By Jennifer Wicks
One of my main reasons for taking this course was the complexity of the project… Including students from numerous departments, studying in a wide range of disciplines – history, geography, art education, art history, fine arts/studio, theatre… (I’m sure I’m missing some, but you get the picture), who are at different stages in their academic careers – Undergrads, Master’s and PhD and Post Doctoral… all working on the same project multi faceted project seemed like a close to impossible task.
In my PhD research project, I have chosen to use collaborative ethnography as one of the main methodologies in my mixed methods transnational study of community arts education programming. Collaborative ethnography, in my case study of multiple sites, can be defined as
An approach to ethnography that deliberately and explicitly emphasizes collaboration at every point in the ethnographic process, without veiling it—from project conceptualization, to fieldwork, and, especially, through the writing process. Collaborative ethnography invites commentary from our consultants and seeks to make that commentary overtly part of the ethnographic text as it develops. In turn, this negotiation is reintegrated back into the fieldwork process itself. (Lassiter, 2005, p. 16)
By following Steven High’s process, I had hoped to witness the orchestration of such a large-scale collaborative process, which included participants from numerous disciplines in different stages of academic study, and put them on an even playing field. What I hadn’t anticipated was the contribution of multiple voices from the community, who came to the table with their own sets of knowledge, experience and understanding, which we relied on so heavily.
Ultimately what became clear, was that Steven had begun the steps of developing a collaborative atmosphere in the course from the get go. Beginning the class by walking together, sharing our experiences within those walks, sharing the importance of the stories we had heard in our individual research projects, and reflecting together on how to put importance on those stories, allowed us as a group to develop a sense of each other’s positioning, and understanding of what we were assimilating through the process.
It was enthralling to be able to collaborate with such a wide range of scholars and community members… and even though the community members were not physically present, their voices took over the space often as we sought to weave their stories into the history we striving to present.
Developing such a large, multifaceted project in such a short period of time, also forced us to rely upon each other, to get the work we needed done in the time allotted, and as they say – deadlines are a great motivator (Guiragossian, 2009). It is clear that having such a broad and diverse skill set amongst the participants indeed became an asset to the project, rather than a hindrance, or obstacle, as I had originally anticipated.
Coming from an arts based background, I initially felt a little lost in the process. I wasn’t accustomed to historical or archival research, and I struggled, down to the implementation of Chicago style citations in my writing! New to oral history too, I wasn’t sure where or if my voice fit in. It was only through collaborating and discussing with classmates that I began to feel like I was a part of something larger, and that the unique skills that we each brought to the table allowed us to develop a richer project. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with such an amazing group of people, it has been an amazing experience.
Guiragossian, J.J. (2009). Making art and teaching art: The impact of art workshops on secondary art teachers (Master’s thesis). Retrieved on November 5, 2012 from http://gradworks.umi.com/1481618.pdf
Lassiter, E. L. (2005). The Chicago guide to collaborative ethnography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press