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  • 00:10

    DAVID MILLS: I'm David Mills and Iwork in the University of Oxford and my area of interestis the anthropology of education.[Dr. David Mills, Lecturer in Pedagogyand the Social Sciences, University of Oxford]

  • 00:16

    JANE DYSON: I'm Jane Dyson and I alsowork at the University of Oxford in the geography department.[Dr. Jane Dyson, Research Associate, Universityof Oxford] I work with children and young people in the IndianHimalayas[How would you define ethnography for any student whohas not encountered this method before?]

  • 00:30

    DAVID MILLS: It's a troublesome conceptbecause it's a mixture of a way of doing researchand a way of writing about it.And so you need to think both about it as a methodand as a way of conveying your findings, whichis hard for students.[Who were the pioneers of ethnography and why did theysay it was important?]

  • 00:52

    DAVID MILLS: I think the interesting thingabout ethnography is that it emergesat a really exciting time in the early 20th centurywhen modernism as a literary formis, sort of, suddenly bursting onto the scenewith great novels and great poetry.And so Malinowski, who was a Polish researcher whowas trapped on the Trobriand islandsduring the First World War, he really admired Conrad,and he found that he wanted to try and finda way of writing to communicate the research he was doing.

  • 01:30

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: He was very experimental in his writing,and he was insistent that you couldn't justdo anthropological research by sittingon a veranda of a colonial villa,but actually to go and live amongst the community in whichyou're doing your research.So that was quite important methodological step,and that combination with the wayhe wrote about it was really the start of ethnography.[How has the method of ethnography changedand developed since it was first articulated?]

  • 01:54

    DAVID MILLS: It's interesting how it evolved and traveled,because certainly in the Chicago school,and sociology, and the early parts of the century as well,people were experimenting with writing.And so ethnography has two roots, really,anthropology and sociology.But since then it's definitely been exported across the SocialSciences.

  • 02:14

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And people use it in different ways,and have different meanings for it.So anthropologists sometimes get upset that ethnographersclaim to be doing ethnography in a way that'svery different from that anthropological history.[What is an example of sociological ethnography thatcame out of the Chicago school?]

  • 02:29

    DAVID MILLS: So people like Robert Park were doing,sort of, geography of community studies in inner city Chicago.There's a lovely book called The Polish Peasantin Poland and America which is a collection of accountsput together about Polish lives of people who have leftPoland and gone to America.

  • 02:54

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: So there are a range of examples of ethnographies.[What are the common criticisms of ethnography?]

  • 03:00

    DAVID MILLS: I think one of the most powerful criticisms of itthat's often made is, well this is just storytelling,this is just anecdote.And I think that's also the most powerful justification for it.Which is that we all live our lives through stories,and by telling those stories in a thoughtful scholarly way,we actually communicate a great dealabout the people we work with.

  • 03:22

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: [How would you respond to those criticisms?]

  • 03:24

    DAVID MILLS: I think people sometimes think of ethnographyas just a lot of stories and anecdotesand therefore unobjective or, sort of, not reliable.But my responses would be that ethnography is stories,and they're very powerful stories,and they're, provided they're well chosenand thoughtfully presented, they capture who we are as people.

  • 03:45

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: [What is it that people are critical of?]

  • 03:50

    DAVID MILLS: From my perspective the writing is oftenthe focus of criticism.But if you argue that writing and the methodare part of the same thing, then youcan't take one without the other.

  • 04:02

    JANE DYSON: Participant observation, at which, perhaps,we can go on to talk about later as well, is also the, kind of,the key method used usually, or associated with ethnography.And that also has connotations of simply hanging out.And so I think the methods themselvesare also somewhat misunderstood and perhaps not seenas being highly rigorous.

  • 04:27

    JANE DYSON [continued]: But it's precisely these kind of methodsthat you need to get at the textural experiencesand details of everyday life thatethnography is so useful for.

  • 04:37

    DAVID MILLS: And I would say ethnographyis a range of methods.And people often do do interviews,they often do do archival record work, and focus groups.It's not as if these methods are separate from methodspeople would use in social research more broadly,but the particular ways in which they're done and written aboutare what makes ethnography special.

