5- Researching Community with Academic Source Material

Chapter 5 focuses on the gathering of academic sources—books and articles—that you will need in order connect your own research to a larger academic idea, conversation or concern.  It will be a relationship between your fieldwork—your primary data—and your library research—secondary sources—that you will work to illuminate in some way in an ethnographic inquiry essay.

Framing Your Research for Secondary Source Exploration

To this point, you have been introduced to two specifics kinds of writing that are a part of the process of conducting ethnographic research: the research proposal and fieldnotes.  Now, we turn our attention to the collection of secondary resources, most of which are usually obtained through library research and online database research.

As a first step before getting to the library, it’s important to remember what you already know about your site. When you’re ready to start your search for secondary sources, read through any fieldnotes you’ve already written and review the questions may have presented about your site in your research proposal. Revisit and reconsider the following questions before getting to the library, or getting online to do this sort of secondary research:

  • Why did you choose this site? Why are you most interested in it now? If there is change here, why do you think it has occurred?
  • What was your initial point of interest in this site? Are there additional or complicating factors regarding your initial interest? If so, why do you think this change has occurred?
  • What are some of the beliefs you think drive the behavior in this site? What evidence have you gathered to support your assertions?
  • What surprised you about what you saw/wrote/did the first time you were in your site? How has this changed your thinking about the site? Has it impacted your research focus?  If so, how?
  • Ethics need to be considered not only with respect to specific action in research, but also in terms of ideas and intent.  As such, a second set of questions emerges:
  • With which academic disciplines do you want to connect your research and writing? Do you already have an idea of the larger academic disciplines that may be interested in your research?
  • How will you use secondary research to help you negotiate the objective goals and subjective realities of ethnographic research and writing? Are you preoccupied with ‘proving’ something about the site?  If so, how does this impede ethical research?
  • What will it mean to ethically and consciously write about your research site? Have you notified those in the site of your research process?  Have you consulted them about the process of your research, as well as asked them questions about their behaviors and beliefs? How might you include them in the process of translating their own culture?

You will want to constantly ask yourself all of these questions, not in order to induce frustration, but because it’s likely the answers will most probably change as you continue to conduct your fieldwork and read secondary research regarding your site. Asking what appear to be the same questions again and again is a means of continually providing yourself with the opportunity for revision—revision of ideas, thoughts and, of course, writing.  It is through this deep level of revision that you will be best prepared to most ethically, and creatively, conduct and represent your research.