How: The need for Ethnography

In a world which is increasingly subservient to statistics and social-life representations in five-second media soundbites, it is paramount that proper time is given to study and understand why poverty and destitution continue to flourish; it is imperative that we go beyond these representations of reality and accept them for the truth. These days, populist contructions of the poor and destitute paint them as the producers of their own predicaments and attention seemingly drifts away from the systemic faults in the background which render them vulnerable. In a time where risk governance restricts our research projects to “safe research contexts”, we are also encouraged to publish in high-index journals and participate in “knowledge economies” so we can sell our research or market ourselves as academics which takes us away from the essence of why we should do what we do. Too easily now as researchers, we see our participants as “dangerous” and a pathway to realising a study which involves spending time with problematic social groups as increasingly narrow. However, it is necessary to see beyond these peoples’ stereotypes and recognise that their human capacity is equal to ours. It is essential for us to abandon conventional deductive methods of reality construction and embrace the chaos of the social world and its conflicting ambiguities. It is necessary for us to use ethnographic methods such as observation and interviewing over time as a means conducting sound, reliable research which has a human element and a social cause attached to it.

  • Alternative Vista is concerned that finding out about why people do what they do is related to establishing a trust with them, getting to know them, learning about them and how they think to be able to provide a more accurate representation of their circumstances. This can only be done by researching them on their “home turf”.