  • 04:57

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: [What data gathering skills are employed in an ethnographicstudy?]

  • 04:58

    DAVID MILLS: Well, I wouldn't call it data gathering.I think that's a problem.I would start from a different placeand say the first thing you do is you build and relyon relationships both to access the field, and develop trust,and to get insights into the worldyou are trying to understand.So data is not-- it's about relationshipsand the reciprocity that those relationships need.

  • 05:23

    JANE DYSON: But having said that,there are a number of names that wecan put to the types of methods that people use.So, for example, participant observation,which there are huge debates around the wayin which participant observation is carried out, or it's worth.For example, to what extent can we reallybe participants and not just completely and hapless,helpless, unskilled observers?

  • 05:48

    JANE DYSON [continued]: Or, conversely, to what extent can we really observeif we're fully participating?So there's all sorts of debates around whatparticipant observation means.But what it does allow us to do isto get at the very texture of people's livesand to look at people the way people performthemselves, the way they interact with other people.And it highlights the way in whichthere may be discrepancies between what people tell usand how they actually then behaveand how they interact with other people.

  • 06:17

    JANE DYSON [continued]: So there's huge benefits to using this kind of deep hangingout with other people.But, as David said to you, there areall sorts of other types of other methods as well.So interviews, and focus groups, and peoplemight be using film in quite a participatory way,or photographs, or even to some extentsome kind of survey work.

  • 06:40

    DAVID MILLS: One of the concerns often raisedis if you participate too much you are no longer, sort of,a reliable witness.And I, actually, would question that.I think often the deepest forms of participationallow the most insightful observations.So this notion of being too much of a participantseems problematic to me.

  • 07:03

    JANE DYSON: And all these kind of methodsrequire a certain set of skills.You might need to be very skilledin a different language, or several different languages.You need to be incredibly flexible, and open.The idea that these kind of methodsare wishy-washy storytelling justbeing as one might be in everyday lifeare quite the antithesis to the amount of preparationthat one needs to do to conduct this kind of work.

  • 07:33

    DAVID MILLS: I think of all those,language is the absolute key.There's no way in which you can really understand a situationunless you fully appreciate the subtleties of the languagecontext in which you're working.And so anthropologists will spenda lot of time preparing for field workby learning languages.

  • 07:50

    JANE DYSON: And that may not just be verbal language.

  • 07:53

    DAVID MILLS: Absolutely.

  • 07:54

    JANE DYSON: Body language is as different in any contextas verbal language may be too.And the way that one comports oneselfis also incredibly important.[What are the common mistakes made by those using the methodfor the first time?]

  • 08:07

    DAVID MILLS: The tradition in anthropology, studentsare sort of thrown in the deep endand not giving much advice, or support, or training.And so, ultimately, you can't reallylearn this skill or method just by reading about it.You actually have to do it.And it's a bit like learning how to cookby reading recipe books.You actually have to experience it.And so one of the things we've been involved inis trying to find ways of teaching studentsthrough practice, through actually hands on writingand observational interview skills.

  • 08:40

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: Because that's the best way to possibly to actuallybegin to prepare for the field.And you mentioned, as well, that sort of flexibility.Because that's something which is very hard to teach.How do you teach someone to accept that everythingthey planned to do, and everything they designedmust get thrown out the window because they can't get access,or because a situation changes.

  • 08:58

    JANE DYSON: But I think there are alsoa number of quite definite steps that one can takeat the beginning of your study.You've got to start off with your set of research questions.And from that, you know, work out what kind of field siteyou want.Who are the core group of people you aregoing to be speaking to you?And have a set of criteria to which youare going to more or less stick in your searchfor looking for the right group of people to work with.

  • 09:23

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And then working out from that.You might have a core group of people, but who else mightyou want to relate to?How are those people multiply positioned,and who else do you want to talk to in relation to that?And how are those different typesof people going to answer the different types of questionsyou've got?And so you might have different sortof tiers of research questions, and overall ones, and thenmore specific ones.So I think really starting from that basis,quite methodologically working through your questionsand thinking who can answer those for you.

