2a- Writerly Ethos

Com­mit­ment to respect for the com­mu­ni­ty you are research­ing is a first step, and it’s a step that must be fol­lowed by con­tin­ued atten­tion to your eth­i­cal behav­ior through­out the research process. In your field­notes (Chap­ter 4) and then again in your ethno­graph­ic inquiry essay (Chap­ter 6), you will become involved in the process of trans­lat­ing that com­mu­ni­ty from your expe­ri­ence and obser­va­tions to your words on the page. It is impor­tant to be con­scious of the choic­es you make as you write the lives of these peo­ple as seen through your eyes. You must think back to what you learned about how what you know about your­self influ­ences the choic­es you will make about what, why, how, and how much to write. You must think what it may mean to “write the cul­ture” of anoth­er group, rep­re­sent­ing anoth­er group, place, com­mu­ni­ty. Aware­ness is part and par­cel of begin­ning to under­stand how the actu­al writ­ing is con­nect­ed to con­tin­u­ing on the path of eth­i­cal and human research.

To get at where rep­re­sen­ta­tion and ethics might inter­sect in your writ­ing, start with the idea of ethos. Ethos, or char­ac­ter in Greek, is the root of ethics. Rhetor­i­cal­ly, we use ethos to refer to the idea of how a writer appears, or comes across, or feels on the page. That ethos is the result of the choic­es you make as a writer. You may choose to write in a par­tic­u­lar style, you may choose to fol­low or flaunt spelling and punc­tu­a­tion con­ven­tions, you may choose to have a very chat­ty and per­son­al tone or a much more dis­tanced and for­mal writ­ing voice, you may choose to write on a blank white page in 12-point Times New Roman font, with one inch mar­gins, in hor­i­zon­tal lines, or you may choose to work in col­or, or online, or in poet­ic form, or what­ev­er. Choices—rhetorical choices—influence how you are read, how you are per­ceived, how much cred­i­bil­i­ty you have, and ulti­mate­ly whether or not your read­er choos­es to respond to your mes­sage and even how he or she responds.

Writer­ly ethos, in and of itself, pro­vides a lot to think about. Ulti­mate­ly it comes down to how you re-present your­self on the page. In your ethno­graph­i­cal­ly informed research, your respon­si­bil­i­ty for rep­re­sen­ta­tion is even greater because all of the con­sid­er­a­tions mul­ti­ply as you choose how to go about not just rep­re­sent­ing your­self, but an entire com­mu­ni­ty as well. Ethics ties to ethos here as you make choic­es about what to include in your writ­ing and what not to include. What sto­ries do you tell or not tell? From which per­spec­tives? How do you share mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives? Do you have enough infor­ma­tion to tell these sto­ries? How much of that infor­ma­tion do you share on the page? How do you respect your par­tic­i­pants while telling sto­ries that are com­plex and may be dif­fi­cult?  How do you ensure that you reveal your own per­spec­tive rather than stand in judg­ment? How will mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty feel about how you por­tray them? Will you give them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to respond or to com­ment on that por­tray­al? There are no easy answers to these ques­tions, but the ques­tions them­selves must be in your mind as you move into the writ­ing and trans­la­tion process of your research. This is how you keep your rep­re­sen­ta­tion eth­i­cal and humane.