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  • 00:01

    [MUSIC PLAYING]I'm Sam Hillyard.I'm reader in sociology.My specialisms lie in qualitative research,ethnography, rural and community studies,and ethnography more generally.

  • 00:22

    The case study started with a hypothesisto explore the kind of policy myth and rhetoricof whether schools are the heart of the rural communities.So that was our starting point, our opening question.And we wanted to explore whether thatwas the case in this particular environmentin this particular rural village in Norfolk.

  • 00:45

    In this case study, we took an ethnographic approach,an inclusive ethnographic approach,which is interested in capturing everyone'severy day understanding of the social circumstances.To use the Weberian term-- "verstehen,"understanding, empathy with a case study setting.So that can include a wide array of methods, both interviewing,

  • 01:06

    participant observation, documentary analysis,visual mediums.An inclusive ethnographic approach is curiosity drivenand wants to explore the given setting,immerse itself in that given setting,to try to work out what's going on there, what's important.And where the action is.We used an ethnographic approach because we thought itthe best methodology to explore the idea of a rural village.

  • 01:30

    In the contemporary age, to explorehow that particular school fittedwithin a contemporary rural setting.And you couldn't get that from more distanced methods.They wouldn't be able to understandthe meaning of belonging in a rural village.And the doing of belonging in a rural village as well.We also looked to see what was available in the village.So this included to school logs and records

  • 01:53

    dating back to the early part of the 20th century.It also included some maps.And also some projects that schoolchildrenhave done in the past at the school itself.And they had maps and also photographsof the village in the past.One of the things that ethnography emphasizesis immersing yourself.Living in the culture that you want to study.So as part of this study of a rural village,

  • 02:15

    I went and lived in the village.So that involved staying, residing there,being part of the everyday routineand round of village life.So over the course of the year that the field work wasconducted, I stayed there three different timesfor about a month at a time.Across the calendar year to get a senseof the routine, the activities, and the rituals of village

  • 02:36

    life.The approach we adopted was to answerthe opening question we had.But also ethnography, and I think excitingly so,gives you a chance to explore thingsyou've haven't expected to find, or thingsthat caught you unaware.Or you just wanted to find out a little bit more information.So one of the things we also wanted to explore

  • 02:58

    were things that were present that we found curious.Or things that were absent, and to try and explain thoseas well.One of the things we immediately foundwas that there hadn't been in a permanent headteacher this particular school for quite a series of years.So we looked at the records and lookedat the pattern of employment of head teachers in the pastand could see very clearly that head teaches had been there

  • 03:19

    for a quite significant period of time-- 10, 20 years.So we wanted to explore why the current situation hadled to that.We also found that previous head teacherhad been with the school for a long timeand left something of a legacy that subsequent headteachers now perhaps struggled to find as a consequence.One of the second points we came to that really interested us,

  • 03:42

    and we haven't necessarily unforeseenbefore we began the fieldwork, wasthe village had gotten really big since post-war.It had almost tripled in size.And we looked at or tried to explore why that was the case.What kind of employment patterns had changed and occurredin village in that time?Where people were coming to the village,

  • 04:03

    and what parts of the village they lived in?And also what kind of imagined rural lifestyle thathad in the back of their mind when they movedto this small part of Norfolk?The third area we became interested inwas to get a capture or try and capturethe sense of the village as it was in the 21st century.So we wanted to speak to the people whowere important figures in that village at that time.

  • 04:24

    So this included the head teacher, obviously.The head of the parish council, the local shopkeeper,the vicar, people who were occupying important rolessocially, as well.So there were a few informal social clubs,and we spoke to villagers who were involved in that.As well as the every day kind of villagers,people with children at the school,

  • 04:46

    people who were just resident or retired there,and people, potentially, who were just thereis a holiday home.Or perhaps holidaying in the Norfolk area as well.On the theme of belonging and generating belongingand whether people felt they belonged,some of our respondents spoke to usand explained in some really interesting quotationsand details we've used in papers how they felt about living

  • 05:08

    in the village, the circumstances that brought themto the village, and also their sense of belongingas a consequence of that.Even in cases where they raise children in that village.One of the final points we explored,coming to the conclusion of the project,was one I found particularly interesting and exciting.And I think emphasized some recent workingin human geography.And we appeal to some of the work

  • 05:29

    Nigel Thrift where they're talkingabout the importance of space, and how sometimes space canencourage and generate certain extra levelof social relationship and interaction,a kind of buzz or community spirit.And we explored the special layout this villageand found the layout was quite curious.And it didn't really encourage people to meet one another.