  • 09:54

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And then also thinking at different scales.So you might think at different, sort of,temporal scales over the whole period of time of field workthat you're going to conduct.It might be over a year, so how do the seasons impact on that?If you're going to be working in a rural area,or an agricultural cycle, how does the agricultural cycleimpact on people's a availability to talk to you?

  • 10:18

    JANE DYSON [continued]: You might be working in an educational situation,so how does the educational calendar,the school calendar work with you?And so, how does that impact on whenpeople are going to be extremely busy,or when a particular activity is goingto be happening for observation versus interviewing.So I think there's an awful lot of preparationthat you can do at these sort of different temporal scalesversus actually finding individual people to speak to.

  • 10:45

    JANE DYSON [continued]: But also at the scale of working with people,you know, do you want to be working very, very closelywith a small number of people and gettheir really detailed experiencesof their everyday life?Do you also want to get a broader picture of the contextin which they're working?Do you want to use some kind of sort of survey work,or something, to get that broader picture?

  • 11:08

    JANE DYSON [continued]: So I think thinking of those kind of temporal and researchled scales can really help you plan ahead before you evenget into the field.[How should students go about designingan ethnographic study]

  • 11:24

    DAVID MILLS: Well, this is on a very small scale,but the course we've been runningover the course of a term gets them to think about a personthat they would like to do an interview and a portrait of.Hence we call this class, I think, portraits.And they find somebody and they approach them and come upwith some questions, we discuss the sorts of questionsthey might want to ask.

  • 11:47

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And then they go and carry out an in-depth interviewand then think about how they might write itin a way that not just focuses on the individual,but tries to use that portrait to capturebroader issues around memory, aspirations for the future,social pressures from family or friends,or expectations for their own lives.

  • 12:12

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And so it's a way of giving a very small tasteof the way in which they might use the relationships that theydevelop during field work to think about someof the broader issues that they're encounteringin the society they're working.

  • 12:26

    JANE DYSON: And in doing that, it'sa, sort of, absolutely tiny micro project,a sort of micro version of what they'llexperience over a long term fieldwork project.The gaining access, the building rapport, the sortingout just the logistics of getting an interview,and then talking through ideas about ethics and methods,and then the analysis, and then the writing.

  • 12:52

    JANE DYSON [continued]: So we really work very specificallythrough each of those stages and workthrough all the kind of dilemmas and challengesthat arise in each of these stages.[What's the role of theory in designing an ethnographicstudy?]

  • 13:04

    DAVID MILLS: Historically, anthropologistsused to be very sniffy about mere ethnographers,as if somehow ethnography meant nothingwithout some sort of theoretical rationale.And I think there's still some validity to that.We are encouraging people to thinkabout using ethnographic tools, and write in ethnographic ways,but it's always informed by a debatethat they might be having with a particular set of ideasor theories.

  • 13:30

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: There isn't one set of theories, but a whole rangeof potential theories that studentswill be already engaging with as they come to a course.And that's important, because that informs, obviously,the things that you notice when you're doing fieldwork,and when you're writing a portrait.What do you bring out?What do you tend to?Those are always questions shaped by your engagementwith scholarship.

  • 13:53

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: [Can you generalize from ethnographic studies?]

  • 13:55

    DAVID MILLS: Generalization is one of those tricky wordsbecause it assumes that the case is representative of a biggerpopulation, and I think it's one of those words that potentiallygets used to attack ethnography.But I think if you think about it in a slightly different waywhere because of your interest in the literature,because you've chosen very carefullyyour particular relationship with one individual, or onecase, or one context, allows you to speakto much broader issues.

  • 14:28

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And so, without using the word generalizationin a statistical way, I think verymuch you would make the case that your own portrait,or your own ethnography has somethingto say to a much broader set of issues or concernsthan the one you're looking at.

  • 14:45

    JANE DYSON: The real value that comesthrough looking at the specifics,looking at individuals or a small case,is the way in which much broader social, political, economic,processes and structures actuallycohere in the lives of individual peopleand relationships and therefore create human outcomesand human every day experience.

