A simple question about the use of the term “informant”

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  • #3801
    bernard smith
    Participant

    I wonder if anyone has come up with a better term for the word “informant” in ethnographic research. The word seems to carry lots of baggage including a positivist slant that constructivist ethnographies might find questionable..

    #3814
    Malish C M
    Member

    It’s a nice topic. “Informant” the catchy term in positivist tradition doesn’t suit for constructivistic tradition.  I suggest “respondents”. Why I am avoiding ‘participant’ is due to following reason. In a situations where every goal and way is set by researcher, idea of participant or participation is vague and raises ethical and political questions. For action research the term participant might be useful, provided researcher and research process gives such an autonomy to people who have been ‘selected’ for research. 

     

    Reg

    Malish CM

    New Delhi

    #3813
    bernard smith
    Participant

    Thank you. Respondent is certainly better and carries far less baggage. I like it.

    #3812
    Dr Ann Lawless
    Participant

    Hi Bernard

    I agree with Malish.  There are a number of alternative terms, and they have been created or used in order to address the ideas and issues you have raised – they are not just terms but concepts, nuanced and important ones.  Ethnographic literature has often discussed this and if you dive into the literature you will find a lot of discussion there.  The methodological appraoch (methodology and theoretical positions) we use shape something of the decision as to which concept is most appropriate, as does (I suspect) your understanding of how you established the relationships with participants – if you see them as co-producers of knowledge (eg in the semi-structured interview), you and they were co-producers of dialogue and knowledge than partcipant may be appropriate even if the research primarily benefits you (eg if you are a research student).  The authenticity of relationships in research is a big issue in ethnography, as is your critique of the distribution of power among stakehloders in your research.

    Ann

    #3811
    Dr Ann Lawless
    Participant

    ps I have just returned from sitting under the lime tree reading an ethnographic article which uses the term “community consultants” and which makes an eloquent argument for seeing “informants/participants” as not only co-porducers of knowledge but co-citizens in social transformation through radical approaches to ethnography such as collaborative ethnography. 

     

    see Campbell E and Lassiter LE 2010 From Collaborative ethnography to collaborative pedagogy. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, vol 41, iss 4, pp370-385

    #3810
    bernard smith
    Participant

    Many thanks, Ann. I will check out Campbell & Lassiter, but “community consultant” sounds incredibly “gentrified” to my ears (and eyes). But I wonder whether the title of the paper you reference might not hold the answer – I wonder whether “collaborator” or “community collaborator” might not be the word I am looking for ?  

    #3809
    Dr Ann Lawless
    Participant

    Hi Bernard

     

    yes, collaboraor may be it – think of it through the “lens” of the theory and methdology you are using, and see if its right for you!!

    #3808
    Malish C M
    Member

    You said it Ann!! Theoretical, methodological and epistemological position defines terminology for people. But I am bit confused with idea of co-producer and co-citizen. If someone is co-producer or collaborator of knowledge what about authorship and ownership of that knwowledge? Researcher or ‘co-producer who own that? is your  use of co-citizen (City Son) linked to State? Or you mean to say they are political subjects?? Sorry if I am making irrelevant question? As we dont have access to article you have mentioned  from my university, kindly bear with me if Im wrong.

     

    #3807
    bernard smith
    Participant

    I will leave Ann to talk about “co-citizens” but aren’t “authorship” and “ownership” social constructs rather than objects found in “nature”? In other words, questions about who owns knowledge and where that knowledge is said to reside (inside someone’s head? the good sense understood from interactions amongst members? some “thing” shared by members? etc) and so forth are perhaps accounts which different communities of practice provide for their members through the practices used by the members of those communities. As someone who works with undergraduate students to help them present experiential learning to faculty for (possible)  recognition as college equivalent knowledge (prior learning assessment) I am constantly thinking about what we mean when we say that a student  “possesses” knowledge, and what we mean when we talk about “knowledge” that is possessed by that student. Our culture (both academic and everyday) seems typically to view “authorship” and “ownership” of knowledge as reified objects while at best paying lip service to social constructivism, (in a different context what is the role of say, the interviewer in the account that is produced in qualitative research) but I think ownership of knowledge is a fascinating topic that needs to be unpacked and explicated         

    #3806
    Dr Ann Lawless
    Participant

    Hi Malish

     

    Yes, you are spot on, with very relevant ideas….once we start to think about the interviewee as a co-creator of knowledge, it turns out a whole batch of new insights – such as who owns this knowledge that we are creating together? – and who can claim itnellectual property of knowledge which we both created?  Keep on this path and it ends up leading us to question the authority of the author and also how unviesities themselves make claim to EXPERT knowledge, and other contestable claim sof unviersities…..which doesn’t mean they have no value, but it upsets and reverse things as we go into it deeper….

     

    The cocitizen thing is from literature on radcial interpretations  of the researcher-researched relationship, and comes out of the critical theory area…..yes, as poltical subjects in the public sphere.