  • 05:51

    And the way the village had expandeddidn't encourage different halvesof the village-- the new section,the old section-- to actually come acrossone another very often.And the shop location had also moved from being righton the village green, so to speak,to being on the outskirts as well.So whilst it still had a church, peopledidn't come together as once would've been the case.

  • 06:13

    And so the spatial layout of the village was so important.And also, right in the heart of the villagejust didn't have any pavements physically.So actually walking through the villagewasn't most straightforward thingas you would imagine it to be.Towards the end of the project, I think our main conclusion--in answering our opening question,

  • 06:33

    was the school at the heart of the community?I think, in this case, it wasn't really.Although things were really beginning to change.There was a new head teacher appointment.There were also new parents at the school whowere very committed to village lifeand had bought property there and were all set to stay.So main finding was the school wasn't

  • 06:54

    the heart of the village in this case study.It could often be the case elsewhere.And certainly, I think, in the futureit was going to change for this particular villagein this particular circumstance.So we almost highlighted the importanceof the role of the head teacher, the importance of someof the villages in making community happen.One of the key themes ethnography alwaysexplores, whether explicitly or implicitly, is change.

  • 07:17

    The key theme for change in this rural villagewas, what had happened in the past?Was it ongoing?What was the direction of travel?So in this case, it was a kind of changefrom the old guard, the old villagerswho'd occupied key roles in the village.So there was a new generation or aof incomers occupying those roles.So there's been a bit of a political upheaval

  • 07:37

    and local politics, micro-politics, of change.But that had meant the new villagesfrom different areas outside Norfolk,as well as local Norfolk folk, werebeginning to come to the fore in this particular villageand village life more broadly.The particular circumstances this villagemeant a lot of incomers had come into the village

  • 07:58

    in the post-war period.And there was also a very wide varietyof housing inside the village.So for people born and raised in the village, who'dlived there all their life, it wassomething of a culture shock.And some of the quotations we got from that populationreally bring the field data alive.In doing ethnographic field researcher,you collect an array of methods: participant observation

  • 08:19

    and also interviewing and sitting down with a villagerand talking through other materialthat you might have to inform that interview, such as maps,such as records, such as archives.The interviews give you a fantastic wealth of quotationsthat you can then use and draw upon and evidenceyour claims in various papers.And we've done so in this case.The tradition of community studies

  • 08:39

    is very well established in sociology.And I think our case study demonstratesome of the strength of that approach.Ethnography can open up a research field,allow you to explore things that are unanticipated.To try and take a little bit further some the opening ideasyou might have had, the sensitizingconcepts that you went into the field with.And I think we were very successful in that regard.

  • 09:01

    Discovering new things, taking us in new directionsthat we hadn't anticipated.And all relating to the classical kind of traditionsthat sociology is so keen upon, those big themes of power,of inequality, of belonging.And also global change.I think research like this doesn't just

  • 09:22

    end when you come out of the field.It kind of opens up some of the big questions that you stillwant to carry on researching.It's me those big things are, if you're doing ethnographic fieldwork in rural areas, do you need to like the studythat you're exploring?Also, I think that the themes speak to change in rural areas.

  • 09:43

    How are rural areas being shaped by much broaderprocesses of a global change?How can we theorize and capture the complexity of rural areas?And also, I think recent geography work emphasizingspace has been a little bit lost or ignoredby some sociological commentators.So does space have agency?What impact does space or living in a certain kind of locale

  • 10:03

    have upon the people living there?I think it also speaks to the biggest kind of questionthat I think occupies rural studies people at the momentis relating to how we explore the cultural dimensionof rural life.Is rural life a social construct?Is it something that we just have as a cultural imaginary?And what are the implications of that for people living

  • 10:23

    and working in such locales.


Dr. Sam Hillyard describes her ethnographic research into the idea that schools are at the heart of village communities. She highlights unexpected findings, particularly in how and in where the village has changed. She also brings in concepts of space and agency from human geography.

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Researching Rural Schools Using an Ethnographic Approach

Dr. Sam Hillyard describes her ethnographic research into the idea that schools are at the heart of village communities. She highlights unexpected findings, particularly in how and in where the village has changed. She also brings in concepts of space and agency from human geography.