PhD Research Days 2016 - Between a blink and wink, how do information related concepts shape ethnographic research?

April 22, 2016    News Conferences iSchool

I think this year's PhD Research Days were a big success. Special thanks to the student organizing commitee for all their hard work, and our keynote speaker Greig de Peuter for thoughtful comments and a great talk.

Two of my colleagues, Eva Jansen, Elysia Guzik & I organized a panel around the use of ethnography in LIS.

Between a blink and a wink: How do information related concepts shape ethnographic research?

This panel responds to the invitation for iSchool PhD students to submit panel proposals on any topic in the field of information studies, and to imagine how our research can engage larger discussions on the underlying values and rationales for doing information research at the doctoral level. We further expect the panel to engage panellists and attendees to think about and discuss the potential theoretical contributions of their research. Each panellist will contribute to an explication of a theoretical concept and its relevance to their research programme followed by a commentary on methodology.

The late anthropologist Clifford Geertz famously borrowed British philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s example of “a blink and a wink” to argue that the best way to understand the difference between two seemingly identical movements is to conduct ethnography (Geertz, 1973; Ryle, 1968). Like Geertz, our research is concerned with the idea that the assumptions people hold and the categories with which they organize the world must be examined in their social context. Ethnography has become a common research method within library and information science, and supports a diverse range of topics (e.g., Carlsson et al., 2013; Hartel, 2007; Michels, 2014; Sundin, 2011). With its roots in anthropology, it is a primarily qualitative methodology that focuses on “situated practices” and strives to shed light on participants’ perspectives (Blomberg & Karasti, 2013; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Suchman, 1987). Researchers who apply ethnography spend time immersed in the organizations, communities, and social groups they study and document what they observe in fieldnotes (and, increasingly, other media such as film and audio recordings). Using information related “sensitizing concepts” (Blumer 1954) poses potential opportunities and challenges for researchers. Panelists will discuss their theoretical and methodological approaches and their relations to their particular field settings. While each dissertation project is distinct, our panel will reflect on how methods of participant observation, field writing, interviewing, and multimedia journaling are designed to explore the connections among language, power, knowledge, social relations, documentation, and material culture in quotidian and institutional settings.