Archive for October, 2009

29 October 2009

Ethnographic discourse analysis – Part II

300_64486Another exciting take on (or: use of) ethnographic discourse analysis is Helen Gregory’s study of poetry slams. In her Art in Action: Exploring Poetry Slam with Ethnographic Discourse Analysis paper at ESA2009 (9th Conference of European Sociological Association, Lisbon, 02-05 September 2009) she tells us she is particularly interested in:

The merits of interdisciplinary research (combining especially sociology, psychology and the arts) the epistemological and theoretical underpinnings of such research what counts as a “text” the performative construction of auto/biography and identity and challenging the micro/macro divide.

She continues:Poetry_Slam

The study uses discourse analytic and ethnographic tools of enquiry to explore how slam participants mobilise poetry, informal conversation and other forms of action to weave stories about themselves and others.

It will be argued that these auto/biographies work both to construct individuals’ identities, and to help them to negotiate the status hierarchies which structure their daily lives and interactions. Ethnographic and discourse analytic approaches can thus be combined to produce an informative and sensitive account of the construction of identity in everyday interaction. I will contend that such in-depth explorations of micro level interaction are essential if we are to achieve a full understanding of the macro level social structures and processes which they help to constitute. After all, as Mead (1934: 37) notes, “history is nothing but biography, a whole series of biographies”.

(Pictures courtesy of Habse(e)ligkeit and Lone Star College)

28 October 2009

Ethnographic discourse analysis

On a random google for others also working on “ethnographic discourse analysis”, I came across some interesting links.

Martin Müller’s book, Making great power identities in Russia: An ethnographic discourse analysis of education at a Russian elite university (Zürich:LIT). A university seminar in Vienna (Gabriela B. Christmann).Thomas Scheffer’s Research Report: Statements, Cases, and Criminal Cases. The Ethnographic Discourse Analysis of Legal Discourse Formations in FQS. And a job offer: Assist. Prof of Ethnographic Discourse Analysis at Georgetown (from 1995!).

A detailed review of Steinkuehler, C. (2005). Learning in Massively Multiplayer Online Games: A Critical Approach shows how Steinkuehler explores MMOGs is not only as a discursive practice but also participating in a discourse. She’s primarily interested in learning, and analyses specific interactions and literacy practices. Draws on Geertz and Gee (Big ‘D’ discourses). The reviewer is clear that this is an important book for her research, and writes:

I also get my understanding of game play as situated in a multiplicity of discourses from Steinkuehler and while I have become leery of completely downplaying the digital physicality of virtual worlds I can’t deny the linguistic or at the very least literary nature of the interactions that I observe online. While incomplete her explanation of communities in MMOGs as both communities of discourse and communities of practice is a useful tool for understanding communities in online settings and if her vision of MMOGs as discourses can be somewhat monolithic I’m not prepared to completely abandon it because of that one flaw.

Now I’m wondering what happens if we take a larger definition of ‘discourse’ — akin to Laclau and Mouffe’s work, or the Essex school as they are now being called, or even Gee’s Big ‘D’ disocurses. If we understand discourse as not only language, but also a range of other practices and even physicality, does the separation of ‘community of discourse’ and ‘community of practice’ break down?

12 October 2009

Scientists horrified at “flawed” chemical nationality tests

This is the sort of thing you learn preparing a workshop for the “hard sciences”… Chemical tests are to be used in the UK to check if asylum seekers are really from where they say they are.

Basically, it seems that analysing the isotopes of, say, a Bordeaux wine can tell you if it really came from the region its label says or if it’s a fraud. Analysing isotopes can determine where confiscated drugs originate. And now the UK has launched a pilot project to determine where asylum seekers come from – by analysing their isotopes (e.g. through hair, fingernails) and DNA. The problem is, say the scientists, that immigrants travel and move. This sort of analysis can only trace the last few months.

CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM—Scientists are greeting with surprise and dismay a project to use DNA and isotope analysis of tissue from asylum seekers to evaluate their nationality and help decide who can enter the United Kingdom. “Horrifying,” “naïve,” and “flawed” are among the adjectives geneticists and isotope specialists have used to describe the “Human Provenance pilot project,” launched quietly in mid-September by the U.K. Border Agency. Their consensus: The project is not scientifically valid–or even sensible. (Sciencemag)

German article. Update: After the outcry, the border agency has pulled back its plans.

11 October 2009

The Yeltsin Scandal

Who’s ruining Russian democracy? Stephen F. Cohen has long been arguing that Gorbachev was the real democrat and it all went to anti-democratic hell with Yeltsin, long before Putin turned up, or Medvedev followed.

