'Multiple presences of infinite layers': defining insider/outsider participation in ethnography
Ditte Strunge Sass (Mahidol University International College)
Paper short abstract:
This paper investigates the role of movement across boundaries between communities of practices in conducting ethnographic fieldwork. In doing so, it will focus on understandings of the insider/outsider roles, suggesting that these are both highly situational, fluid and complex forms of membership.
Paper long abstract:
Fredrik Barth (1969) has suggested that it is at the boundaries of any cultural group that one can truly obtain an understanding of the group itself. In my research concerning the 'being and becoming of Danish welfare citizens in the Danish School', this observation was pertinent along many avenues. Initially because it was often at the boundaries of 'Danishness' that Danishness itself became visible, but also in view of how I, as an expatriate-Dane, inhabited a liminal membership-role between that of an insider and an outsider. This paper elaborates on how postmodern ethnomethodology - where subject-object dualism is dissolved in favour of a view in which the field researcher inevitably influences, and in turn is influenced by his or her settings - influenced my fieldwork. The starting point for this discussion will be my findings from my PhD research in a Danish school setting, in which I found that we as ethnographers are much like learners ourselves. When approaching a community of practice, we have to learn both legitimate forms of participation (Lave and Wenger 1991) and how to seamlessly move across the boundaries between various sub-modes of participation within the community of practice. Having to consistently move between the students' and teachers' already narrowly defined social categories, I found that my insider/outsider roles reached far beyond that of my ethnic heritage. This in turn beckons the question of how, and along whose lines, we should define the insider/outsider role, and to what extent 'ethnicity' is a key component in this definition.
Reimagining the self and the field in contemporary ethnography: insights from living and researching within and through borders