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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: August 2018

10 - Studying Ontological Work

from Part II - Ethnographic Fieldwork – The Focus On Constitution

[T]hese theories presuppose the prior existence of the question that they are seeking to resolve: that there is a yawning gulf separating the agent from structure, the individual from society. Now if there is no gulf, then sociological theory would find itself in the rather odd situation of having tried to provide ever more refined solutions to a nonexistent problem.

Latour, 1996, p. 232

If constitution goes on in the everyday practices of a form of life, then it makes sense that to answer questions about constitution we need to study these practices. One way would seem to be firsthand contact with the form of life through ethnographic fieldwork, but, as we have seen, ethnographic accounts that claim to describe what is “behind” everyday actions and events such as the cockfight, which are written for outsiders and are immediately removed from the form of life they represent, face insuperable problems of veracity. When fieldwork is understood as participating as a member and then writing a disinterested description of the order of a form of life, it is inherently dualistic.

Are there other ways to study practices? It might be objected that in considering only ethnography I have been unduly narrow in my exploration of the ways in which we could study constitution. Certainly other methods and conceptual frameworks exist for the study of practical interaction. In this chapter, I want to consider several of them, focused on exploring the relationship of constitution between individual and society, between member and form of life. First I consider critical discourse analysis (CDA) and conversation analysis (CA). Then I turn to the way conversation analysis has been extended to study “institutional talk,” and finally to the study of institutional modes of existence.

Proponents of critical discourse analysis have summarized its main assumptions as follows: it addresses social problems; treats power relations as discursive; sees discourse as constituting society and culture, as doing ideological work, as historical, and as a form of social action; sees the link between text and society as mediated; and offers a form of analysis that is interpretive and explanatory (Fairclough & Wodak, 1997).

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The Science of Qualitative Research
  • Online ISBN: 9781108264907
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