An Ethnography of Academic Writing: On the Very Idea of an Ethnography


Ethnography has been increasingly adopted by social researchers from many backgrounds in recent years. However, many studies that claim to be ethnographic do not carry out long-duration or extensive fieldwork as in classic anthropological studies. Rather, research in education and linguistic studies has started to claim a broadening of ethnography based on various epistemic arguments. These arguments can be seen to cohere with the original analytical aims of ethnography, but have contributed to a situation whereby ethnography has become almost synonymous with qualitative research. This article takes up a discussion that I needed to resolve in my own research, namely, how should it be named and described? This discussion was of a piece with the object of study – academic writing – which did not at first glance lend itself to ethnographic methods. It was also inseparable from the various stances on ethnography held by the two contributing disciplines in my interdisciplinary study. The conclusion is that ethnography, as a ‘non-method’ that underdetermines how it is carried out, should be available to anyone who is prepared to fully engage with the ‘ethnographic perspective’. This includes properly conceived studies of academic writing.

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