Claims of ‘knowing’ in ethnography: realising anti-essentialism through a critical reflection on language acquisition in fieldwork

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Abstract

The experience of researching in a second language is central to the types of ‘claims’ that can be made in ethnographic fieldwork, yet the process of language acquisition is barely explored in anthropological texts. This article contributes to addressing the gap through presenting a personal reflection on language learning during the research process. Learning Hungarian was central to the fieldwork experience referred to in this article, which included 15 months in a primary school in central Hungary researching discourses surrounding Roma (Gypsy) minorities. The article focuses on a personal account of learning Hungarian, acknowledging the importance of reflecting on language acquisition in order to illuminate the context in which research claims are made. This awareness of language learning in the field led to further insight into the problematic dimensions of claims-making in fieldwork and the role of anti-essentialist theorisation in empirical research. The focus is on how the personal experience of being a second language learner in research led to a greater understanding of the importance of accountability in ethnography, and how an anti-essentialist approach can help this process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-85
Number of pages23
JournalThe Graduate Journal of Social Science
Volume6
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009

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