The ethnographic investigation implies an intimate, embodied, even carnal knowledge of the environment surveyed and the social actors. It also requires the researcher to work on himself, making it possible to approach as closely as possible the social, psychological, economic, and other realities of the other, who has become, sometimes a friend. But little attention has been paid to the specific contributions of long time in ethnography : If the immersive aspect of the investigation has been the subject of numerous debates (identification objectivation, reflexivity ...), the effect of the long or even very long time has been less analyzed. From two very long-term surveys of the dance world and firefighters, we propose to show how this atypical temporality of social science work allows us, first to desingularize the individual who is being investigated, gradually relocated to a group, a history, a tradition, a family ... The relationship established over the long time then contributes to build trust such that some subjects end up being addressed while they have been carefully euphemised or set aside for months or even years.Finally, we have to go beyond the kind of snapshot to which our quicker, more distant inquiries sometimes accustom us.
What makes the time of the survey on the ethnographics datas’s quality ? What is the guarantee of long-term observation in the ethnographical survey ? The long-term participating observation, is frequently justified with epistemological arguments. Since the steps of type rather “mechanics”, postulating the neutralization of the situations of investigation until those more reflexive making analysis of the situations ways of knowledge on the object, the long term observation, by supposed effects of dilution of the social distance, is frequently justified by epistemological virtues which I wish to discuss in this article. From some typical contemporary examples, we shall discuss of the epistemological presuppositions of long-term observation to show in fine how it is based on a latent bottom of persistent positivist epistemology.
II- L’espace du terrain. Réflexions théoriques et épistémologiques
This article highlights a series of methodological problems raised by a specific fieldwork at UNESCO – I was there to follow the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Convention for the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions in 2005. A feeling of being out of joint with the field is at the basis of a perplexing situation : each time I was approaching the Convention, it seemed do redirect me out of the host institution (UNESCO). Facing such a less than cooperating object, which seems to refuse to be captured by traditional disciplinary measures, I come to ask myself if what I am doing could aptly be described as fieldwork. I also expose how, from such an unstable posture – one foot in the field, the other outside of it – the object came to be viewed in a previously unsuspected way.
Considering that social sciences are sciences of the empirie, this article suggests a reflection on the way these sciences would assure this objective when they assert proceeding from a « field ». It will try to establish how much the « field » can, and must, be heuristic in the research approach. How significant it can become in the testing of the research problem. How much, finally, it « obliges » the researcher. Much more, even if the social sciences reach to share the same understanding of the field, they can engage themselves in an epistemology of the discovery far more in compliance with the one that guides the other sciences.
Can the ethnographic approach be reconciled with scientific aims in social sciences ? Using examples of descriptive work and methodological insights that can be drawn from them, we set out to demonstrate the need to reconsider the conceptualisation of the phases of the ethnographic process, moving from the heuristics of discovery to the construction of an explicitly transmissible object of knowledge. This exercise of conceptualizing certain aspects of the ethnographic process leads us to put forward the following proposition : a projected theory of description of social life in its older or newer formulations, far from being a straitjacket for the ethnographic approach, would be an excellent avenue for bringing the process into a scientific ambit. In addition, the ethnographic approach could well make a significant contribution to social sciences, whose scientificity remains problematical.
III- L’engagement ethnographique et les questions éthiques
This article analyses the way in which the social and academic temporalities of a social scientist may impact her survey system and the way she investigates during the field phase of her research. To illustrate what that means, the analysis looks back at a participating observation in an army officers’s school in France, conducted by the author while she was doing her doctorate. The article shows how the author’s involvement in the officiers’s struggles for prestige was related to the theoretical questions of her own claim for scientific recognition. Also at stake was her involvement itself, related to her academis position in the academic field as a PhD candidate. This paper proposes that an unduly ethnographic involvement can be seen as an alternative academic and scientific ressource for a special kind of academic profession’s candidates.
In this work based on the study of a group fighting for the right to education for the undocumented children in Montreal, the place of the investigator on an activist field and the problems induced by his double status of observer and participant, classic in ethnography and decisive in social movements study, will be discussed. First, constraints resulting in an open participative observation type of investigation will be described, in particular the investigation policy of the investigated, demanding the investigator participation. Then, we will show how the investigator leaving the non-perturbation epistemology accesses otherwise hidden data. In parallel, we will discuss the question of the investigator’s investment limits. Finally, we will propose solutions to two dilemmas encountered along this in situ study : the respect of the ethics committees’ rules, and the phenomenon of the investigator getting « caught up in a clique ».
To freely read beyond authors’intentions, their “poïetic strategies” or the
immanent content of texts ; to select certain “traces” and associate meanings to them ;
reflexive progression on the social stakes of careers and the researchers’sensitivity.
Questioning over the research recurrent themes : the « long run », the territorialisation
or situation and the problem of meaning. Two ways : the ethnographer’s method and the
« object under observation ». To throw light on the « added value » of ethnographic
observation : observation of bodies in full activity (activity as the operator of social
production), of subjectivities , traces of former or sideways processes, re-actualised or
not, within the forms of commitment of the actors in situation ; “localisation “ of
phenomena, traces that are significant to reconstruct representations, give meaning to the
agents’gestures, behaviour and activities ; enrichment of our experience. Is there/ is
that, then, a sociological analysis ?
Olivier Schwartz holds a central place in the French sociology of working class since the early 1990s, and in the diffusion of the ethnographic method. Starting from the analysis of the social and intellectual trajectory of the sociologist from the 1970s to the present day, the interview sheds light on the context in which ethnography has been formalized and developed in France. Evocation of the dialogues with neighboring disciplines (anthropology, history, philosophy) and the various fieldworks carried out here define a contribution to the very nature of ethnographic sociology. The individuals met in the field cannot be reduced to persons detached from the relations of power, which are played out at different levels ; the empirical data collected have meaning only put back into a social structure much wider than the small social world observed. Conversely, ethnography modifies the way of doing sociology : the experience of the inquiry « anchored » in a society. The knowledge thus produced is only better equipped.