Ethnography as Process and Product: Residential Neighborhoods and Reflexivity in Shanghai


This case is drawn from reflection upon ethnographic research conducted during 12 months in Shanghai. When this project commenced, I was initially concerned with residents’ attitudes toward living in a socially accelerated environment. Later, however, I became intrigued with, and preoccupied by, texts circulating in the city which ostensibly insinuated supernatural characters into prominent downtown locations. In this case, I present an alternate account of the processes involved in constructing data from “field” to “page.” This case, which is different from those more systematic versions subsequently published in peer-reviewed journals, explores the opportunities and challenges associated with ethnography—as both process and product. Specifically, I first elaborate upon how the field has already been constructed and is not, therefore, “waiting to be discovered.” Then, I reflect upon the multifaceted, and often conflicting, material fieldwork produces. Finally, I explore how the “field” is no longer, if indeed it ever was, discrete and separate—both geographically and emotionally—from “real” life. Although intended to be exploratory rather than authoritative, and edifying rather than systematic, this case concludes by arguing that reflexivity, namely, critical reflection upon, and acknowledgement of, the biases affecting such matters as how researchers imagine and construct the field, should be recognized during all stages of ethnography, including the texts produced consequent to fieldwork. However, reflexivity should not be performed as an end in itself. Instead, reflexivity should facilitate insights into links between knowledge claims, personal experiences, and the sociocultural and discursive contexts in which ethnography is produced.

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