  • 15:08

    JANE DYSON [continued]: So it's the value of understandingthe way in which these really broader structures influencethe every day that ethnography is so useful.

  • 15:20

    JANE DYSON: And we try and encourageour students in our course to thinkabout how within that portrait they would distill someof those border issues that they're interested in,or that the larger politics of social life,or historical forces that they see being worked outin these individual lives.

  • 15:40

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And that way then they can see that it's almost ethnographyallows a double vision, both on the immediate presenceand on a much broader set of debates that matter.

  • 15:52

    JANE DYSON: So in no way are we talking about these individualsas being these, sort of, heroic figures carving their waythrough the world, or representative in any way,But these, sort of, vehicles through whichto understand broader structures and processesand how they coalesce in particular lives.[Tell me about one of your projects and how the plancompared to the practice?]

  • 16:15

    JANE DYSON: So I've been working for the last 12 yearsin one small, remote village in the Indian Himalayas.I originally went there to work with childrenlooking at their everyday work practices.And so I had, kind of, an idea of what kindof a village that I wanted.It needed to be somewhere where children were both workingand going to school.

  • 16:37

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And so and I ended up spending about three monthslooking for the appropriate villageand trekking in the middle of winterinto these very, very remote places.And ended up in this village whereI have continued to work for over a decade.So before going I spoke good Hindi,and there's no one in the area that spoke any English at all.

  • 16:58

    JANE DYSON [continued]: I had to also learn Garhwali whilst I was there,it's a local hill dialect.So I turned up in the middle of winter,trekked there on my own, and ended upstaying with a family who just welcomed me in.It's part of the, kind of, mountaincourtesy to offer a home and food to a stranger.

  • 17:19

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And people were incredibly welcomingand seemed to understand almost immediately whatI wanted to do.And say, well, of course this is the best village for you,and you should stay here, and you know.And so I started almost immediatelygoing off with children off into the forestand working with them.But it certainly took a long timeto build up trust with the people that I was working with.

  • 17:41

    JANE DYSON [continued]: People were very confused that, yes, we sort of understandthe idea of research, but why on Earthwould you work with children?Because, obviously, whether or not the adults,particularly the adult males, were the onesthat know everything.So there was a long period of working that out.And people had this idea that I shouldbe walking around with a clipboardand taking notes like that.

  • 18:02

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And there's all sorts of issues around caste,which is obviously a particularly Indian phenomenon,and what caste I belong to, or whether I was workingwith lower caste versus higher caste,and all sorts of issues like that.So building up rapport always takes a long time.And you have to really invest in lotsof different types of people, not just, you know,I was working specifically with children,but I really needed to work very closely with their parents,and build up their respect and acceptance.

  • 18:33

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And, you know, now I continue to go back there twicea year or so.And obviously it's become a second home to me.And people joke that it's my birthplace,and, you know, I cry every time I leave,and that's how it should be.But I still have to keep going with that investingin relationships with people and building upthat rapport constantly.

  • 18:57

    JANE DYSON [continued]: It's not something that you do and then it's done.It takes time, as any relationship or friendshiptakes time investing in.And so I've been incredibly lucky to carryon working in the same place.It's changed hugely over the last decade.And so I think it's become incredibly unfashionablenow to do a village study over a long period of time.

  • 19:20

    JANE DYSON [continued]: But it's changed so rapidly, and particularlyfor the one generation of people that I'm working with,these young people who are now in their 20sfor whom education is entirely new, the idea of employmentis new, the village itself is changing rapidly.So it's been an incredible opportunityto see these changes.

  • 19:38

    DAVID MILLS: The best forms of ethnography researchare long term where you build up these relationships over time.My most sustained period of ethnographic research,as it often is for many people, was my doctoratewhere I was working in Uganda.And I went with some agendas to lookat masculinity and the crisis of AIDSbecause I was there in the mid 90s.

  • 19:59

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: But I found myself being more and more interestedin schooling and schooling aspirations and imaginaries.And so I worked both in the capital in Kampalaand in a rural school because it felt to mequite important to be able to situate the waypeople talked about schooling, and education,and their ambitions for the country and for themselveswithin not just one village site,but in relationship to their colleagues,and relatives, and friends in the capital.

