Messy Ethnographies in Action

Alexandra Plows (Ed.)

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This edited collection of chapters showcases original and interdisciplinary ethnographic fieldwork in a range of international settings; including studies of underground pub life in North East England; Finnish hotels; and bio-scientific institutions in the Amazonian rainforest. Informed by John Law’s concept of ethnographic “mess,” this book makes a unique, empirically-informed, contribution to an understanding of the social construction of knowledge and the role that ethnography can and does play (Law, 2004). It provides a range of colourful snapshots from the field, showing how different researchers from multiple research environments and disciplines are negotiating the practicalities, and epistemological and ethical implications, of “messy” ethnographic practice as a means of researching “messy” social realities.

Law notes that “social…science investigations interfere with the world…things change as a result. The issue, then, is not to seek disengagement but rather with how to engage” (ibid p14). Drawing on their own situated experiences, the book’s contributors address the “messy” implications of this and also explore the (equally messy) issue of why engage. They reflect on the process of undertaking research, and their role in the research process as they negotiate their own position in the field. What is ethnography “for”? What impact should, or do, we have in the field and after we leave the research site? What about unintended consequences? When (if ever) are we “off duty?” What does “informed consent” mean in a constantly shifting, dynamic ethnographic context? Is ethnography by its very nature a form of “action research?” By providing a wide range of situated explorations of “messy ethnographies,” the book presents a unique, hands-on guide to the challenges of negotiating ethnography in practice, which will be of use to all researchers and practitioners who use ethnography as a method.

Foreword: The Politics of Ethnography
John Law

Introduction: Coming Clean About Messy Ethnography
Alexandra Plows

Section 1 Reflecting on Messy Research Practice

Chapter 1 Mud on the carpet: messy reflexive practices with older environmental activists- bringing the outside in
Mary Gearey

Chapter 2 Revealing a ‘Hidden Civil War’: a serendipitous methodology
Sue Lewis, Martyn Hudson, and Joe Painter

Chapter 3 Changing forms of ethnography and shifting researcher positioning in the study of a Mexican martial art
George Jennings

Chapter 4 Haphazard knowledge production: thoughts on ethnography and mess in the urbanising Ecuadorian Amazon
Nina Isabella Moeller

Section 2 Messy Ethics

Chapter 5 The case for more ethnographic research with the criminal’s perspective
Lisa Potter

Chapter 6 Managing morality: neoliberal ethics regimes and messy field work
Rafi Alam

Chapter 7 Everyday messiness of ethnography: reflections on fieldwork in Mid-West Brazil
Lauren Crabb

Section 3 Messy Participation

Chapter 8 The boundlessness of digital democracy – ethnography of an ICT-mediated public in Brexit Britain
Gabriel Popham

Chapter 9 Places on probation: an auto-ethnography of co-produced research with women with criminal biographies
Nicola Harding

Chapter 10 ‘Messily embedded’: an auto- ethnography of redundancy in the Welsh nuclear industry
Alexandra Plows

Chapter 11 A messy ethnography of mess
Ville Savolainen

Section 4 Messy Research Sites and Spaces

Chapter 12 Not only the night: the messiness of ethnography of nurses’ night work
Trudy Rudge, Luisa Toffoli and Sandra West

Chapter 13 Adapting to parents in crisis: tracing experiences of having a child with chronic kidney disease
Andréa Bruno de Sousa

Chapter 14 Attempting to deep map multiple realities: the “therapeutic landscape” of Saltwell Park
Wayne Medford

Chapter 15 The challenges of ethnographic practice in current urban complex situations
Paola Jirón and Walter Imilan

Chapter 16 Sharing foodscapes: shaping urban foodscapes through messy processes of food sharing
Monika Rut and Anna R. Davies

Author Biographies
Index

Dr. Alexandra Plows is a Research Fellow at Bangor University and has over 20 years of experience as an ethnographer. Her Ph.D. and early research work focused on the UK environmental direct-action movement from an “insider” perspective and was informed by feminist research practices, particularly autobiographical and reflexive approaches. She then spent several years undertaking qualitative research, including ethnography, exploring emergent public engagement with human genetic technologies. Through this research, she made an empirical contribution to Science and Technology Studies (STS) literature on public knowledge and public engagement, and STS debates on (scientific) knowledge as a social construct. Dr. Plows has also undertaken ethnographic research relating to the dynamics of regional labour markets, specifically an “embedded” ethnography of stakeholder organisations seeking to mitigate the impacts of deindustrialisation and redundancy in North Wales.
Dr. Plows’ research approach can be summarised as reflexive and participatory ‘action research’ informed by environmental and social justice frameworks. Many of her current research projects are focused on interdisciplinary, participatory research and knowledge exchange, particularly at the interface of social science and environmental studies, such as human/nature relationships, and associated practices and values.

Bibliographic Information

Book Title
Messy Ethnographies in Action
ISBN
978-1-62273-329-3
Edition
1st
Number of pages
216
Physical size
236mm x 160mm
Illustrations
8 BW
Publication date
April 2018
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