tommy.jensen@sbs.su.se johan.sandstrom@ltu.se

In and out of ethnography


In a guest post from December 1, Mikael Holmqvist asks whether Organizing rocks is a study in or of ethnography. Below is our pondering to Mikaels inquiry. Hopefully it will fuel and further a conversation on ethnography (and that all feel invited to!).

The project is about power relations and labour processes in the mining industry so it is an ethnography in. But as Mikael points out, if that’s the case then “I’d like to see more about the research project as such; its aims goals and potentials, that would clearly provide a helpful context for the observations, notes, videos etc.” Point taken. Too seldom perhaps, we reflect upon and communicate about what we’ve actually supposed to do. We will therefore try to provide more context to this project.

At our page “About our study” on the blog, we write the following related to the third research question: to “help actors involved to better articulate (put into words) their role, situation and possibility to act (discretion) related to the changes in the labour processes”. The related research aim is normative – we would like to help workers as well as managers achieving this. One way of doing this is to constantly make our observations and thoughts public (instead of gathering empirical material over a couple of years and then start to write). If we want to expose our thoughts and observations as they emerge then a blog, Facebook, Twitter, i.e. social media, might be relevant ways of doing it. And then we started to shoot film, do music, take pictures. A cross- and multimedia project emerged. This is a mix of trial and error in combination with previous skills and a large portion of curiosity. It is also a reaction to feelings of boredom and fear. It is boring performing the same methodologies year after year and we fear that we’ll turn dogmatic by following the same pathways when doing case studies. Anyway, we strive to expose everything we think is worth exposing and this sometimes include what we’re doing and how we’re doing it (more of ethnography perhaps).

Turning to Mikael’s question if this is a study of ethnography then, nowadays we would probably admit that Organizing Rocks could be seen as a study of ethnography. If so, Mikael highlights, we have yet to engage with ”existing conversations” of ethnography. We are engaged, trust us, but not explicitly. Our ethnographical confidence hasn’t been high, but it is growing. Being heavily inspired by academic traditions, particularly in the genres of Actor-Network Theory, the second wave of the Chicago School (Howard Becker, Erving Goffman, etc.) and as those in labour process studies by Michael Burawoy, such benchmarks put our project in – well – perspective. We haven’t really dared to talk about our project as an ethnography (although we have used the term previously, no wonder Mikael reacts). We haven’t really thought about ourselves as ethnographers. We should perhaps re-think this and more openly engage with existing conversations of ethnography. Guestblogger Monika Kostera also use the term when making wonderful poetry of our project.

So, an answer, in the project we are concerned with trying to be present in the field (at least for two years) to be able to digest the Kiruna case (to less extent the Canadian case), to gather different types of empirical material at different places and times, in different ways, and to continuously communicate our project. For us then, the project is not one of either/or (in or of ethnography) but of both/and (in and of).


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