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Critical ethnography unearthed: Exposing and confronting our challenges

Robinson, J.ORCID: 0000-0003-0958-4973 and Kuteyi, B. (2010) Critical ethnography unearthed: Exposing and confronting our challenges. In: AARE 2010, 28 November - 2nd December 2010, University of Melbourne, Melbourne


One glorious autumn afternoon, when the temptation was to enjoy the sunshine whilst digging and clearing drudgeries associated with completing our dissertations, Bisi and I decided to mulch away some of the frustrations and challenges of our learning journeys. We had been struggling desperately to finish our dissertations, both using critical ethnography as a methodological approach; so we definitely had some common ground to listen and share valued insights with each other.

The marvel of those shared moments appeared when we discovered how similar our learning paths over the past four years had been and how we had often suffered separately even whilst working alongside one another. It had become a lone struggle to explain the research as we moved further away in our memories from our participants, who had initially been our collaborators and point of praxis. Were we in the dip? Were we experiencing the ‘lone ethnography' syndrome?

We had both conducted our research in Western Australian public schools, had listened and transcribed many hours of our participants' narratives and had somehow managed to find almost identical themes of discussion to explain our stories. One of these themes was that of relationships and how significant they were in how students and teachers connected, not only how they influenced the identity construction of teachers in their first year of teaching but also how students interpreted policies that teachers were asked to implement in schools.

Another commonality was in doing this type of research, where we applied critical social theory and post-structural theory to the "realms of field work and data interpretation" (Carspecken, 1991, p. 1) we were both experiencing some of the aftershocks of disrupting dominant discourses in the neo-liberal domain. The reinforcement and reclaiming process of validating each other's research on making a difference in the lives of first year teachers and high school students respectively provided the impetus for further investigation, analysis and action.

This presentation is about our story of positioning ourselves in such a way that we could hear voices from the field that would otherwise be silent. We would like to share some of the common challenges we encountered in using critical ethnography in education research, including collecting data, gaining ethics approval, passing gatekeepers, maintaining trust and connections with participants and representing their multiple voices. Most significantly, we will outline how we were also able to meet some of those challenges, including the point of praxis and empowerment gained from collaborating for this conference, whereby we were able to re-imagine and relive our research projects, our responses to the local research sites and the knowledge and experience gained in the process.

What has emerged is a revised sense of our ethnographic selves, no longer autonomous but as connected, not as detached but related in a dialect that is relational and dialogic (Brown, 2004, p. 312). Our emphasis then is not on our individual research stories, even though they are unique, but on the commonalities and relationships between them. We intend that this presentation provide dialogue and questions about "how positioning and reflexivity" (Stevens, 2004, p. 159) influence how we conduct and represent our participants and their stories in writing.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
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