The Advantages and Limits of Ethnographic Reflexivity
Awareness of writing choices generates an appreciation of the reflexivity of ethnographic research. Reflexivity involves the recognition that an account of reality does not simply mirror reality but rather creates or constitutes as real in the first place whatever it describes. Thus ‘the notion of reflexivity recognizes that texts do not simply and transparently report an independent order of reality. Rather, the texts themselves are implicated in the work of reality-construction (Emerson et. al., 1995:213).
According to Robert M. Emerson and colleagues, reflexivity is a method in which the ethnographer is aware that his/her writing choices are shaped to acknowledge the ethnographers presence in the culture being studied. Thus, while writing and analyzing fieldnotes, the ethnographer-as-author grows increasingly aware of his role and responsibility in telling the story of the people being he/[she] studied; for in writing he/[she] re-presents their everyday world. By taking the ethnographers presence in consideration, the ethnography becomes more than a mere piece of text. In the process of writing his/her analyzes of a culture, the ethnographer is constantly reminded that his work is to understand a realm of reality. In the following I will discuss the approach Dorinne K. Kondo and Renato Rosaldo use in writing their reflective ethnography.
Dorinne K. Kondo in Dissolution and Reconstitution of Self: Implications for Anthropological Epistemology suggested that to understand the culture one studies the ethnographer should account his/her presence. In other words, the ethnographer should write about his/her experiences because it establishes the “I was there” authority of the account (85). She adds that the reflective method adds authority and knowledge of how once presence can have an affect on the culture being studied. In her ethnography she writes how she had to reconstruct her “self” in order to fit in to Japanese society. She looked Japanese but she did not act the way a native Japanese would act. Her informants than taught her how to act like a native and in this process she began to understand aspects of the Japanese culture. She mentions:
These factors perhaps gave me a certain kind of participatory understanding of certain aspects of Japanese society. It also meant that, once I became an active participant in various groups (family, factory, etc.) my knowledge was circumscribed. For example, therefore did not have free access to certain people, and I could not ask certain questions that a foreigner less aware of indelicacy could have posed with impunity (84).
In forming a...