Monday, 4 March 2013

The Researcher as Helper

As someone with no real knowledge of ethnography, I found myself wondering while reading Stebbins (1987) and Shaffir (1999) how a (nonmember) researcher who explicitly identifies herself as one to the community would manage to achieve any kind of insider knowledge or experience. It seems to me that this is a problem of social dynamics, as finding a social place within the community for this kind of outsider/insider seems as though it would be awkward and uncomfortable.

I was very interested, then, to note Stebbins' comment that researchers often try to fit in to the community as helpers (p. 106). To me, this makes sense because it slots the researcher into a clear social role. A helper has fairly clear duties and relationships to the other members of the community (for instance, Stebbins' role gathering balls for the baseball team). I wonder whether, like a researcher, a helper might also be seen as closer to the boundary between insider and outsider; if so, this provides a convenient natural fit for the perspective the researcher brings into the group and also gives that perspective a more structured place. It would be interesting to observe the ways in which different researchers fit into roles as helpers, and how this affects the study and the community as a social entity (a study of ethnographers!). Discussing the roles of researchers and helpers might be a very illuminating study.

Shaffir, W. (1999). Doing ethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 28(6), 676-686.
Stebbins, R.A. (1987). Fitting in: The researcher as learner and participant. Quality and Quantity, 21(1), 103-108.

1 comment:

  1. Ethnography of ethnographers! I had the same thought when reading the Shaffir and Stebbins articles. They described that ethnography can help to determine behaviors of individuals in social groups. In an indirect type of way their reflections on their ethnography work shed light on their behaviors interacting with social groups. Does participant observation count when the researcher is observing their own behavior?