Is Maintaining Objectivity a Question in Ethnographic Enquiries?

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    Santosh Mishra

    Dear all,


    It has been a proven thing that ethnographic studies may lead to very rich and raw data, often difficult to obtain through from any outsider’s or outsider’s insider view. The paradign shift in the area came when surprising factors came up during some ethnographic research done in the field of English Language Teaching in 80s. But at times, the question of objectivity mars the findings of the research and pose threats to the reliability of the study.




    Researcher in ELT

    Dr Ann Lawless

    Just visiting your comment quickly but I was reminded of the work of Ruth Behar “The Vulnerable Observor” as I reflected on your comment.


    Dear Shantos,
    I wrote a short essay on objectivity in ethnographic research: it is the elaboration of a paper I presented paper at the 6th ESA Conference, Murcia, Spain, in September 2003. I published this paper in a not very lucky netpaper series of my department (my paper is the only one still published). You can find it to this address, adding your name at the very short list of readers….

    Let me know your impression on it. Bye, Mario

    Santosh Mishra

    Hello Ann,

    If you get time, do go through a paper published by Mario Cardano in the following address.



    Daniel R.T. Hartley

    Hi Santosh,


    I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a question but more an issue that ethnographers need to be able to coordinate authoritively when faced with the positivist tendencies of others. Nothing is proven in ethography; it has not been proven to generate data (however you differentiate between the richness of numbers and the richness of words, both dividable infinitesmally) otherwise unavailable through other modes of research; a paradigm shift would necessitate that the question you ask is redundant in this new space where ethnography is regarded as ‘proven’. Only something objective and objectified as provable can be proven. Ethnography, even post the 80s shift you talk about (I’m guessing you mean the popularization of the linguistic turn, whic firstly emerged many years earlier post- Derrida), has never been such an object. Any notion of becoming an insider is much more indebted to anthropology and ethnography does not necessitate people desire or believe they become insiders. Where is the inside? What is the inside? How does one gain insiderness when one is an outsider? I dont see why the question of objectivity poses any threat to ethnographic reliability or trustworthiness; it questions it, but doesn’t threaten it. The threat is ethnographers’ inability to move away from positivist groundings (i.e. the fallacious grounded theory approach most immediately); their unwillingness to basque in the freedom of interpretive research and to allow such questions of objectivity remain over there, in less human things, things that can be isolated. Us ethnographers I think can give up such pragmatism in favour of greater creative freedom. I do not seek to represent reality, but to change it, to imagine it. Leave representing reality up to the people with the tools to do so.

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