Mneesha Gellman

Methodology

Performing political ethnographic work undergirds the fundamental premise of my research, that stories are meaningful vehicles for people to integrate personal identity with political objectives. Political ethnography has the potential to address some of the problems that plague conventional social science research methods by explicitly theorizing power within the encounters between researchers and the researched

At the same time, as long as social science methods try to lay claim to “Truth” rather than “truths,” we may continue to find discord in political science as a field access. This is most recently displayed in discussions about transparency versus replicability (See American Political Science Association & Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research, Newsletter, 2015), where I weigh in clearly on the side that qualitative studies may be theoretically transparent but cannot, and should not, be held to requirements of replicability common in quantitative methods for three reasons.

First, data collection IRB informed consent letters for interviewees would have to disclose the intention to make full transcripts available to anyone with access to the internet. Such a practice would not fulfill the perception of confidentiality and trust on which the interviews frequently rely.

Second, as Parkinson and Wood discuss in the APSA QMMR newsletter, even redacting some information or creating pseudonyms does not sufficiently protect interviewees who may face persecution for their work or statements if others actors were to gain access to them (Parkinson & Wood, 2015: 24).

Third, following the argument of Timothy Pachirat in the same newsletter, my transcripts do not constitute raw data that have been “extracted” but rather entail co-created conversations that may be interpreted differently by scholars operating with different lenses and positionalities (Pachirat, 2015: 28-9). This approach of interpretation as a central part of ethnography makes transcript use by other scholars trying to do replication problematic because reflexive ethnographic work entails my own positionality as central to the dialogues I engage in. To quote Katherine Cramer as she weighs in on the debate about transcript access as a means to promote transparency, “I do not think it is possible to remove me from the analysis” (Cramer, 2015: 19). In sum, conceptual scaffolding should be made available by political ethnographic researchers to their readers, but fieldnotes and transcripts should not be required to be publically available online to all who wish to access them.


References

American Political Science Association and Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research. (2015). Newsletter of the American Political Science Association, Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research. Qualitative and Multi-Method Research, 13(1).

Cramer, Katherine. (2015). Transparent Explanations, Yes. Public Transcripts and Fieldnotes, No. Ethnographic Research on Public Opinion. Newsletter of the American Political Science Association, Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research., 13(1), 17-20.

Pachirat, Timothy. (2015). The Tyranny of Light. Newsletter of the American Political Science Association, Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research., 13(1), 27-31.

Parkinson, Sarah Elizabeth and Wood, Elisabeth Jean. (2015). Transparency in Intensive Research on Violence: Ethical Dilemmas and Unforeseen Consequences. Newsletter of the American Political Science Association, Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research., 13(1), 22-27.