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.