  • 20:30

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And so often when you're working with peopleyou realize that their lives are often very mobile.And so increasingly ethnographershad to think about what that means to do researchin more than one site.And there's a whole, sort of, debatearound multi-sided ethnography.And that's a challenge because often the best research isdone, as you've said, Jane, you'vedeveloped relationships, and trusts, and loyalties over timein one place.

  • 20:60

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: So I found myself jumping on the bus quite a lot,backwards and forwards, trying to think about the connectionsbetween these places.[What are the main issues that ethnographers have to contendwith?]

  • 21:09

    JANE DYSON: Because it's one of those types of researchwhere it's not clear when you're actually doing the research,you know, so if you're not walking aroundwith a clipboard, it's not always clearthat you're assimilating information and understanding.And so one of the main things is making surethat people understand what you'redoing and the impact of the kind of researchthat you might be doing.

  • 21:37

    DAVID MILLS: The challenge there, I think,is that actually no matter how hard you try,how hard you try to communicate this is what you're doing,inevitably people don't always understand what research is,and also forget, or begin to relate to you as a friend, partof the family.And so again and again in the history of anthropology,particularly, comes the accusation of spying,you didn't tell us, or we didn't realizewhat you were really doing.

  • 22:04

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And I think there's no way of resolving that.I mean, you are trying to combine these twovery different ways of being.Of being a participant, of being in relationshipsand friendships of trust, and thenalso trying to understand those relationships.I think it makes it a, sort of, not ethically flawed approach,but I think a constantly challenging approach.

  • 22:28

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: Which actually also is a way of understandingpeople's values and their own ethical standards.So, yes, that's one of the biggest challengesfor ethnography ethics.But I think it's also one of the most exciting and mostrewarding parts of it as well.[What is an ethnographic portrait?]

  • 22:48

    DAVID MILLS: Even Malinowski whenhe was writing used vignettes, characters.He describes wonderfully a sort of self-portraitof him arriving on this beach and being left by the boatand dropped off.And so there's a way in which throughout anthropology'shistory people have often used literary techniques, vignettes,and mise-en-scenes, and portraits.

  • 23:11

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And so we felt that this was a wayof crystallizing ethnographic writing in a verycondensed form.It could be a portrait of an individual,it could be a portrait of a relationship, or even an event.So there are some classic anthropological portraitsof bridges being opened, or political events or ceremonies.

  • 23:34

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And so we feel that, actually, a portraitis a way of communicating to the readerthat the ethnographer is there somehow.So it draws attention to the artifact of the writing,because it allows you as a writer to say I,and I as the painter, as the portraitist.

  • 23:60

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And that works very well for our studentsbecause students often feel or find it very hardto put themselves into their writing.And find it hard to know how to balance an overtly,sort of, solipsistic focus on the self and a distant,sort of, scholarlyness that they alsofeel they ought to aspire to.So it's a condensed and sort of crystallized formof writing that allows a lot to be communicated very quickly.

  • 24:28

    JANE DYSON: One of the great freedomsof doing an ethnographic portrait is usingthis single person as this, sort of, vehicle through whichto think about much broader political, social, economicprocesses.And using them not as this representative of other people,or as this, sort of, great hero, but asa result of a sort of human outcome of these broaderprocesses that are going on around them.

  • 24:57

    JANE DYSON [continued]: So as David mentioned you've got this sort of double vision.And what a portrait of a single person or an eventallows us to do is move in and outof this different level of focus sothat the personal, or the event, becomes this,sort of, a lens through which to understanddifferent levels of everyday experience,both at the very local micro level or the broader level.

  • 25:24

    JANE DYSON [continued]: So it might be-- when we've asked our students to writeportraits of themselves, sometimes they'vefocused on a single interaction, or a single tiny part of oneday, and used that to show the moment that they werein at that time, or how the educational opportunities,their class position, were all kind of coalescedinto this single moment and use that as a vehicleto explain what was going on.

  • 25:51

    JANE DYSON [continued]: So I think the way that we can zoom in and outof different times, but also different spatial scales,and scales of analysis, make the portraitsa really useful communicative tool and analytical tool.

