In defense of analytical complexity

16 01 2009

In an unpublished working paper, Ben Rampton illustrates the depth of linguistic ethnography in an analysis of classroom interaction. The goal of linguistic ethnography, he argues (2008: 3) is

to produce an account that respects the uniqueness, deficiency and exuberance of the communicative moment, while at the same time, describing how participants handle specific forms, strategies and materials, considering the ways in which their use feeds into the communication overall, and trying to understand how this feeds off and into local social life more generally.

Such a scope inevitably yields tremendous detail and requires analytical holy-cowery. But, and here comes the kicker, it is by no means an overcomplicated academic exercise, because

The processes that we inspect are often fairly general, capable of arousing comment and interest in lots of different arenas, but it is surely also important as a moral and political principle that beneath the headlines and beyond the attention to spectacular cases, there is still some documentation of the intricacy, distribution and significance of these processes in ordinary lives.

(Rampton 2008: 9)


Rampton, Ben (2008). Linguistic ethnography, interactional sociolinguistics and the study of identities.  London: King’s College London, Centre for Language Discourse and Communication.




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