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Lesson Participations including Audio and Video Recording: Rethinking ethnographic participant observations through posthumanism

Conventional ethnography frequently involves the use of participant observation as a method. Characterised by the participant playing a role in the studied situation, which is arguably unavoidable (Atkinson & Hammersley, 1998), participant observation enables the researcher to understand the lives and cultures of humans through actively participating in their lives (Lofland & Lofland, 2006; Musante & DeWalt, 2010). These ethnographic tenets of participant observation are evident in diffractive ethnography, as the researcher still participates and becomes part of the research setting. However, rather than observing the participants in a lesson, for example, as traditional ethnographies espouse, a diffractive ethnography challenges the researcher to become different in themselves, to “experience the event differently” (Lenz Taguchi, 2010, p. 172).

 

To achieve this difference, the researcher must become entangled in the research and not merely observing that data from the outside but from within. Therefore, in this study, humans were considered as active participants in a continual becoming of the research; human participants and nonhuman participants were equally part of the data entanglements. Humans, as a kind of apparatus, “are not passive observing instruments. On the contrary, they are productive of (and part of) phenomena” (Barad, 2007). Ingold (2014) explains this phenomenon as “observing from the inside” and strongly argues that there can be “no observation without participation – that is, without an intimate coupling...of observer and observed” (p. 387). In this PhD study, I have adopted Ingold’s proposition literally to move from the traditional participant observation to a lesson participation to gain a full understanding of the nature/culture of the lesson being studied (Gullion, 2018; Ingold, 2014). In practice, I was positioned in the classroom in a location which did not seek to ‘hide’ my presence, but one that worked in consultation with the classroom teacher to have the least impact on the flow and focus of the lesson and thus not interrupt or interfere with the students’ learning. In some instances, this involved being introduced to the class, my research work explained, and the children given the opportunity to ask me questions.

 

Conventional ethnographic participant observation requires recording field notes to capture the scene and is often combined with other ethnographic research methods to gain a richer and more complete understanding of the culture being studied (Atkinson et al., 2001). During and following the one-hour lesson, I made some field and post-event notes of all the human and nonhuman participants and the movements and intra-actions between them in a field notes journal. It was found after the initial lesson participation, that immediate field notes were problematic while negotiating the technology, so post-event field notes were used for the remainder of the study. The lessons were photographed using an iPod to demonstrate the arrangement of bodies in the room. The lessons were also video recorded using an iPhone and a GoPro[1] primarily for use in the video-stimulated recall conversations but also to document further data for exploration and opportunities for data making (Kellehear, 1993).

 

[1] “Founded in 2002 by Nick Woodman, a photo and video enthusiast in search of a better way to film himself and his friends surfing, GoPro has grown into a relentlessly innovative brand loved around the world for its insanely versatile and enabling products” (GoPro, 2022, para. 2).

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