  • 26:09

    DAVID MILLS: And it allows you to weave in to the present,and ethnographic writing often isframed very much in the present, and that presents problems.But from that presence that you are communicatingthrough your relationship you can draw out memories,you can go forward to imaginaries,and that is quite hard in other forms of narrative writing.

  • 26:33

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: So, I think that we would say thisis different from life writing, or biographies,or oral histories, because the writer has the freedomto decide the frame of their portrait,to decide what's in the frame, and to decidehow their framing allows from within to seea broad landscape.[How do you decide what data to present when you write upa project?]

  • 26:56

    JANE DYSON: I think that's one of the beauties of it,and this is one of those horrible answersthat academics give, that there are no answers.We can't give you an answer.But it is true.It just gives you so much freedom to, as they say,zoom in and out of different scales of writing and thinking.And obviously the more information, the better.I mean, in our course we ask the students to write up a portraitbased on one interview.

  • 27:21

    JANE DYSON [continued]: It's really not enough to write a portrait.I mean, you really need a much better understanding,to have been with that person, to understand themin different contexts if possible, it's not alwayspossible in different research projects.But you need to see them interactingwith different people to understand moreabout their history, but also to see themengaging everyday life in other contextsto really being able to, kind of, draw outthis depth of understanding about this personand their position in the world.

  • 27:55

    DAVID MILLS: I find when you were worriedabout the course we run is that we start by asking themto write a self-portrait which gets them thinking about, OK,how do I want to present myself?And what would a portrait look like of someone else?And by doing that, that gives them--and then they're comparing these.And then they realize which is very many different waysof writing these.And then they do an interview, and thenthey, again, compare a draft portrait of the personthey've interviewed.

  • 28:18

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And, again, they're struck by the differences of narrativestyle, of approach.And so they're always learning through this comparison.And then we ask them to do a more elaborate portrait.And by then they've begun to, sort of,draw on the best they've seen from each other.And realizing-- so much, I think,writing is just about good writing.

  • 28:39

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And so again and again, thinking about what you convey,what you leave out, the power of certain visions,or the power of absences.And really working hard on writing styleand evocation without resort to cliche.So a lot of it is about good writing.

  • 28:56

    JANE DYSON: And I think getting the students to writetheir own portrait is really usefulto start with because what we're getting at it is not,sort of, annotated biography.You know, it's not a CV where it starts at the beginningand ends at the end, it's actuallyabout trying to find what are the key moments thatmade-- that we should understand about this person.

  • 29:17

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And, as you say, once you see a whole varietyof different types of portraits, yourealize how very liberating this way of writing can be.[Can you write an ethnographic portrait from any researchdata, or do you need planned research?]

  • 29:31

    DAVID MILLS: I think when you're doing a portrait,you'd want to pull together your knowledge of the person-- let'sassume it's a person you are writing a portrait of-- from,ideally, repeated interviews, or the, sort of,other contexts in which you've got to know them.Perhaps the longer you've known them,the easier it is to write a powerful portrait.And so you'll be drawing on thingsyou might have found out from their relatives,from their friends.

  • 29:54

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: You might well want to weave other relationshipsinto this portrait of an individualbecause we are all made up of our relationships.And then I guess you could also draw in knowledgeyou might have found from other sources,like a documentary sources, or archival sources.And so it doesn't just depend on one interview.I think that was very much what Jane was trying to say,that the richness of the portraitcomes through all the forms of knowledgeyou might have about a person.

  • 30:19

    JANE DYSON: And I think the fact that we're calling itan ethnographic portrait also assumesthat you're going to be involved, engaged, in fairlylong term ethnography.And over the months or years of doing that research thenyou are going to get to know individuals.So, almost by default, I think, youshould have the amount of informationthat you need to write this kind of thing.

  • 30:43

    JANE DYSON [continued]: But, if a student is setting out to write a thesis,they might want to think before they go aboutif I do want to use this type of writing,and therefore really invest in concentratingon a few individuals just to get to know them really,really well in a context where they might otherwise not have.They might have been interviewingat a slightly less in depth level.

