Monday, 29 March 2021

Annual Sociology Lecture Series - Lecture 3: Tales of the Field: Doing Ethnography Today

 The Annual Sociology Lecture Series held by the Department of Sociology and Social Work Association conducted its third lecture on the 30th of March, Tuesday from 4:30 to 6 pm. Dr Nilika Mehrotra conducted the lecture series on the topic, “Tales of the field: Doing ethnography today”. It was a highly enlightening session that was attended by many students from the Sociology and Social works department.

Dr Nilika Mehrotra started the session by briefly explaining what ethnography means. It is a process of fieldwork and monograph writing. She highlighted that ethnography is a research design. Dr Mehrotra further answered a common question of whether ethnography and qualitative methods are the same by pointing that the former is not the same as a survey but can be considered as a component. She went on to detail the two types of ethnography, little and big ethnography. In classical anthropology, ethnography is an understanding of both the people and communities, for instance, religions, urban space, hospital and so on. Therefore for ethnography careful selection of fields in a natural setting in a social space is key.

Dr Mehrotra then moved on to tracing the history of Ethnography in Sociology and Anthropology.

Dr Mehrotra also drew attention to the many kinds of literature available on even the local communities, which the ethnographers can use as a reference to prepare research questions. However, Ethnography is a research methodology that is very flexible and therefore the questions can be modified according to the social setting. In such a case, Dr Mehrotra emphasizes how ethnographers need to have different strategies for different social settings and different types of data. From her personal experience, she pointed out that researchers who are older, experienced and are socially skilled make better ethnographers. Nowadays Visual anthropology and visual photography are useful tools to collect data. To ensure the validity of data cross-checking, triangulation and interpretation, self-introspection and self-criticism are very important. She went on to talk about the ways technology is being used today in this field, for jotting down notes.

Dr Mehrotra pointed out various challenges that lie in the way of carrying out ethnographic studies. These include over-participation, difficulty in taking sides, the lack of access to specialised knowledge, and more.

With this, Dr Mehrotra wrapped up the session, saying that ethnography is imbibing more and more usage of digital sources and only time will tell how the future of this field is going to look. Following this, Neha Ashar thanked Ma’am for the insightful lecture and opened the floor for questions from the audience. The audience actively engaged and an informative discussion ensued. Questions regarding perspectives (etic and emic), disabilities,over-participation and more were asked. Dr Mehrotra answered the questions in detail and supplemented them with examples from personal experiences and anecdotes. Post the question-answer session, a vote of thanks was delivered by Neha and the session came to a close.

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