Ethnography in researching young children's engagement with digital technologies

Year: 2016

Author: Bird, Jo, Scott, Fiona

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Since ethnographers are unable to evidence the validity and reliability of their methods using the ostensibly ‘objective’ protocols of their quantitative peers, it has long been expected that they reflect instead on their role and ‘positionality’. Various sources suggest this might be achieved by attempting to explain where exactly they ‘stand’ in relation to their participants, identifying factors (including power, perspective and status) that might impact on their participants’ responses and behaviours and, indeed, on their own analysis and insights. Many ethnographers have attempted to fill the gap by reflecting deeply on their personal identities and life histories. At the same time, qualitative research reporting is, in practice, frequently insufficient in such areas of methodological detail. While researchers in the social constructivist tradition have long accepted that the social identities of their participants are messy and problematic to categorize, the same courtesy is not always extended to the researcher, whose own identity also exists in a state of flux, as it is self- and co-constructed from day to day. This co-written paper brings together two ethnographers researching the everyday experiences of very young children with media and technology in projects that are at once similar and remarkably distinct. Study one was conducted in two kindergartens in middle class suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. The children were between 4 and 6 years of age. Study two was conducted in family homes in middle and working class neighbourhoods in Sheffield, UK, with children aged 3 and 4 years old. Touching on original vignettes from each study, this presentation will consider the messiness and multiplicity of identity from the perspectives of two different researchers, before, during and after immersion in fieldwork. Just as a researcher must be aware of how their presence in the research shapes the findings, so must they be aware of how different participants or assemblages of participants shape their own role and identity. The authors problematize the ‘methodology-as-autobiography’ (Hammersley, 2011) approach, contesting the notion that a researcher’s role and status can be straightforwardly identified as par-for-the-course in methodological reporting. The role and identity of a children’s ethnographer is an ongoing co-construction between the researcher and the researched.In the process of reflecting on their experiences, the authors reveal implications for: ethnography; research with preschool children; and research in formal educational and home settings.