  • 31:06

    JANE DYSON [continued]: So, maybe it's something to think about before you go in.But I think with any long term, in-depth ethnography,one would assume that you would have enough anyway.

  • 31:16

    DAVID MILLS: We do discuss field noteswith the students, because obviously that'ssuch an integral part of anthropological ethnographicresearch, lengthy note taking every night,or soon after a context, or something which has happened.It's important to think about, as a form of reflection,as a form of keeping one's memory alive.Because, see, you think you'll remember everything,but of course you very quickly forget so manyof the details and the contexts.

  • 31:41

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: So I think note taking, and ethnographic diaries,field note diaries, are a key to that, sort of, richness.[What is the role of field notes?How do you capture what happens in the field?]

  • 31:53

    JANE DYSON: It is entirely context specific, I think.You know, I had to come away from my field workwith a huge stack of notebooks, because therewas no electricity, there was no other way of doing anything,and then that laborious process of transcribing everything.But, there is electricity in most places,and there is-- people do have access to technology.

  • 32:14

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And there are all sorts of really interesting waysof gathering together informationfrom social media, and interactionsyou've had on social media, and video, and audio,and photography, and using all that.But I think at the end you still need your own reflections.You still need to, whether you're typing it or writing it,you still need to have that, sort of, diary,in some respects.

  • 32:40

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And to write down your reactions,and just the really, you know, the micro details,the way people interact with others, their performances.These are the things that you forget,and if they're not written down straightaway.And then people have different waysof organizing all this amount of information that we get.And so some people might have interview transcripts,and social media stuff, or whateverthey're using, and other kinds of documents, and thena separate, kind of, fieldwork diary.

  • 33:08

    JANE DYSON [continued]: Or you might just amass that all together.If the whole thing-- if you're living in and with a community,or with your research participants,then sometimes it's too difficult to pick that apartand the whole thing becomes one.There are lots of different ways of doing it,but it has to be done.

  • 33:25

    DAVID MILLS: The assumption is that somehow the interviewis the key form for gathering information.And, of course, it's a very formalized environment,it's highly structured, often it's quite official.And so often it's when you turn the recorders offthat the most interesting conversations happen.And that's why your own notes, your own reflections,are as important as any formal recording youmight do of an interview.

  • 33:49

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And many people would shy away from recording, as well.I mean, we encourage our students to do it,but also to write a great deal.

  • 33:57

    JANE DYSON: And quite often it's not what people say,but how they react, or how they behavewith other people that is actuallythe most revealing thing.I mean, it can tell you all sortsof the things about social structures,about hierarchy, about social rules in a particular place,or how context specific these kind of social processes are.

  • 34:19

    JANE DYSON [continued]: So it's often so much more than the spoken word,and that's what needs to get written.

  • 34:26

    DAVID MILLS: And what they don't say.It could have been the questions that theywant to ask, or brush away.That's particularly revealing.[When you've finished your research,what's the process of writing it up?]

  • 34:38

    JANE DYSON: I think, first start with really gettingto know your notes.And there are lots of different ways of doing it,there are software, there are computer programsto help you organize your notes.But I think the biggest use of these, or any other way,is just to go through them, to read them, annotate themin some way and really, really get to know them.

  • 35:01

    JANE DYSON [continued]: Some of those notes you would have writtena year and a half ago and they'llseem very, very new and fresh coming back to them.And there'll be some surprises, you know,what you came out with at the end.And then you may have particular ideas about your assertion,you go back to the beginning and think,actually, this idea doesn't crop up nearly as many timesas I thought it did.So that is really key, get to know everything really,really well, and organize it in some way.

  • 35:26

    JANE DYSON [continued]: Whether you use software or not is your decision.

  • 35:32

    DAVID MILLS: I took lots and lots of field notes.And once I read through them, I didn't feel overwhelmed by thembecause I knew that there was lotswhich wasn't that relevant to the things I was thinkingabout.So I think it's important not to be overwhelmedby the materials you collect, but also to rememberthat because you've gone, ideally,you've gone to start the research with some key themesand ideas in your mind, that actually this is not,sort of, raw data.

