The research methodology that I will be using for the Data Collection and Analysis assignment is critical ethnography. This methodology fits with my research goal to bring awareness to the unequal power structures and oppression existing within the collaborative child welfare and violence against women (VAW) advocates relationship. Madison (2005) states that critical ethnographers have an “ethical responsibility to address unfairness and injustice within a particular lived domain” and “moves beneath surface appearances, disrupts the status quo, and unsettles both neutrality and taken-for-granted assumptions by bringing to light underlying and obscure operations of power and control” (p. 5).
Therefore, using the critical paradigm embedded in this methodology, I set out to uncover how issues of power, oppression and inequality affect the collaborative relationship between child welfare and violence against women (VAW) advocates that ultimately affect the services they provide to women and children. Through examining the strengths and weaknesses of their relationship, I intend to shed light onto how women and children who have experienced domestic violence and abuse are impacted by the power exerted by both service providers and their existing policies and ideologies.
Theoretical and Conceptual Lens
Critical ethnography is defined as “the ‘doing’ or ‘performance’ of critical theory. It is critical theory in action.” (Madison, 2005, p. 5). Thus, critical ethnography is innately connected
to the critical paradigm, which will be the conceptual lens utilized to investigate my research question.
Critical theory is concerned with the mediation of power and dominance in society. Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2005) state “critical theory seeks to uncover the interests at work in particular situations and to interrogate the legitimacy of those interests… Its intention is transformative to transform society and individuals to social democracy” (p. 28). The critical theory component of critical ethnography differentiates it from mainstream ethnography, which is concerned with the observation and description of culture or phenomenon. Critical theory modifies conventional ethnography by incorporating a political agenda which seeks to emancipate society.
Anti-oppressive theory provides a strong theoretical lens to use with critical theory and critical ethnography as both the former and the latter seek to uncover oppression and marginalization in society. It recognizes the intersectionalities of both clients and workers and can be used to highlight how legislation is entrenched in hetero-patriarchy. Similarly, at an organizational level, anti-oppressive theory can help to reveal the hegemonic practices in child welfare which influences the relationship between VAW workers and child protection workers and impacts the delivery of services to women and children.
Epistemology of Critical Ethnography
The epistemological underpinnings of critical ethnography are concerned with how the knowledge of oppression and power emerged historically and politically and its impact on
shaping relations in society. The potential of knowledge production to reproduce and perpetuate notions of power, oppression and inequality in society is recognized. In addition, critical epistemology includes an understanding of the relationship between power and thought and power and truth claims (Carspecken, 1996, p. 10)
This approach is value-laden because it has a determinedly political agenda. It seeks transformation by exposing oppressive structures in society, with the goal to emancipate society. Critical ethnographers are interested in hearing the narratives of their clients with the explicit agenda to bring forth political change. It is also value mediated because the researcher and the researched are interconnected, with the values of the investigator and the “other” influencing the inquiry. However, it is important to note that while research is value-driven, the validity claims of the researcher must meet rigorous standards to avoid bias. (Carspecken, 1996, p. 8)
Moreover, a critical ethnographic approach goes further than other approaches. Firstly, critical researchers acknowledge researcher bias and subjectivity, as the researcher’s personal feelings and views are a part of the research process. The researcher is reflexive, and is engaged in a constant process of critiquing both objectivity and subjectivity. Second, researchers engage in an examination of their positionality in relation to the other (who is being studied). The researcher is engaged in a dialogical relationship with the other and remains grounded in their experience, as it is the concern for their condition which is driving the research. According to Madison (2005) “dialogue moves from ethnographic presence to the present by opening up passageways for readers and audiences to experience and grasp the partial presence of a temporal conversation constituted by the other’s voice, body, history and yearnings (p. 10).
