Discussion questions, comments etc. for ARM week 6


This latest batch of readings was particularly helpful for thinking about methodological research practices likely to play out in my personal style of research.  Re: about Burawoy’s extended case method and in particular his table on Positive vs. Reflexive scientific inquiry below:

I’m not entirely prepared to prescribe to the idea that grounded theory/survey research is a diametrically opposed to extended case methods (although Burawoy does state that positive models of science essentially become reflexive in their application given their inability to remain objective in practice).  One thing I can say for sure though is that his ‘flying at the seat of your pants’ approach is probably more in tune with how I work and for that reason it is an attractive excuse(?) to conceive of your process in this way.  When the time comes for me to do field work I can’t imagine myself collecting ethnographic material with only a theoretical framework loosely in the back of my mind.  Rather, I would be inclined to have a preconceived sense of what theories and data I expect to encounter  - but based on my prior experiences – anticipate having all those notions challenged and likely deconstructed/reconstructed in-process.  Given my nature for jumping in headlong in to my work I also know my ability to remain a passive participant would be quickly strained (Marcus’ ethnographer as circumstantial activist?:The most important form of local knowledge in which the multi-sited ethnographer is interested is that which parallels the ethnographer's own interest-in mapping itself.).  I honestly couldn’t imagine any other way – there are factors you simply cannot be aware of until you hit the ground which, as Burawoy alludes, will complete change your reasons for being there in the first place.

Here we have a craft mode of knowledge production in which the product governs the process. The goal of research is not directed at establishing a definitive “truth” about an external world but at the continual improvement of existing theory. Theory and research are inextricable. The extended case method is thus a form of craft production of knowledge wherein the conceiver of research is simultaneously the executor. (Burawoy pg. 28)

These studies arise instead from anthropology's participation in a number of interdisciplinary (in fact, ideologically antidisciplinary) arenas that have evolved since the 1980s, such as media studies, feminist studies, science and technology studies, various strands of cultural studies, and the theory, culture, and society group (Marcus Pg. 97)

This actually reminds me a lot of Kim Fortun’s “figuring out ethnography” which builds on Marcus’ idea of multi-sited ethnography (muddling through?) which also seems a likely trajectory for study given my interests tend to revolve around a cultural/media theory analysis of shared practices - these days about differing models of “knowing/doing” aka DIY as a larger framework for knowledge in context.

Again, I think a comparative view across social worlds in this case seems not only appropriate but necessary (Kelty’s Two Bits is also founded on this idea).

Although multi-sited ethnography is an exercise in mapping terrain, its goal is not holistic representation, an ethno-graphic portrayal of the world system as a totality. Rather, it claims that any ethnography of a cultural formation in the world system is also an ethnography of the system, and therefore cannot be understood only in terms of the conven- tional single-site mise-en-scene of ethnographic research (Marcus Pg. 99)


I too found it interesting that in contrast to symbolic interactionism or grounded theory, extended case methods explicitly brings a theory to the research site.  (It’s up for debate how much the other two bring one as well, but just doesn’t admit to it)  What struck me in Burawoy was how that aligns with the ideas arising from the Chicago-Manchester school split - that people, Zulus or Chicago immigrants, operate under common social rules and are not completely different entities.  Therefore, it makes sense to walk in with a starting theory that can be applied to any group of people (and subsequently adjusted based on findings).  I was amused at how the similarities between Turner’s phases of social drama (breach, crisis, redress, reintegration) were “strikingly parallel” to Park’s ecologically-inspired cycle of group interaction (competition, conflict, accommodation, assimilation) since for the most part, the scholars described in the chapter all hailed from Western cultures, as did their originating academic disciplines (ecology, Marxism, etc).  Who’da thunk that they’d have a similar way of describing the progression of interactions?  There is a palpable irony that global ethnography is being valued but that global anthropology/sociology culture is not really examined.

  Ron’s article on randomness and deterministic chaos in Native American and African divination was interesting both because it made me reflect on how cultural values likely influenced and were influenced by such activities, and also because it highlighted a seemingly universal quest by people to design random choice systems (and subsequently subvert them through dirty tricks).  For example, there were silly games I remember playing back in grade school that.  One was the “eeny, meeny, miny, mo” choosing game (“catch a tiger by the toe, if he hollers, let him go...”).  It was ostensibly random, but if you ended up “randomly choosing” someone you didn’t want on your team, you could append a bit on the end to change the result to the other person (in a binary choice model).  (I think it involved dirty dishrags and parts of the anatomy... children are so gross!)  The other was MASH/MARSH/MARSHY, and you’d put out choices for your future (I think only girls did this, since it involved marriage and houses), and a “random” count would determine whether you married Michael J. Fox and lived in a mansion, or married Pat Sajak and lived in a shack.  Anyway, the inclusion of trickster gods in the discussion was also interesting because while they seem generally to act in the same fashion, the research suggested otherwise by locating them within their particular cultural contexts.  My inner biologist/ecologist was happy to see the justification in the Native American portion for not arbitrarily selecting certain corn kernels and instead “accepting all that were given.”  It’s a neat interplay between mythology, cultural values, and ecological adaptation (“more diversity is more robust”).

 Glaeser seemed a bit denser, but I liked the emphasis on process over static nodes or actors throughout.  Also, I appreciated the push to recognizing “face-to-object” and “face-to-other-via-symbol” in addition to established “face-to-face” interactions because it opens up more effective ways of studying Internet and other types of interactions as valuable and rich social experiences unto themselves, rather than as impoverished versions of in-person transactions.  The recognition that it is overwhelming to try to include EVERY connection to a social activity even as we want to be accurate is one worth reflecting on: perhaps there is a way to systematically “tie-off” the loose ends in such a way that it bounds the research while acknowledging that there is more along that thread?

  I am interested in how one decides (determines? divines?) how to weigh out research area with theory.  Kirk described how he’d like to use the research to confirm/demonstrate theory.  On the other hand, symbolic interactionism and grounded theory aimed at finding a theory that arose from the data.  Does this mean that there are different levels of research - one is more exploratory and one is more confirmational?

Deconstruction: Marvel Swimsuit Calendar!


Dan (aka “that guy”)----->Unpacking Comic book Women (from the refrigerator?): http://www.unheardtaunts.com/wir/


Interesting that you mention “eeny, meeny, miny, mo”-- our understanding of randomness/determinism is often associated with simple games, but its significance is far-reaching--for example George Will recently claimed that on the political left “the craving is for banishing randomness”: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/10/AR2011011003685.html


  I found the Glaeser piece the most interesting because I saw it as linking up with a number of other readings in which I currently immersed. His "consequent processualism" is seemingly another take on taking up the performative idiom (similar to Pickering and Ingold). "Consequent processualism," however, does not roll of the tongue particularly well but does avoid confusion with the other linguistic sense of performativity. I am hopeful (but simultaneously skeptical) that the idea will allow Glaeser "to transcend a number of dichotomized concepts that have for a long time now organized (and troubled) the division of labor in the social sciences," (18) primarily because these dichotomies seem to be constantly declared dead only to be immediately resurrected. I am not convinced that claiming that "consequent processualism sees object and subject not as things but as accents of perspectives within processes" (27) removes a dichotomy so much as calls it something different and something very vague at that. I agree with Glaeser's view of such dichotomies as problematic and much theory reifies theoretical constructs independent of situated activities (or processes as Glaeser would prefer). This mirror's Tim Ingold's critique of the use of culture in much anthropology. Where, as Ingold sees it, it becomes something disembodied and/or inherited genealogically. This was reflected in Glaeser when he posits the question "how do people do identity?" (34). I wonder why the two don't reference either other. Regardless, I

am interested to see if any ethnographers take the concept and run with it.

   With respect to the other pieces, I can see the extended case method/multi-site ethnographies as overcoming some of the "so what" factor that I mentioned last week. By attempting to bring such micro-level data up to a place where it can contribute to a regional or global perspective arguably makes it easier for said studies to contribute to the understanding of "bigger" issues, potentially even to those particular north american graduate students prone to a feeling of sleepiness when reading single-site ethnographies. This, of course, comes at cost of attention to detail given to a single particular site, as mentioned by Marcus.

   I thought the Buroway piece was insightful as well, enumerating some of the pros and cons to positivistic and reflexive approaches. However, I was a bit wary of Buroway setting such a definite boundary between the two. The positivistic approaches are also really a method of intervening into the lives of subjects, albeit a weaker form of it, and a type of intervention of whose effects I think some positivistic researchers are quite aware. I was a bit intrigued by the quote "The goal of research is not directed at establishing a definitive "truth" about an external world but at the continual improvement of existing theory" (28). While I recognize that it is generally myopic (obtuse?) to convince oneself that one is able to take an unmediated view from outside, one is always somewhat within the world one is studying, I wonder what kind of theory is possible in  taking an unabashedly interventionist turn. I could see a situation developing where a collection of researchers is needed to research the researchers then we end up with theories about theorists who make theories about people making theories (in the case of science studies). However, that may be a turn towards the absurd.  


I think Burawoy would reply that all researchers are interventionist, its just that he is willing to admit it, whereas others try to hide it or ignore it.


I dont have any specific question for the class; I just incorporate the extended case method theory to the research I am doing currently.

The extended case method, as I understood, requires ethnographers to follow four main steps:

The first step is to identify a particular issue within a social context which needs explanation. The second step is that before our entry to the site, we should clearly identify what we will expect to find in our research; this goal will be achieved by using the existing theories. The third step is that if we did not find this answer, we should look for anomalies which are the vital elements of this method. We should find anomalies to explain the failures of current existing theories to offer explanation. The last step is reconstructing theories. This method does reject or deconstruct theories; it aims at improving the current good theories by adding values to them.

In this method we also allow participants to shape and reshape our understanding of data. However, the final analysis is our own analysis. This method also seeks to study the effects of the macro elements on the micro ones.

Back to my own research, within the current existing literature in STS on climate change, there are just two groups of scientists within the discourse: climate change skeptics and climate change scientists. in following the first step, I identify a particular issue within climate change context: IPCC has made some scientific mistakes on his fourth assessment. According to the exiting literature, my expectation was that the number of climate change skeptics will increase due to this mistake. This is the second step.

The third step, I realized that this is not true, and I find an anomaly: there is a new group of scientists who do not deny anthropogenic climate change, indeed they relate the melting of Himalayan glaciers to the natural factors and not to the human activities. Therefore, this new group of scientists does not reject the anthropogenic climate change, indeed they criticize mainstream global assessments regarding the melting of Himalayan glaciers, therefore, I will not deconstruct the prevalent theories of STS on climate change, indeed I improve it, I will reconstruct it.

why do i call them critics? in my interview with one of the these scientists whom i called skeptics, he reminded me to call him critic and not skeptic. As the theory claims that participants help us reshaping our understanding of the situation, I wondered why this scientist calls himself critic and therefore after studying the situation, i realized that in contrary to the current theories, there are three main groups of scientists within climate change discourse: climate change skeptics, climate change scientists and climate change critics.

David B.

Quite frankly, I had a really hard time understanding Glaeser’s thesis. I started off excited about the prospects of what (I thought) he intended to do, but it became apparently rather quickly that I was totally lost. I think hearing others talk about it in class tomorrow will help me understand it better, but for now- I can’t even seem to articulate where I went off track.

Marcus’ essay had me thinking of similar problems (opportunities?) I expect to find in my own work. Whatever the final form of the study may be, I know it will involve disparate groups of people (cell phone users in New York State, middle school students in Ghana, Federal DOT regulators, and bagel shop owners) who look at complex systems (cities, roads, cell phone networks) from very different perspectives. My hope is that I can articulate a clear picture using these multiple perspectives in a way that is empowering to the disenfranchised while also understanding the driving motivations of those in positions of power (not just criticizing the consequences of there powerful actions).

I would be interested to hear from Ron if he was responding to any kind of direct feedback on a previous draft in Section 1 (Randomness  as a cultural  theme in Native American  societies). What I’m talking about specifically, was the carefulness with which he described clustered concepts. It seems as though you are either directly replying to (or otherwise expecting and preempting) accusations of oversimplification. I thought it was an elegant way of getting at the shared ideas of the various tribes, without falling into such a problem.


Marcus on the extended model ethnography required more than a few re-reads, probably because like many of us I found it to be a pretty intense read to get through. Nevertheless, when I’m dealing with Marcus, the insights presented seem pretty obvious within when you’re looking for a way to bring something out of your field research that can be applied to other situations. I suppose another way of saying this is what when I think of a research project, I’m aways thinking in the back of my head that I need to be able to construct this in a way that allows me to bring something back from the places I visit. I think because I tend to think in metaphors and comparisons myself, the extended field method makes the most sense to me.

        Also, I recall a very interesting book I read about global T-shirt production a few years back called “The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy” where in the author begins by buying a t-shirt and tracing back the pathway of production from it’s beginning in Texas and people who make up the farmer-industrial complex that produces cotton to the factories that spin the thread in China to factories that produce shirts all the way to the vast secondary market for shirts in Africa. It’s worth a peek for nothing else than the focus is not merely on the object but the meanings the object has for people at each step in the chain.

        However, I’m not as clear to how Martin is seeing the shifting roles that occur as we move from site to site. I don’t see the point at which you’re not an advocate for the group in question unless you plan on fully objectifying them. The act of making them a subject puts you, I think, in a particular relationship that has to be negotiated certainly. Perhaps that’s just a feature of how I consider my responsibility to other people. Maybe I’m assuming that we’re already at this point by and large and I’m curious if the reverse, were people don’t see themselves as having to negotiate these personal commitments, is still something that people go for? By and large, I think I stand by my comments last time where I said that you’re always in this outsider/insider space where you have to constantly renegotiate your position and either you accept it and are responsible about it or you live in denial and likely do a poor job of it.

On the Eglash piece, I think it’s good to have a clear example of how the extended method is supposed to work (I was dying for examples throughout the Marcus and the Glaeser). However, I’m curious if there becomes problems when you try to make a move that’s a little more complex. I guess what I’m curious about that neither Glaeser or Martin really answer for me is if the extended method is best if you’re comparing to sites that are either inside or outside of the hegemonic order, or can you do sites where there are different power dynamics at play. I know there is an emphasis on similarity for comparison, but does the power issue present a wall that is particularly difficult to work through? If we begin with the experience of the powerless in one site, does it make it too dissimilar if at the next site we’re looking at people who don’t have the same socio-economic pressures to deal with?

David m

I think that at this particular moment in time I hit a wall of understanding. It’s gotten to the point where I am actually wondering if all the words I read in the articles are made up, or I’m too limited. Seeing that, while at a different level, I’m not the only one, is really helpful. It means I’m not the only one for whom this is hard to process. I think I realized this is over my head when I started blanking out halfway through the texts, with my mind wandering anywhere but where it needed to be. While being able to say that I had read the text, I can barely reproduce a few of the ideas read (outside of Dr. Eglash’ paper, which is less of a theoretical work).

However, getting to the actual work, everybody else’s reading of these papers gave me a much better view of everything. Dumbed-down so that I can understand it, it makes sense to me. This might not do me any favors academically, but “flying by the seat of my pants” as Kirk describes it, would’ve been (and still is) my preferred way of focusing on a project. As I helped out Dr. Mascarenhas with his Rwandan water project, I had a hard time keeping my mind blank of ideas, and felt that it was, as I’ve said before, going to come out sooner or later, in the differences on the way we drew conclusions, from the same pile of codes, codes coming out of the ideas and thoughts of the interviewee, not the researchers (supposedly). Whether there was a different way of doing things, or not, I planned on tweaking this approach because it went against the ideas of the researcher not claiming objectivity, but transcending it (which is the way I read into most of what STS does).

My experience is obviously limited, and, as I’ve foolishly admitted 2 paragraphs before, I had a hard time making heads or tails out of the literature outside of a few ideas (it’s good to not limit to one area, it’s good to come at it with a preconceived notion, but to be open to change), but I think I wouldn’t be myself if I don’t ask a question. Wouldn’t (shouldn’t) these post-grounded theory ideas move past the notions of power? Because while they seem to be bashing on the narrowness of the older ways (in my flawed reading of it) it doesn’t stray from the notions around power. I say this because my work will have nothing to do with power (until somebody in the class will likely try to disprove my comment) and I feel that by not studying disenfranchised groups, taking on capitalistic patriarchy or or trying to redefine social relations, my fit with most of what I understood from this (mostly from everybody else) disappears.