Ethical Ethnography in Tabooed Phenomena

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Contemporary educations in most western societies are using different kinds of small-group or team-organization of the students as a teaching- and learning method. This may be in the form of discussion groups, study groups of different size or as an element in Problem Based Learning (Christensen 2013). This practice has expanded since the 1970es and is nowadays considered to improve the student’s learning process and to prevent dropouts. Though, empirical research shows that the students groups are not always well functioning and that exclusion of fellow students is part of the educational culture (Christensen 2013; Christensen et al, forthcoming). While most students thrive in the groups, some are suffering and are eventually excluded from the groups and the social environment at their education. In the end this may lead to student dropouts, which are contradictory to the intention with the educational small-group organization. Still, the processes of inclusion and exclusion that seems to be an essential parameter in students groups and -teams are rarely conferred. Instructions in team-based and cooperative learning focus one-sided on the positive effects of the small groups as forums for discussion, learning and development (e.g. Kagan 2001). Even though exclusion of fellow students does not (always) take the form of bulling, they seems to be silenced or tabooed among the students involved. It is illegitimate to exclude fellow students. And it can be pretty hard to be excluded and even harder to bring it into the open. As a researcher it can be difficult to identify and to rapport the mechanisms of exclusion and even more challenging to do this respectfully to the individuals involved. Thus, researching into the mechanisms of exclusion among students in groups raises questions of theoretical, methodological and ethical relevance. The aim of my paper is to discuss these theoretical, methodological and ethical questions of ethnographic research into the processes of exclusion among students in groups. This is done through empirical examples culled from a field study of university student’s group work as part of PBL at two Danish universities (Christensen 2013) and from a resent research- and development project concerning implementation of study groups at university (Christensen et al., forthcoming). First, the methodological question is how we can be able to identify the veiled interpersonal phenomena of education, the phenomena that no one wants to talk about and which therefore are often kept hidden for the researcher (as well as for the teacher)? In this case, ethnography seems to have some significant potentials; long term field studies lets the researcher see some aspects of the life in the context that are otherwise often kept hidden. And methodological manifold may have some potential for shedding light on hidden aspects (Borgnakke 2013; Christensen 2013). Second, this leads to how the process of exclusion is theoretically conceptualized? In this case, the theoretical framework is inspired by the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s concept of disciplinary power. Contrary to the traditional definition of power as an oppressive force, possessed by somebody, disciplinary power is a productive force, which is not (nessesarily) in somebody’s possession, but which is always tied to knowledge. Disciplinary power produces subjects through processes of inclusion and exclusion (Foucault 1994). This concept implies a focus on language and human interaction as productive forces and is elaborated through Giorgio Agamben’s understanding of included exclusion and excluded inclusion and his figure homo sacer considered as ‘naked life’ or ‘the one you can kill without it being a murder’. Homo sacer is twofold excluded: according to the law and according to the culture (Agamben 2012: xiii; 64) Third, research ethics will be brought into discussion: What are the limits of the ethical code of conduct for research and which inspiration may the researcher gather from the ethics of the fore mentioned concepts of Foucault and Agamben? In this case Foucault’s concept of ‘care for the self’ will be discussed. References: Agamben, Gorgio (2012) Sprogets sakremente. En arkæologi for eden. [Il sacramento del linguaggio. Archeologia del guiramento]. Forlaget Wunderbuch. Borgnakke, K. (2013). Etnografiske metoder i uddannelsesforskningen: Mellem klassiske traditioner og senmoderne udfordringer. [Etnografic methods in educational research: Between classical traditions and late-modern challenges] København: Institut for Medier, Erkendelse og Formidling. Christensen, Gerd (2013). Projekt Grupper. En undersøgelse af subjektiveringsmekanismer i gruppe- og projektarbejdet på universitetsniveau. [Project Groups. An Analysis of Subjectification Mechanisms in Group- and Project Work at University Level] Ph.D. dissertation. Aarhus Universitet. Christensen, G., Østergaard, P. & Jepsen, K.D.B. (forthcoming). Studerendes anvendelse af studiegrupper på Pædagogik, Københavns Universitet [Student’s use of study groups at Education, University of Copenhagen]. Institut for Medier, Erkendelse og Formidling, Københavns Universitet. Foucault, Michel (1994). The subject and power. In: Faubion, James D. (edt.) Power. Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984. Vol. 3. London: Penguin Books. Kagan, S. (2001). Cooperative Learning. Kagan
Original languageEnglish
Publication date4 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2019

ID: 228367120