When genres collide

11 07 2008

ELC’s fifth and final training day showed how ‘unresearchable’, ‘flawed’ or otherwise ‘incomplete’ data speak to social tragedies such as asylum applications, murder cases and disabled learning. Drawing on Charles Briggs’ (1997) mind-blowing paper, Jan Blommaert and Adam Lefstein illustrated how institutional talk is, in the words of Storyseeds, socially funneled to fit genre requirements. Indeed, permeating chains of entextualizations and historical discursive trajectories is the (anthropological) concept of genre. For example, the institutional translation of an asylum seeker’s written representation of “what he knows about his country” shapes and – crucially – constrains the applicant’s credibility by channeling his autobiographic narrative into a legal discourse.

Theoretical omnivore Jan Blommaert then plunged into a whirlwind overview of theories of power, which led to an illuminating discussion on the ethnographic research experience, ranging from methodology over ethics, to critical distance and reflexivity. Projecting all this onto my own research made me realize that I lack critical distance vis-à-vis my own data and ‘informants’, some of whom I now consider friends. Adam Lefstein commented that ethnography, like any other social scientific research method, involves trade-offs which enable access but also taint your critical gaze.

In hindsight, this week has been intellectually stimulating and professionally rewarding, in large part due to the efforts put in by the lead tutors: Carey Jewitt, Celia Roberts, Ben Rampton, Jeff Bezemer, Adam Lefstein and Jan Blommaert. Also, as I make the transition from writing blog posts to the prospect of writing up my PhD, this ELC summerschool could not have come at a better time. If all you have is a hammer, then every problem becomes a nail said Jayson Seaman at the start of the training course. I now feel I have an all-purpose powertool. Move over, MacGyver.

Picture by giveawayboy

  • Briggs, C. L. (1997). Notes on a “confession”: on the construction of gender, sexuality, and violence in an infanticide case. Pragmatics 7 (4): 519-46.



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