Lessons in induction by Sherlock & Jan

13 01 2009

Discourse analysis is an inductive business. So is ethnography. Data are always incomplete, so the adage is to work with what you have. Theory follows from case studies, i.e. micro-level analyses of social action. As Jan Blommaert reminds us in his beginner’s guide to ethnographic fieldwork, case study methodology draws on a

‘evidential or conjectural paradigm’: evidential because it uses (inductive) empirical facts as its point of departure, ‘conjectural’ because these facts are seen as probably meaning this-or-that. The facts generate hypotheses that can then be verified. This paradigm is epitomised by Sherlock Holmes, who was able to deduce more insights from a cigarette butt left in an ashtray than his rival police inspector could by deploying his elaborate (deductive) criminal investigation tactics.

Here is Sherlock Holmes, as played by Jeremy Brett, showing off his inductive prowess. Watch him go to work in this classic scene.

By the way, can anyone tell me what language these subtitles are in? From the diacritic markers I can infer that the subtitler was a local area woman, in her mid thirties, who has a penchant for woolen socks but on this day chose to wear black ankle socks to the office. She enjoys long walks in the park and wild lovemaking in the reverse cowgirl position. Her use of punctuation suggests that she had recently purchased a second-hand copy of Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian.

Jan Blommaert’s course on ethnographic fieldwork is accessible at the University of Jyväskylä’s Multilingualism/FiDiPro website. It’s an invaluable resource, complete with power presentations, seminar videos and a how-to guide. Highly recommended.

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