Monday, February 28, 2011

The Sky is Blue! More at 11...

I’m starting to find it valuable, as I settle into the rhythm of doing these blogs, to try to use the theoretical article we read each week as a lens through which to view the examples of research that we read.  This week’s theoretical article was “Imagining the ‘Iron cage’: The Rhetoric of Hidden Emotions in Critical Ethnography” by Paul Nugent and Mitchel Abolafia.  This article argues that successful ethnographers shape their “characters” much as fiction authors do.  While they may maintain the façade of scientific disconnection, their human connection with the subjects of their research allows them to portray them sympathetically, not by overtly asking for the reader’s approval, but by describing “hidden emotions.”  I found this article to be a little “dog bites man,” just because these kinds of revelations (authors shape their narrative! News at 11!) are nothing new for rhetoricians.  In a journal called Ethnography, an engineer and a sociologist may be breaking new ground, though.

Erin Krampetz uses data gathered by Andrea Lunsford’s large study at Stanford to study the writing of international students in “Writing Across Cultures and Contexts.”  Although she uses a methodology that combines quantitative and qualitative data, her qualitative data, her study lacks the character portraits that Nubent and Abolafia describe.  Krampetz almost always uses direct quotes from the student interviews as she discusses the students and their writing, and I believe that this prevents her from painting the picture of hidden emotion described above.  The emotion comes not just from the subject, but from the researcher’s relation to the subject.  The fact that Krampetz did not have strong relationships with these students (because she was not doing an ethnography) is revealed in the way she writes about them.

David Foster describes his research (in Writing with Authority) as case studies and observer participation (42).  His work reveals a little more of the character of the students he observes, but because it is not an ethnography, I don’t find much suggestion of hidden emotion.  Sohn’s work, for example, much closer to an ethnography, draws character portraits fine enough to catch a vague sense of Sohn’s own personal relationship with her subjects.  Foster’s book, however, does a good job of laying out broad differences in collegiate writing between a U.S. university and a university within the German system—which was his purpose in writing.

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