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.