Wednesday, 9 May 2012

After method? Ethnography in the knowledge economy

an article by David Mills and Richard Ratcliffe (University of Oxford) published in Qualitative Research Volume 12 Number 2 (April 2012)


In this article we argue that the knowledge economy is reshaping anthropological research and popular understandings of ethnography. Interviews with British social anthropologists working in, and outside, academia provide insights into how the practices and meanings of ethnography are being reworked.

UK policy expectations that research (and its impact) can be measured, monitored and accounted for in monetary terms place particular demands on qualitative social research.

To make our case, we focus on the prominence of the business metaphor of the ‘value chain’ in contemporary accounting practice and its use in the quantitative measurement of social research. Within social anthropology this new economy of measurement can be seen in debates over fieldwork practice. We show that as anthropology departments harden their methodological allegiances to fieldwork, very different understandings of ethnography are being developed beyond the academy.

We conclude that methods, and debates over methods, are prisms through which to understand the changing social and economic expectations placed upon qualitative research.

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