Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Geertz and Erickson

For the last two days I have been rereading some articles and wanted to share my favorite quotes from Geertz and Erickson.

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures. New York: Basic Books
Chapter 1 Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture

The concept of culture I espouse, and whose utility the essays below attempt to demonstrate, is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning. (p. 5)
Ah, I like Weber's description. 
The aim of anthropology is the enlargement of the universe of human discourse (p. 14)
Such a nice way to put it.
The ethnographer “inscribes” social discourse; he writes it down. In so doing, he turns a passing event, which exists only in its own moment of occurrence, into an account, which exists in its inscriptions and can be reconsulted. (p. 19)
Sorry for the 'he's but still I think it good to remember that research and presenting the research are not actually two independent tasks. 
So, there are three characteristics of ethnographic descriptions: it is interpretive; what it is interpretive of is the flow of social discourse; and the interpreting involved consists in trying to rescue the “said” of such discourse from its perishing occasions and fix it in perusable terms…But there is, in addition, a fourth characteristic of such description, at least as I practice it: it is microscopic. (p. 20)
The whole point of a semiotic approach to culture is, as I have said, to aid us in gaining access to the conceptual world in which our subjects live so that we can, in some extended sense of the term, converse with them. (p. 24) 
Erickson, F. (1986). Qualitative methods in research on teaching. In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.). Handbook of research on teaching. 3rd ed. (pp. 119-161). New York Macmillan.

Knowing about other ways of organizing formal and nonformal education by looking back into human history, and by looking across to other contemporary societies around the world, can shed new light on the local happenings in a particular school. (p. 122)
Biological cause is both mechanical and chemical. Relations among organisms are also ecological, that is, causal relations are not linear in one direction, but because of the complexity of interaction among organisms within and across species, cause is multidirectional (p. 126)
Mechanical, chemical, and ecological metaphors can be used to understand these causal relations, thinking of humans in society as a machine, or as an organism, or as an ecosystem of inanimate and animate entities. (p. 126)
To be sure, there is much more apparent uniformity in human social life. Through culture humans share learned systems for defining meaning, and in given situations of practical action humans often seem to have created similar meaning interpretations. But these surface similarities mask an underlying diversity; in a given situation of action one cannot assume that the behaviors of two individuals, physical acts with similar form, have the same meaning to the two individuals. The possibility is always present that different individuals may have differing interpretations of the meaning of what, in physical form, appear to be the same or similar objects or behaviors. Thus a crucial analytic distinction in interpretive research is that between behavior, the physical act, and action, which is the physical behavior plus the meaning interpretations held by the actor ad those with whom the actor is engaged in interaction. (p. 126)
The object of interpretive social research is action, not behavior. This is because of the assumption made about the nature of cause in social life. If people take action on the grounds of their interpretations of actions of others, then meaning-interpretations themselves are causal for humans. (p. 127)
Interpretive, participant observational fieldwork research, in addition to a central concern with mind and with subjective meaning, is concerned with the relation between meaning-perspectives of actors and the ecological circumstances of action in which they find themselves (p. 127)
A basic assumption in interpretive theory of social organization is that the formal and informal social systems operate simultaneously, that is, persons in everyday life take action together in terms of both official and unofficial definitions of status and role. (p. 128)
The focus on social ecology—its process and structure—is intrinsic in interpretive social research on teaching. The researchers seek to understand the ways in which teachers and students, in their actions together, constitute environments for one another. (p. 128)
The life-world of teacher and students in a classroom is that of the present moment. They traverse the present moment together across time as surf boarders who ride the crest of a wave together with linked arms. It is a delicate interactional balancing act. If any one in the set wavers or stumbles, all in the set are affected. (p. 129)
A possible explanation lies in considering as a political phenomenon the local microculture and social organization of classroom life and its relation to student learning. If we think of classroom teaching and learning as a matter of local politics, some relationships between cultural differences or similarity, social relationships among teachers and students, and student learning begin to appear. These relationships are much less clear when we think of teaching and learning as a matter of individual psychology (whether behaviorist, cognitive, or social), or even in terms of the sociology and anthropology of the classroom as an ecosystem. When we consider individual functioning in the context of a sociocultural ecosystem, we have a framework for an anatomy of classroom teaching and learning. When we consider the dynamic operation of the ecosystem as a political process we have a physiology of teaching and learning. Central to such a framework are the concepts of power, authority, influence, competing interests, legitimacy, assent, and dissent. (p. 136)
Learning, it can be assumed, is not optional for humans, and we would not expect it to be so for students in classrooms. The basic issue is not that some students learn and others do not. We can assume that all students learn something. The basic issue is that many students, for a variety of different reasons, do not appear to be learning what the teacher and the school claim to be teaching.(p. 138).
In fieldwork one never considers a single system level in isolation from other levels; that is a basic feature of the sociocultural theory from which participant observational methods derive. (p. 143)

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