A recent interesting media analysis by William Dunkerley, media business analyst and consultant, points to a similar argument. The media scandal, says Dunkerley is “the Western press’ inexplicably lenient treatment of the Yeltsin presidency, especially in comparison to his successors”. Some extracts:

[The Yeltsin Scandal begins with a drunken Boris Yeltsin hailing a cab in his underwear across from the White House in Washington. But that’s just the beginning. This story includes murder, unthinkable acts of military aggression, and journalistic malfeasance. At its heart, it’s really a story about the media and how they have bungled the coverage of Yeltsin and his successors. You’ll never look at media reportage of Russia in the same way!]

Over the years, Yeltsin has been characterized variously as a hero who brought down communism, as the foremost proponent of Russia’s transformation to democracy and a market economy, and as a stalwart of Russia’s free press.

Beyond that popular imagery, however, there was a less attractive side. Yeltsin presided over a looting of state assets that created a circle of newly-minted tycoons that helped to protect Yeltsin. In addition, acting against the constitution, Yeltsin dismissed the duly elected parliament. And when the members refused to go, he brought in tanks to shell the parliament building in a confrontation that ultimately claimed approximately 150 lives. Somehow he was able to win reelection in a contest where he held roughly a 5 percent approval rating going into the election season. Ultimately, Yeltsin led the country into a financial collapse near the end of his presidency.

A Closer Look at Yeltsin

As a case-in-point, I examined the New York Times coverage of Yeltsin’s shelling of the parliament in 1993. That was one of Yeltsin’s most egregious acts. The Times ran a story entitled “SHOWDOWN IN MOSCOW: Tactics; Yeltsin Attack Strategy: Bursts Followed by Lulls.” Here are some excerpts illustrating how the Times covered the story:

“The assault on the Russian Parliament building today was a textbook example of the decisive application of military power…

“And as the daylong assault went on, it was clear that Mr. Yeltsin’s commanders had decided on gradualism…

“The Russian troops were looking for Bolshoi Devyatinsky lane … where the defiant lawmakers had maintained their headquarters…

“With the outcome of the battle never in doubt, the clear preference of the military was to scare the anti-Yeltsin demonstrators into surrendering and to limit casualties…

“The only question was the number of lives that would be lost. And that was largely left up to the rebels as they were alternately bombarded with shells and appeals to surrender.”

Just note how soft this coverage is. I’m not taking sides on whether Yeltsin’s actions were appropriate or not. But, the Yeltsin side is characterized as valiant and measured. The other side is characterized as defiant and to blame for its own fate. The story has a factual basis. The president really did launch a tank assault on the parliament. However, the circumstances clearly seem to be spun in a way that tempers that stark reality.

9 October 2009

Maths for girls or boys

New maths textbooks are on the market in Germany: Specifically for boys (blue, mud, football, technology, quads, pirates) and specifically for girls (pink, ponies, angels, flowers, ballet, jewelry). Witches in the boys’ books are strong, dynamic, and dominant and get eaten by monsters. In the girls’ books the witches are friendly, charming, and demure and enjoy their peace and quiet.

But the publisher PONS (not currently a leading player in the German textbook publishing market) is not at all trading in old stereotypes here. Nono. It’s all about facilitating learning and letting young boys and girls work on tasks which genuinely interest them.

100diktate-jungs3.indd 100diktate-jungs3.indd

The problem is, I think PONS is probably right. Many young learners are so thoroughly embedded in current dominant versions of girlness and boyness that they really will enjoy these tasks more and probably put more effort into maths.

The long-term consequences of these differential subjectivations, though… Female scientists and engineers? Strong dynamic women? Males childcarers and nurses? If they enjoyed these maths tasks, perhaps they’ll have less enthusiasm for “new” roles? Or perhaps those who are enthusiastic will have to work harder than ever to overcome gender norms. Or maybe the kids take it all with a pinch of salt and are much more street-wise than we wise adults think.

3 October 2009

BAE under investigation for corruption

This morning [1 Oct] the Director of the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Richard Alderman, decided to begin prosecution proceedings against BAE Systems for alleged corruption and false accounting in its arms sales to some or all of Czech Republic, Romania, South Africa and Tanzania.

Tells us a press release from CAAT (Campaign Against Arms Trade) which exposes the illegal and unethical activities of the arms trade, especially BAE, the UK’s largest arms company (see full press release).

BBC: BAE Systems faces bribery charges

Guardian: Fraud office seeks BAE’s prosecution over bribery

SFO: BAE Systems plc

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