Montag, 30. März 2020

Dostojewskij as an ethnographer of his time

"I wish I had the positive characteristic of being a 'Faulpelz' (engl: lazy-bones)" - I just like the German expression, it sounds so decadent. (Dostoevskij and Geier, 2013, p.20) Fjodor Dostojewskij wrote in 'Notes from the underground' about a man who isolates himself from the bourgeois world. This short existentialist book reads like an autoethnographic record of the time, Dostojewskij was living in. Of course, autoethnography did not exist back then as a category or method. It developed in the end of the twentieth centuries when existing epistemological and ontological approaches were increasingly questioned and challenged by 'old-school' ethnographers. (Ellis, 2011, p.2).

For many, Dostojewski clearly is categorized not as an ethnographer but ahistorically he turns out to be quite a good observer. With a note at the beginning, he even emphasizes the relation of his writings to the social realm. He states that although the notes from the underground are fiction it is certain that human-beings like the protagonist exist in real life and that at some point one encounters them (Dostoevskij and Geier, 2013, p.3).

I consider using autoethnography for my research, but I would still agree with earlier generations of ethnographers who emphasized the distinction between research and personal life. I am not aiming at producing "messy and vulnerable" texts (Denzin, 2006, p. 421) and for me I will not turn ethnography into a creative practice. I just consider the thoughts on my research process as relevant. 

My study of visual arts in Berlin will focus on encounters which often don't happen at set times and places. I want to be able to analyze those by using authoethnography parallel to more conventional methods. I can reflect on different sources, like unofficial documents or interviews I conducted and I want to point at the importance of situating oneself as a researcher in a social setting.

Links for researchers dealing with the crisis or trying to get some good writing done:

Literature cited:
Denzin, N. K. (2006). 'Analytic Autoethnography, or Déjà Vu all Over Again.' Journal of Contemporary
Ethnography 35(4).
Dostoevskij, F. and Geier, S. (2013). Aufzeichnungen Aus Dem Kellerloch. Stuttgart: Reclam.

Ellis, C., Adams, T. E. and Bochner, A. P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1), pp. 345–357.

Montag, 23. März 2020

Today is the first day of my field-work.

I planned to be in Berlin now to establish a network and meet people who could be interview partners for my research on segregation and exclusion in Berlin's art scene. Instead I am at home, sitting in the garden and enjoying the sun. Although I would not choose to be somewhere else right at this moment I can hardly make any new face-to-face contacts.

Friends and collegues all over the world are pausing their fieldwork as well. One of them is researching on refugees in Greece. She recommends BBC and the guardian for new information of the situation at the border. However she writes me about scenarios which are not covered, like militias hunting refugees and the racist/fascist attacks against refugees and NGO workers on Lesbos. It is not the purpose of this blog to discuss the news, but the situation on the Greek islands is a blind spot that has to be brought back to our attention because it shows how our politics work. Germany promised to take care of children but now they don't seem to have the capacities to make any decision not related to Corona.

This situation also shows how hard it is to access information or discover gaps in a field without having the possibility to experience it yourself. Empirical research is essential to balance the hard facts and evaluate existent literature. At this point I want to recommend an crowd sourced document by Deborah Lupton, where she collected anything about field work in pandemic:

For me there are some useful links about digital ethnography and auto-ethnography which I will consider for my research. Since workshops and events are being cancelled for the whole summer a plan B seems like a good idea.

Another open access infrastructure is:
You can access a lot of collections and models from leading publishing houses and other initiatives.

I am not just working for myself, with Microsoft teams, Sype or zoom I am talking to other researchers but it is just not the same. Fingers-crossed our society will transform magically into a cooperative community based on solidarity through this. Take care!

Freitag, 13. März 2020