how in-depth interviews, participant observation, and photo-elicitation interviews can systematically be triangulated in order to generate findings that are relevant beyond each of the examined cases. How and to what extent can the investigated phenomena – the heterotopias of the student residences, the perceptions of the students – be interpreted as pars pro toto being representative for or typical of the wider South African society? How can the findings be regarded as relevant on a larger scale, e.g. for specific wider population segments? Given the specific methods employed, what other data is potentially needed to make such inferences? The paper thus discusses the methodological question of how to distinguish the ‘typical’ from the ‘particular’ or ‘singular’ in qualitative research projects.

Qualities of Practising Cross-Jurisdictional Comparison

Inge Kryger Pedersen

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Learning from currently non-standard practices of comparative qualitative research demands further methodological reflection and articulation. In this paper, I explore how comparative moves deployed in an ongoing qualitative comparative case study set in Denmark into three emerging professional ‘proto-jurisdictions’ of water-related climate adaptation, prevention of lifestyle-related diseases, and innovation management may help to push at a field of doing comparison within which linear-causal comparative ambitions might not be suitable. By demonstrating our collaborative research practice on professional boundary work, I show how our comparative strivings have had potentials – or ‘qualities’ (Pink & Morgan 2013) – to opening methodological boundaries for doing comparative qualitative research. Such potentials will prove important as we try to evaluate: what is relevant to compare; what are implied comparisons; how to get them visible; which ‘language’ or common terms can we develop; when are the comparisons (needed to be) intensive or extensive; what are the best units of comparison; what are the relationship between units; how to find variation among relational forms, for example when not only stating a hierarchy among professional groups but also degrees of kinds of hierarchies.

The Elephant In The Room: Reflections On ‘Comparison’ From An International Study Of Childhood Publics

Christos Varvantakis, Melissa Nolas, Vinnarasan Aruldoss

Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom

In idiomatic English to invoke ‘an elephant in the room’ is to indicate an unspeakable problem. It is a declaration of knowledge held in common by those present in the room and an invitation to address it, in conversation. In the ancient Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant, the animal is not known and the blind men must come to know it and define it by feeling their way around its body. The figurative elephant prompts us to think about the relationship between Europe and its beyonds, as that relates to practices of knowledge construction. This contribution problematises one particular ‘elephant’ which we encountered in an international ethnographic study of childhood publics in two European cities (Athens, London) and one Indian city (Hyderabad), namely: the elephant of ‘comparison’. Comparative practice is the bedrock of much qualitative research whether acknowledged or not. Yet, to compare also suggests a number of boundaries, divisions and binaries, of similarities and differences, which sit awkwardly in a globalised world and within an ethnographic sensibility. In presenting our study to different audiences we invariably received questions about within city and between city comparisons. These were questions we tended to resist. In this contribution, we explore the narrative arc of the ‘comparative’ in the study -with all the boundaries, divisions and binaries it invokes - in an attempt to, like blind people in the presence of a proverbial elephant, feel our way, piece together and eventually, articulate ways in which the study practised comparisons and why questions of boundaries, divisions and binaries caused such discomfort.

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