Ontology of Critical Ethnography
“Critical ethnography begins from the premise that the structure and content of culture make life unnecessarily more nasty, brutish, and short for some people” (Thomas, 1993, p. 33). When conducting research, critical ethnographers start with “a view of what there is to know, an ontology, that furnishes a set of images and metaphors, in which various forms of social oppression constitute what is to be known” (Thomas, 1993, p. 34). Thus, ontological underpinnings of critical ethnography are concerned with how societal structures and systems oppress certain groups, while reinforcing power, domination and capitalism. It sets out to expose the deeper social, historical and political meanings in society which reinforce the marginalization of some groups and how power and interests mediate these relations going below the surface level meaning to expose how “bodies of ideas, norms and ideologies create meanings for constructing social subjects and concepts like gender, race and student” (Thomas, 1993, p. 34).
Critical ethnography also acknowledges that there are multiple realities, which can be uncovered through incorporating a narrative ontology. The narratives of participants are used to provide a rich description of their experience, as interpreted by the researcher to illustrate how issues of oppression, power and inequality are operating in his or her life (Thomas, 1993, p. 34).
Unit of Analysis
For this research study, “dialogical data” will be collected through a semi-structured interview with the intent to shed light into organizational practices existing within child protection and VAW services that influences their collaborative relationship. A key informant
who has worked both in child welfare and VAW services will be interviewed for twenty to thirty minutes.
Data Collection Tools
For this research study, I will be interviewing a single individual. A semi-structured interview will be used because it allows the interview to be sufficiently open-ended. The interview questions can be re-ordered, modified and the researcher can probe the participant with additional questions, if needed.
The interview will be recorded using an audio recorder. Field notes and observational notes of non verbal communication will also be taken. After the interview, additional notes will be made to capture anything that may have been missed.
Strengths and Weaknesses of this Methodology
One of the major strengths of critical ethnography is that it goes further than a traditional descriptive study, as it seeks to make emancipatory changes in society. Its political agenda attempts to transform society and share narratives and experiences of oppressed groups. This methodology also attempts to include the participants in the research process, using methods such as “member checking” (Carspecken, 1996, p. 166) which helps provide individuals who are often ignored from dominant discourses a voice.
However, one glaring criticism of critical ethnography has been that we cannot separate it from the historical and political context from which it emerged. This context is problematic as it effects the researcher’s epistemological position because the “ethnographers institutional or
material standpoint within the everyday world is rarely connected or made problematic in relation to his or her “subjects’ lived actualities”. (Jordan & Yeoman, 1995, p. 393).
While critical ethnography is supposed to take a bottom-up view, the majority of its researchers come from an academic background, which is often in contrast of the material location of their participants. (Jordan & Yeoman, 1995, p. 399-400). This influences the production of knowledge and data, as the relationship may be characterized by a power imbalance and differing worldviews as a product of varying material locations. Moreover, exposing inequality and oppression in academic literature does not ensure that change is created in the field.
Thus, critical ethnographers become caught in a double bind. On one hand, the researcher seeks emancipation and liberation for their subjects, but they are constrained by their own positionality and the institutions for which they work. Thomas (1976, p. 25) states:
“We must never become wholly dependent upon established institutions; publishing houses, commercial media, universities, foundations. Social intellectuals must occupy some territory which is their own; their own journal, their own theoretical and practice centres: places where no one works for grades or fore tenure but for the transformation of society” (Jordan & Yeomans, 1995, p. 399-400).
However, despite the researcher’s positionality, critical ethnography brings an opportunity to challenge traditional research and incorporate participant voices. It is also exciting as it attempts to liberate society from oppression and therefore, provides an alternative and welcomed choice to mainstream research.
Analysis of Three Peer Reviewed Articles
The appendix will discuss three peer reviewed articles in a chart, which is on the following page. The chart is divided into multiple categories, which will discuss the unit of analysis, the sample group, data collection and data analysis. I will conclude the chart by examining the strengths and the weaknesses of the methodology in the articles and then relate it back to my research study.
This paper set out to explore critical ethnography as my chosen methodology to conduct my research. Through writing this paper and reviewing the three articles, I know that critical ethnography will be useful in achieving my research goal of highlighting the oppression and power in the collaborative relationship between child welfare and VAW workers. This is important, as the relationship between these two sectors ultimately impacts the level of service provided to women and children.