Who’s the author? And whose are the findings? Collaboration as a critical issue for ethnography

Convenor: Paolo Boccagni (University of Trento)

Ethnography is generally understood as an endeavor that, while being authored by single individuals, necessarily involves the voice of a variety of members from “the field”. The roles and status of these “members”, however, are not obvious. The promises and pitfalls of collaboration between an ethnographer and his/her informants have raised a considerable debate about the epistemological, methodological and ethical bases of ethnography. How are ethnographic research and knowledge affected by the relationships with one’s counterparts, and how far can (or should) the latter be framed as something more than informants? These are questions with no direct answer. They are helpful, though, in revisiting fieldwork along lines of deeper reflexivity and fairness.

This session invites ethnographers to reflect on how their interlocutors contribute to the success of their research, by assuming roles that could be place along a continuum from  informant, through collaborator and partner, to (co)author. How is it, and why, that the ethnographer-informant interaction evolves in terms of rapport, relationship and co-authorship? This question seems particularly intriguing in research settings marked by strong power asymmetries, or with relatively vulnerable informants, such as in the field of migration and ethnic studies. However, discussing how far does collaboration strecth, how and why, is potentially relevant to a number of other ethnographic fields.

Basic references

Boccagni, P. (2011), ‘From rapport to collaboration … and beyond? Revisiting field relationships in an ethnography of Ecuadorian migrants’, Qualitative Research, 11(6): 736-54.

Carling, J; Erdal, MB and Ezzati, R (2013) ‘Beyond the insider–outsider divide in migration research.’ Migration Studies. DOI: 10.1093/migration/mnt022.

Lassiter LE (2005) The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Marcus GH (2007) ‘Collaborative imaginaries’, Taiwan Journal of Anthropology 5(1): 1–17.

Van Maanen J (2006) ‘Ethnography then and now’, Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management 1(1): 13–21.

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