Monday, January 28, 2008

UT Press ethnography proposal

I have been reading for 2 weeks now in the Ethnography Handbook (Atkinson, Coffey, Delamont, Lofland and Lofland, 2001) about all kinds of applications of ethnography, its history, its limitations, strengths, problems, etc. I have to conduct ethnographic field work pretty soon, and I still don't have a really good idea about what I am going to do. I need to do a research proposal for the IRB and present it to Joanna Hitchcock, the Press director, so that's probably where I should start to pin it all down, and I found a lot of helpful descriptions of the goal of ethnographic study in the chapter on ethnographies of work (pp. 220, 221, 227). The other chapter that seemed to suggest a profitable organization construct was ch 12 on Grounded Theory in Ethnography, pp. 160 - 171. But what about the fact that this course is about ethnography in communication? I don't really have a good grasp of the focus on communication. There was a chapter on that subject (ethnographies of communication) but it seemed to be its own subject. Surely this whole course isn't that narrow. If it were, I wouldn't think we'd be reading all these other essays. So at some point, it appears that I have to focus my observation and analysis on communicative aspects of the Press environment. Don't really get that yet.

Another thing that is beginning to concern me about this course is the idea that I have to fit this field work into a schedule that has no real slack time in it anywhere. But I think Dr. M plans to front-load the reading so that we have more time for field work after the first couple of weeks. We still have 1/3 of the ethnography handbook left, and 3 other small books about how to document our work, field notes and how to write ethnography. I guess we don't need that last one until the end.

So, ideas about the angle on my research at UTPress: I want to familiarize myself with the operation of the Press in the sphere of non-digital production as a prelude to studying the Press/Library collaboratives focused entirely on innovative digital publishing. I don't think I will have a good basis for understanding the transition that the collaborative represents if I don't have a sense of what analog book publishing entails. Here are some descriptions from the ethnography handbook: "to provide rich and contextualized understandings of" the work of the Press "through observation, participation and immersion" in day-to-day routines (p. 221). To grasp faithfully the meanings that individuals hold, the factors shaping those meanings, a full perspective on work organization and the dynamic nature of work life (paraphrased from p. 227). Consider in-depth interviews, focus groups, surveys; analyze documents, Website, newsletters, annual report, etc.

What about the use of photos and film to document the Press operation? Ch. 21 is about how film and photography have promoted a concern with the realistic representation of the world, a claim which the author feels needs to be approached cautiously... She wraps up with the observation that digitization has enabled us to leave behind the idea of representing reality.

So, am I headed into the field just to understand, as prep for analyzing the Press/Library merger operation and its challenge in melding cultures from the Press and Library worlds? But I want to be able to situate my idea for a new research reporting interface within one of these collaboratives. I think I will be better able to do so if I have some understanding of how a Press operates day-to-day in analog. What facets continue into the digital collaborative; which do not; what are the entirely new concerns?

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