Let’s Collaborate

Collaborative ethnography moves beyond participant observation – that is, it

“deliberately and explicitly emphasizes collaboration at every point in the ethnographic process… invites commentary from our consultants and seeks to make that commentary overtly part of the ethnographic text it develops” (Lassiter, L 2005).

This occurred during the week as students interviewed Gen X and Baby Boomers on their childhood television experiences. Part of my role as a researcher was to collect this information as primary qualitative data, a method used to reveal the media trends or rituals within families in a sociological content (Evans, N 2016). As part of my academic research process, I interviewed my dad (52 y.o) using a series of questions provided on Moodle and recorded his answers. I have now come to understand the collaborative ethnography within this situation lies between the researcher (me) and the consultant (my dad), where it was my responsibility to collate his memories and respectfully write up the research on my blog. To accurately represent my dad and his memories, his answers were written down and his permission received to publish online.

Moreover, during the tutorial, as a class we collaborated to discuss and identify the main generational differences and similarities of the use of television within the household based on our individual primary research. This practice allowed us to engage others in the context of their lives (Lassiter, L 2005), allowing each of us to build on our own research knowledge and discuss our own childhood memories.

The most evident similarities between the memories of the older generation included the formal environment where the family watched TV together and remembrance of special events such as the introduction of colour television and the man landing on the moon. Households generally only had one television and was watched generally at night after dinner. These responses compared with my own memories and those from the class evidently illustrate the differences in contemporary media trends post 1995. For example, watching TV growing up was done in an informal setting, including during dinner time and it wasn’t unusual to have more than one television and a variety of channels showing various cartoon shows rather than national news or classic drama’s like Homicide and Division 4. We didn’t have to wait for Sunday afternoon movies, instead we could put on a video whenever we were bored. This also suggests that television consumption patterns since the mid 1900’s has severely increased with an increase in quality, channels and availability.

I believe this is one of the advantages of collaborative ethnography within a media context, in that generational gaps can be identified and the development of television is evident. This then provides the participants with something to learn too, e.g. how memories of a similar practice (watching TV as a child) can be so versatile. Hearing similar responses among the class also provided a sense of validity as we all experienced similar ways of life, but also enabled contrast and comparison with our individual accounts and those of our interviewees. Another strength of collaborative ethnography is that it provides factual information beyond quantitative data so that researchers can gain an understanding into ‘why’ and ‘how’ households use contemporary media. For example, as touched on in the lecture, OzTam conducted a multi-screen report (2015) that revealed statistics surrounding trends in household media usage in quantitative terms.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 6.40.29 pmSource: OzTam Q1 2015

They reveal insights on how many users watch across screens and for how long, however do not explain the reasoning behind these behaviours and customs. Thus, collaborative ethnography allows the researcher to collect qualitative data through observation, participation and open-ended questions, enabling the researcher to gain a first hand perspective and entice viewers to provide in-depth responses to provide the reasoning behind the statistics and media usage patterns – a collaborative effort. The material collected can then be linked with existing and ever-evolving theories.

The limitations of collaborative ethnography, however, definitely need to be considered. It is clear that this kind of research requires time and trust between the researcher and consultant. For example, for an ongoing ethnographic study of media trends within a household over the generations may require the researcher to be a part of that household for a long time . Privacy and ethical issues can also arise particularly when studying audience media trends as the activity is undertaken in the home, essentially the family’s most private place.  Limitations can also occur from the range of the field experience, the peoples being studied and the angle the research is being undertaken (Cavanaugh, H 2013). The researcher must accept risk of control when involving participants whilst also ensuring ethical practices during the whole process, including representing the participants with respect and integrity and ensuring their answers are accurate and without bias effect. The researcher may also be limited in reaching desired communities or participants and negotiation is needed in moral, ethical, cultural and political spheres with these participants (Cavanaugh, H 2013), particularly as different cultures may have different media consumption patterns due to cultural or environmental factors.

Overall, I think collaborative ethnography is beneficial when studying media audiences as it goes beyond facts and generates an understanding directly on group/family behaviour. As Cavanaugh (2013) explains, “collaboration opens the doors to many new research angles and uses of ethnography, most notably inmarginalized communities.”

References: 

Cavanaugh, H 2013, The Case for Collaborative Ethnography, Slide Share, viewed 16 August 2016, <http://www.slideshare.net/hcc19/the-case-for-collaborative-ethnography&gt;

Evans, N 2016, ‘Week 3: media audiences and ethnography,’ lecture slides, BCM240, University of Wollongong, 9 August 2016, <https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1V2kBrKpe2svb8QatF_l4hMj5KuwPDn67kGlppObMXs8/edit#slide=id.g15e52482ae_0_0&gt;

Lassiter, L 2015, The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, Chicago

 Australian Multi-Screen Report Quarter 1 2015, Oztam, viewed 16 August 2016

<http://www.oztam.com.au/documents/Other/MultiScreenReport_Q1-2015-Final%20amended%20P7.pdf&gt;

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