The Pros and Cons of Ethnographic Reflexivity

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The Advantages and Limits of Ethnographic Reflexivity

Awareness of writing choices generates an appreciation of the reflexivity of ethnographic research. Reflexivity involves the recognition that an account of reality does not simply mirror reality but rather creates or constitutes as real in the first place whatever it describes. Thus ‘the notion of reflexivity recognizes that texts do not simply and transparently report an independent order of reality. Rather, the texts themselves are implicated in the work of reality-construction (Emerson et. al., 1995:213).

According to Robert M. Emerson and colleagues, reflexivity is a method in which the ethnographer is aware that his/her writing choices are shaped to acknowledge the ethnographers presence in the culture being studied. Thus, while writing and analyzing fieldnotes, the ethnographer-as-author grows increasingly aware of his role and responsibility in telling the story of the people being he/[she] studied; for in writing he/[she] re-presents their everyday world[1]. By taking the ethnographers presence in consideration, the ethnography becomes more than a mere piece of text. In the process of writing his/her analyzes of a culture, the ethnographer is constantly reminded that his work is to understand a realm of reality. In the following I will discuss the approach Dorinne K. Kondo and Renato Rosaldo use in writing their reflective ethnography.

Dorinne K. Kondo in Dissolution and Reconstitution of Self: Implications for Anthropological Epistemology suggested that to understand the culture one studies the ethnographer should account his/her presence. In other words, the ethnographer should write about his/her experiences because it establishes the “I was there” author...

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... argues that even though our mission is to understand the culture we our studying one cannot make final assumptions about a culture. One has to reflex on the fact that a culture is always changing and that our preparation of our discipline is not often the method one uses in fieldwork.

As I reflect back to my own ethnographic research I found that even though I am Mexican-American and part of the Latino culture on campus my own community often challenged my interpretations. My interpretations were often critiqued by the male Latino culture, they felt that the meaning was much deeper and that I could not fully grasp the meaning because of my gender. Thus, I agree being reflective on ones ethnography can one fully add more meaning and understanding of a culture.

[1] Emerson et. al. Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995: 213.

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