     

    A quick exmaple, – if i do research on homlessness and mental health by interviewing homeless people, and bring them into the research not as informants but as story tellers and as people with ideas about how to prevent escalation of mental health among the homeless……the relationships shifts so that we are all working on the project, learning from each other, building ideas and insights – we work together on a communtiy service project in which we address the mental healht needs of the homeless based on the ideas of the homeless people and also on their insights into what it emans, combined with our capacity to analyse and interpret and wirte up….then we have been co-producers of knowledge (both the researcher and the researched) but also, as we are all citizens in a society (with aspiration that our society will become more caring and compassionate), we have also acted in ways that demonsrate cocitizenship and we have been active togetehr in producing knowledge and in “changing society” even if only locally in our neighbourhood.

     

    I can see that some people would argue it is all a bit too precious and maybe silly….but I can see the potential in this to “disrupt” and re-edcuate my own leanring and thinking as a researcher.

     

    .

    #3805
    Malish C M
    Member

    After seeing your post also I am not able to understand at what context we call people as ‘collaborator’. We started with call for better term for people who are researched. Informant is not acceptable for all of us. I suggested respondent based on insights from scholars. But still I am confused how can we use collaborator in non-action research projects. Can you elaborate bit how story teller become a collaborator of knowledge produced? Dont we ‘interpret’ what they tell as stories?

    #3804
    bernard smith
    Participant

    That’s a good question, Malish C M. If you take seriously the constructivist perspective – and David Silverman’s work on relaying this to students is excellent – then the work one does observing (ethnography) or interviewing (in all its guises) suggests very strongly that a) the accounts given are not located in any simple sense “inside” the heads of those members but are co-produced between the researcher and the member and b) the explanations of the accounts so produced also involve co-production of meaning and so understanding. In other words, if you are interviewing me and I am your story teller then your questions to me and your turns at talk offering sounds (the hmms, and the hmmm mmms and the like) that shape the way I continue (or not)) in fact are fundamentally part of the production of the story I tell you. I am not out in the street spouting stories that you record and explain. I am telling YOU a story that YOU are co-producing with me  – hence I am (as interviewee) a collaborator in the account. In fact, if you had not asked me the questions you asked but asked me very different questions I might have offered a different set of stories. And if someone else (not you) asked me the same questions I might have offered a different story. And if you had asked me the same questions on a different day I might have offered you a different set of stories..  

    The  same kind of model arises from ethnographic work you might do if I am (one of ) the people that you go to in order to gain access to activities and explanations of “what is going on here”. And , I would argue the same model of “collaboration” still holds up if you are a participant observer in a setting. Those other participants are collaborating with you in creating the setting for you and for themselves in their talk and interaction.     

    #3803
    Malish C M
    Member
    To quote Bourdieu (2003, Jl of Roy Anth) “Participant observation, as I understand it, designates the conduct of an ethnologist who immerses her- or himself in a foreign social universe so as to observe an activity, a ritual, or a ceremony while, ideally, taking part in it. The inherent difficulty of such a posture has often been noted, which presupposes a kind of doubling of consciousness that is
    arduous to sustain. How can one be both subject and object, the one who acts and the one who, as it were, watches himself acting?”
    Here question is if a researcher who is occupying high position (Linguistic, cultural, positions as Professor and so on) than respondents (for instance a Homeless), who set the goal. During the process of interviewing how these hierarchical positions mediates our research process.When we write text (representation) we will be selective. Do we reproduce entire story as it was as a text (Research Paper). The text,i.e. knowledge converted from representation of respondents to scholastic pint of view is problematic as far as collaborator is concerned.
    Otherwise, if we agree that they are co-producer of knowledge we should add them as co-author our text produced out of this collaboration. Is that the case?
    #3802

    congrates to you all for i have been following this discussion for quite a while and its excellent. this is really a scientific debate permit me use that appellation. Bernard what made you to come up with this theme?  it is very interesting and the problem now lies on who owns the knowledge. As Ann earlier mentioned, i think this will open up another big debate and so many questions to answer. we find in many universities where students carryout tedious research and produced knowledge which is published by other lecturers or proffessors. here we have a three partner game the interviewees from whom the students collected the data, the students themselves and the proffessors who publish this knowledge and are seen as the owners of it.

    I think Malish have a point some where because the debate may move out of the ” informant concept” if a non suitable appellation is introduce here. just the word informant is key in the process of knowledge sharing which some might say without carefully selecting your informant with respect to the topic in question. one may end up not producing tangible knowledge. why then do we select informants ? its because we believe they own the knowledge we are researching.

    if we look critically on the difference between what is obtain from those researched and what is produced in the final analysis when sense is given to the raw data, then we may come out with a suitable appellation there and know who owns what knowledge.

    Thanks you guys are pulling some of us up.

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