Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Merrium: While participant observation engages the 'Now' in all of its unfolding complexity in any place or milieu, Problematic and Imprecise as term

Harbin ethnography:

... In the milieu of the Harbin pools, participant observation is particularly enjoyable.

While participant observation engages the 'present' in all of its unfolding complexity in any place or milieu, it is not only an intentionally oxymoronic term (Boellstorff 2008:71), it is also imprecise, and hasn't lead to replicable data, historically, in scientific senses, as a method. However, while objectivity and replicability are not its goal, it does offer approaches for the ethnographer, and the reader, to subjectively interpret and understand 'knowledge-about' something, and then, further, to represent this in writing, photos, in statistics, and with notes, etc., and now with digital technologies, multimedia and virtual worlds. While questions of objectivity, replicability, power-relationships between the ethnographer and informants, and ethics, are part of an on-going discourse in ethnographic circles, as well as in anthropology, participant-observation does offer, in an unique way, social scientifically, forms of reflexivity by which the ethnographer and informant become aware and converse about related ethical questions, and thus address them. Ethics' practices are important to the discipline of anthropology, now vis-a-vis virtual worlds and the world wide web, and good participant-observation involves both an engagement with these, as well as a recognition of the importance of ethics' practices appropriate to unique situations, which, for example, ethnographers study. And with participant observation as field method, the researcher is far less distanced from the sources of data, than in many other academic and scientific disciplines which study people. While participating in, for example, Watsu (water shiatsu) at Harbin to learn about it ethnographically, might not pass some universities' Internal Review Boards (I.R.B.s), without engaging Watsu at Harbin, nakedly, and in full contact - what I, as ethnographer, would call ethical practices for learning about Harbin's culture – key understandings about Harbin would not emerge. In this particular actual/virtual Harbin ethnography, I haven't been affiliated with an university, and thus far, this ethnography has been self-funded. Furthermore, participant-observation is “a method of being at risk in the face of the practices and discourses into which one inquires … [a] serious nonidentity that challenges previous stabilities, convictions, or ways of being … a mode of practical and theoretical attentions, a way of remaining mindful and accountable” (Haraway 1997:190-191 in Boellstorff 2008:72) and at Harbin, what the ethnographer is at risk for is are ways in which, for example, its counterculture is transformative and freeing. It is participant-observation which allows the ethnographer here to explore the subtleties of such a place, make mistakes, fail, become vulnerable and learn. Participant-observation in ethnography is generative of knowledge through its flexibility, as well as in ways where both ethnographer and informants learn. And, in generating a virtual Harbin as ethnographic field site, this actual / virtual ethnography will seek to examine questions of social science, participant-observation replicability, or at least in-world, countercultural 'parallelisms.'

Not only is actual Harbin Hot Springs in northern California singular and unique, virtual worlds are as well; and virtual Harbin, in comparison with actual Harbin, can generate novel, participant observation methods, too, in the context of the discipline of anthropology. ...

( - December 8, 2010)

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