Ed Granter/Leo McCann (University of Manchester)
It is widely argued that ‘good’ ethnography should focus at least as much on the everyday, mundane and boring elements of the social life of a community as it does the exotic, notable, or exciting (Back, 2015; Phillips, 2016). But the unusual, strange, emotionally intense, dangerous and deviant have always been major features of social research and especially ethnography, with its rich history of writings on, for example, policing (Moskos, 2008; van Maanen, 1973, 1978), search and rescue teams (Lois, 2003), boxing clubs (Wacquant, 2004), gangs and gang violence (Densley, 2013; Goffman, 2014; Mullins, 2006; Venkatesh, 2009), illicit drug use and trade (Adler 1993; Bourgois and Schonberg, 2009), war zones (Nordstrom and Robben, 1995), indeed pretty much every conceivable kind of ‘edgework’ (Lyng, 1990) that involves risk and/or possible threat to life. Research into more ‘normal’ work settings has also often focused on its intense or extreme elements and how they become everyday and normalized (Granter et al, 2015), such as ‘work-hard, play-hard’ cultures in investment banking, excessive workloads and burnout, or emotionally-intense and potentially upsetting health and social care work (Lawton, 2000; Ward and McMurray, 2016). Some have called for a carnal sociology or an ethnography of the flesh and blood (Wacquant, 2015) to capture the embodied nature of these sometimes transcendent or exhilarating but often draining and poignant, or even mundane and accepted social experiences.
The vividness of the data generated in such research settings is a potent draw for ethnographers looking to document extreme, emotionally-laden and generally unforgiving lifeworlds that lie outside a more ‘mainstream’ habitus. Notions of ‘carnal’ perhaps suggests a more rugged, uncompromising or heavy-handed approach than that of other forms of immersive ethnographic inquiry such as ‘sensory ethnography’ (Pink, 2009). Extreme ethnography can entail academic researchers being drawn into dangerous or upsetting environments in their work, possibly to the detriment of their well-being and the well-being of the communities under study.
Research ethics is thus clearly a potentially major issue for extreme ethnographies, as discussed in a wide literature about protecting researchers and participants from physical, emotional, psychiatric or reputational harm (Lee, 1995; Warden, 2015; Wolcott, 2002). But in practice, ethical approval applications and risk assessments – like all management processes and artefacts that attempt to capture, render auditable and control human action - are often problematic and unworkable (Power, 1996). Some experience of risk (perhaps even of harm) is arguably essential if ‘extreme’ is to be ethnographically understood. Extreme ethnography hints at a return to immersive field research and in-depth research encounters as opposed to the more philosophical, literary and poststructural forms of writings after Clifford and Marcus (Borneman and Hammoudi, 2009; Zenker and Kumoll, 2009). But, on the other hand, are researchers being voyeuristic or narcissistic by exposing themselves to the worlds of extreme work in which academics are normally sheltered from and have little compelling reason to enter (Contreras, 2015)? Does the notion of ‘extreme’ mean the distortion of mundane into extreme as ethnographers use the most colourful and shocking representational practices? Or is fieldwork and representation always ‘an edgy business’ irrespective of the location or community under study (Spencer, 2009)?
This stream invites paper submissions that explore any area relevant to this theme of ‘extreme ethnography’: substantive, methodological or theoretical. Possible subjects include:
In summary, this stream will be of interest to those exploring ‘ethnography at the edge’ (Ferrell and Hamm, 1998), or the ‘edgy business’ of fieldwork in general. Please send paper abstracts of not more than 1,000 words to both stream convenors as email attachments by Tuesday 28th February 2017. Submissions from PhD students as well as academics at any stage of their careers are equally welcome:
Adler, P.A., (1993) Wheeling & Dealing: An Ethnography of an Upper-Level Drug Dealing and Smuggling Community. New York: Columbia University Press
Back, L., (2015) ‘Why Everyday Life Matters: Class, Community, and Making Life Liveable’, Sociology, 49, 5: 820-836
Borneman, J., and Hammoudi, A., (2009) Being There: The Fieldwork Encounter and the Making of Truth. Berkeley: University of California Press
Bourgois, P., and Schonberg, J., (2009) Righteous Dopefiend, University of California Press
Contreras, R., (2015) ‘The Need for More “Carnal”’, Qualitative Sociology, 38,1: 27-31
Densley, J.A., (2013) How Gangs Work: An Ethnography of Youth Violence. Basingstoke: Palgrave
Dick, P., (2005) ‘Dirty work designations: How police officers account for their use of coercive force’, Human Relations, 58, 11: 1363-1390
Ferrell, J., and Hamm, M.S., eds., (1998) Ethnography at the Edge: Crime, Deviance, and Field Research, Boston: Northeastern University Press
Granter, E., McCann, L., and Boyle, M., (2015) ‘Extreme work/normal work: Intensification, storytelling and hypermediation in the (re)construction of ‘the New Normal’, Organization, 22, 4: 443-456
Lawton, J., (2000) The Dying Process: Patients’ Experiences of Palliative Care. London: Routledge
Lee, R.M., (1995) Dangerous Fieldwork. London: Sage
Lois, J., (2003) Heroic Efforts: The Emotional Culture of Search and Rescue Volunteers. New York: New York University Press
Lyng, S., (1990) ‘Edgework: A Social Pyschological Analysis of Voluntary Risk Taking’, American Journal of Sociology, 95, 4: 851-886
Mullins, C.W., (2013) Holding Your Square: Masculinities, Streetlife, and Violence. Portland, OR: Willan Publishing
Nordstrom, C., and Robben, A.C.G.M., (1995) Fieldwork under Fire: Contemporary Studies of Violence and Survival. Berkeley: University of California Press
Phillips, S.W., (2016) ‘Police Discretion And Boredom: What Officers Do When There Is Nothing to do’, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 45,5: 580-601
Pink, S., (2009) Doing Sensory Ethnography, London: Sage.
Power, M., (1996) ‘Making things auditable’, Accounting, Organizations and Society, 21, (2-3): 289-315
Spencer, J., (2009) Back cover endorsement of Borneman and Hammoudi
Twigg, J., Wolkowitz, C., Cohen, R.L., and Nettleton, S., (2011) ‘Conceptualizing body work in health and social care’, Sociology of Health & Illness, 33, 2: 171-188
Van Maanen, J., (1973) ‘Observations on the socialization of policemen’, Human Organizations, 32: 407-18
Van Maanen, J., (1978) ‘The Asshole’, in Manning, P., and van Maanen, J. eds., Policing: A View from the Streets. New York: Random House
Venkatesh, S., (2009) Gang Leader for a Day. London: Penguin.
Wacquant, L., (2004) Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Wacquant, L., (2015) ‘For a Sociology of Flesh and Blood’, Qualitative Sociology, 38, 1: 1-11
Wolcott, H.F., (2004) Sneaky Kid and its Aftermath: Ethics and Intimacy in Fieldwork.Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira
Ward, J., and McMurray, R., (2016) The Dark Side of Emotional Labour, Abingdon: Routledge
Warden, T., (2013) ‘Feet of clay: confronting emotional challenges in ethnographic experience’, Journal of Organizational Ethnography, 2, 2: 150-172
Zenker, O. and Kumoll, K., (2009) Beyond Writing Culture: Current Intersections of Epistemologies and Representational Practices. New York: Berghahn