Making ethnography count – my grandpa, social justice, and me

Making ethnography count – my grandpa, social justice, and me

My grandpa – my grandpa once told me that it’s okay not to be religious as long as you are a good person. This statement may not seem that remarkable but for the fact my grandpa was Dean of Liverpool Anglican cathedral when he said it. He was busy supporting gay rights, race relations and women’s role in the church before I was even born. As a child I remember fantastic conversations about equality and social justice and the ‘religious sausage machine’ (his words not mine) that he was absolutely fine with me not being a part of.

I learnt from my grandpa that you can be part of an established institution and at the same time a force for positive change within in it. I’m not a touch on my grandpa in terms of grandness but we share a pragmatism towards social change – a desire to influence from within as well as ally ourselves those outside – to be both insider and outsider.

Inside or outside – the starting point for my PhD research is heavily influenced by all those childhood conversations with my grandpa. I am interested in insiders and outsiders; power and identity; stigma and discrimination; and specifically how social media may be complicating and disrupting them in the context of people providing and using mental health services. My grandpa was long gone before the birth of Facebook, but I’m sure the shifting nature of how we communicate would have fascinated him also.

Ethnography – I’ve chosen to do an online ethnography – immersing myself in a social media site participating, observing and interviewing – and I’m very appreciative some great mental health bloggers who have agreed to let me focus on their blog as my main site.

Quandaries – but my research is already throwing up quandaries about the very issues of power and identity I hope to explore. Traditional ethnographic research has been criticised by many for objectifying and subjugating the objects of study- and this is the last thing I want to do. I find Gobo’s take on ethnography very appealing:

The time has come to break with traditional ethnography and its defects (objectivism, naturalism, colonialism, exploitation of the participants, and so on) and change to a participatory ethnography based on the concept of ‘care’ in which researcher and participants jointly define certain aspects of the research design, discuss the findings, and sometimes write the final report together’ (Gobo, 2008, p.137).

I am also drawn to the tradition of ‘collaborative ethnography’ which requires co-production at every step within the research process, where subjects are active participants in producing knowledge, in conceptualising hypotheses, conducting research and in analysis and presentation.

Collaboration – Battacharya (2008) says collaborative research must aim to make positive change for the purpose of bringing about ‘social action and social change’ – connecting the academic to ‘real world agencies and practical projects’ (p.306). This straddling of academia and practice is very appealing to me – particularly as I find academia much more terrifying than practice.

Collaborative ethnography reminds me of the chats I had with my grandpa about equality and social justice. I’d love to hear from other ethnographers about how they have made their research count in the real world.


Battacharya, H. New Critical Collaborative Ethnography in Handbook of Emergent Methods edited by Hesse-Biber, S & Leavy, P (The Guilford Press 2008)

Gobo, C. Doing Ethnography (Sage 2008)

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookPin on PinterestFlattr the author

1 Comment

  1. Thank you to Irena who emailed me some comments and agreed I could share the on my blog as well. This is what she said:

    The questions you raise in your last post – “Making ethnography count” – are important and hotly debated at the moment. In that connection, I thought you might find Nev Jones’s blog of some interest – . She is both a researcher and a person with lived experience and has recently explored the issue of “democratisation of research” in several posts:


    I would also recommend an article by Costa et al. in the latest volume of Studies n Social Justice titled ““Recovering our Stories”: A Small Act of Resistance”:

    There is an ongoing project at the University of Durham about how to “better understand the phenomenon of hearing a voice no one else can hear (a phenomenon also referred to as auditory verbal hallucinations)”. It is an interdisciplinary project where u/s/x/p are also taking an active part – you may want to get in touch with them for some tips on how to democratise one’s research practice. And here’s their website:

    One more project which might be of interest to you, namely “Service User Research Enterprise (SURE)” over at IoP at King’s.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *