boundaries and relationships

In this week’s readings, I particularly enjoyed Hine’s (2009) discussion of the boundaries of research projects. The image that often comes to mind when I hear the term “ethnographic,” especially before taking this course, is that of a researcher being immersed in an isolated society to conduct a study of people in that one location. That type of project is bounded quite clearly by the borders of the community in which it takes place. But ethnography is done in so many different ways and in so many different locations that the boundaries are not always that evident, especially when research is conducted online, and that is the main focus of Hine’s chapter. Hine deconstructs the notion of the bounded project to say that it is the project that determines the boundaries, not the other way around:

“The approaches that I described in this chapter rely on the idea of the construction of project boundaries as a social process…The decision about when to start and when to stop, and where to go in between, is for ethnographers not made independently of the field, but is an intrinsic part of the relationship to it. A set of fieldwork boundaries is the outcome of a project, rather than its precursor.” (p. 18)

I found a connection between this argument and Star’s (1999) relational definition of infrastructure, particularly the quote from Bateson – “What can be studied is always a relationship or an infinite regress of relationships. Never a ‘thing.'” (p. 379). Both quotes suggest that ethnographers should not try to contain their project within a pre-set definition of what the project should be, but rather let the project define itself as it unfolds. And, of course, this is very reminiscent of Luker’s (2010) salsa dancing method, which asks us to embark on “a voyage of discovery, not verification” (p. 46).

– Cynthia

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