  • 35:59

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: This is already thinking through issuesthat you began thinking through before you evenstarted your research.And so all of this material is processing,it's processing thinking around what you want to sayand how you want to say it.And again, we really encourage our students,I encourage mine, to start, sort of, writing up.Do the analytical thinking, hard writing workwhilst they're even doing the research as well.

  • 36:24

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: Because that way then you're already beginning to dissipate,oh gosh, I don't know enough about that,and that never occurred to me.I should really go and ask some more questions about that.And that's quite important, this sort of process, I think.[How often can you interrogate the same set of field notes?]

  • 36:38

    JANE DYSON: I think people live off their field notesfor the rest of their careers.You know, there's always new things to come out of it.You can't ever-- over a long period of researchthere's any number of themes that youcould pick out of that.And you might pick out those themes,and work with it within one analytical framework,and 10 years later, or two months later,as soon as the book is published you think, why didn't Ido it another way?

  • 37:08

    JANE DYSON [continued]: So, any length of time.And particularly if you are going back and buildingon that, then you draw on those original things endlessly.I mean, certainly in my work whatI understood 10 years ago is absolutely key to me beingable to slot back in understanding the changes thatare happening now in the field.So they're never done.

  • 37:29

    DAVID MILLS: And they become a really valuablehistorical archive.An anthropologist is very protective about their notes.But it would be a shame to lose some of these notes.And those people who do deposit their materials,you've got an incredible rich set of certain materialsto draw upon for future researches.[How personal are field notes?Can other people use your notes?]

  • 37:49

    JANE DYSON: Certainly in the Indian contextthere's a really interesting projectgoing on at the moment that's taken four or five fieldsites where anthropologists had worked, in particular villages,over their entire career, so a 30, 40 year period.And current anthropologists are going backand continuing to work there, or to see how it's changed now.

  • 38:13

    JANE DYSON [continued]: And in most of those cases they'vebeen able to get ahold of those field notes.So I think that they're always alive,and they're always useful.If I think of my own fieldwork, Icouldn't imagine how anyone could understand them.But, presumably, if you were to go back into the villagethey would start to make sense again.But I think it's a really interesting way in which onethinks about this kind of social research beingused by other people and also many years later.

  • 38:43

    DAVID MILLS: I think one challengeis that ethnography is an intensely personal method.And that can be really hard for anthropologistsor ethnographers working in big multidisciplinary teams,because sometimes the notion that you can justbe an appendage to a bigger set of sciencequestions, or multidisciplinary questions,doesn't sit easily with that relationshipbuilding, that trust, the ethical relationshipsyou have with people.

  • 39:10

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: And that's a challenge for ethnography going forward.[How will technology change social research?]

  • 39:16

    JANE DYSON: People are going to really takeadvantage of different technology,engaging with social media, and usingvideo in a more experimental way, in a participatory way,using other types of media, too.Perhaps linking up, there was a move towards multi-sited,maybe having the whole online world isgoing to offer another aspect of that as it already has.

  • 39:46

    DAVID MILLS: There is a good, long historyof visual anthropology, and I thinkthat's an increasingly important way to communicate.Because if ethnography is a form of writing to communicate, thenyou're looking for other forms as well, other medias.And that's often, sort of, allowed peopleto experiment with visual media, and various forms like that.

  • 40:07

    DAVID MILLS [continued]: I think, ultimately, it's still a form of writing.So for as long as people read, I thinkthere will be a role for ethnography that'swell written.


Dr. David Mills and Dr. Jane Dyson discuss the ethics and intricacies of ethnographic research. Though ethnography is often criticized for a lack of perceived rigor and generalizability, Mills and Dyson contradict these perceptions. Ethnography is generalizable in that it illustrates how broad social patterns manifest in a single context.

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David Mills and Jane Dyson Discuss Ethnography

Dr. David Mills and Dr. Jane Dyson discuss the ethics and intricacies of ethnographic research. Though ethnography is often criticized for a lack of perceived rigor and generalizability, Mills and Dyson contradict these perceptions. Ethnography is generalizable in that it illustrates how broad social patterns manifest in a single context.

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