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Ethnographic Research for Everyday Life Insight
Ethnographic research is a way to gain insight into a community.
A bicycle is a great mode of transport. You can visit strange areas otherwise inaccessible. A mountain bike allows ever further off road possibilities.
Turn up without any prior motivation for being there. Explain that you are a traveller who is passing through or travelling in the region and you need a place to sleep. We don’t need to turn it into a big project at this stage. We want to focus on ‘being’ there.
Consider your equipment
Filming and photography should be done with cameras that do not get between you and other people. A film crew adds a third element which you may not want. The people may react in a particular way to the camera.
There is the position of the cameraman to consider. Are they part of the situation or should they deliberately abstract themselves as much as possible (is this even possible?)
Recording through writing can be done retrospectively as a daily journal. A cultural probe can be created to allow others to make journalistic records.
Focus on a topic
It may help to have a topic of focus – family life, sustainable practices, a starting point for this may be Tony Fry’s Design as Politics and his case study on East Timor as it is something where they are trying to build a craft economy.
It should be an approach which is that of a student or even just as a person who is there to ‘be’. . E.g. Avoid being in an ego state – continuously saying thank you or sorry, or ‘yes, that’s interesting!’.
We have to ‘bracket’ our own education; social manners, linguistic habits, even ways of understanding. This is a question of developing distance between the Self and the mind, which can be gained partly through meditation, outwardly observing the surroundings whilst also observing inner reactions and observing thoughts whilst they arise, but not acting on them, although they might serve as substance for a journal or the diary.
The video camera is a way of looking at the world in a particular way. The technology is human designed and sees as a human sees but it does record ad verbatim what it sees in a human way.
It brackets the problem that humans have of only being able to focus on a small area and the rest of periphery vision being built up of ‘ideas’ based on understanding gained from previous experience and inherent understanding of how the world works, things fit together, gravity, physics etc.
Drawing is an example of how we can reveal our own subjective understanding of the world. For example the writer and bike mechanic Matthew Crawford attended drawing classes of a skeleton. We trying to draw the skeleton front on he found it difficult to draw anything but a cartooned image.
The teacher, seeing this, altered the angle from which the student should draw the skeleton and that meant that he had no familiar mental image to fall back on and was forced to look to see it as it is and provide external visual information to the brain.