Notes on ‘Invading ethnography: A queer of color reflexive practice’


There is a somewhat naive approach towards research within a lot of mainstream HCI/user centred design practice. Whether rooted in gatekeeping or rigour, there can be a bias towards the ‘harder’ aspects – the more theoretically grounded, the more analytical methods applied. However, what sometimes happens is an avoidance or simply an unknowing about the problematics within the methods we often look up to. This is just one of the reasons critical perspectives in sociological sciences are so important to keep up with and why I was particularly intrigued by this paper, shared by Dr Adjepong. It’s freely accessible and would of course recommend you read it!

‘In part, sociology’s inability to effectively critique its colonialist underpinnings is
because its central concepts are detached from questions of imperialism and colonialism (Bhambra, 2007; Go, 2013; Mignolo, 2011; Steinberg, 2007).’

For example, Anne McClintock (1995) has examined how normative assumptions
about working classes as a race apart from the elite educated citizenry at the center
of the British Empire mapped onto ideas about the colonies and colonized people.

Just saving this as it’s always good to know references related to other research questions!

‘Invading ethnography advances a critique of sociology’s urban ethnography by inviting the critical perspectives of those whose bodies are marginalized by this method into the ethnographic narrative… Theorizing from that body and from that out of place-ness makes possible a reflexive practice that challenges ‘the universal epistemic code’, which imagines Western ways of knowing the world as simultaneously universal and exclusive to the west (Mignolo, 2011: xvii).’

‘As Mignolo (2011: 91) writes: ‘The first step in decolonial thinking is to accept the interconnection between geo-history and epistemology, and between bio-graphy and epistemology that has been kept hidden by
linear global thinking and the hubris of the zero point in their making of colonial
and imperial differences.’’

It’s funny, I’m making my way out of a self-critical, slightly depressive slump and all of this is a) making me think I really was onto something with design jams as research and continual design methodology b) my discomfort with retreading previous ground doesn’t necessarily mean I was wrong, just that maybe I need to do more experimentation and find other ways of incorporating this reflexive, fractal approach to my design practice.

Ethnographers increasingly engage with reflexivity as a way of interrogating some
of the assumptions and biases they bring with them into their research settings.
Reflexivity addresses the assumptions that the researcher might take with them into
the field, examines how their presence shaped the social setting, and consequently
avoids producing a flawed sociology (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007; Denzin and
Lincoln, 2011).

Reflecting on what makes possible the
researcher’s ability to take up space in their research settings – their embodiment
of normative gender and by extension sexuality – reveals an important underlying
operative logic of the social spaces they study. That is, embodying the norms of a
particular space allows researchers to reproduce the spaces they study.

I argue that the black queer researcher, who is illegible within
normative frameworks of gender and sexuality, finds themselves failing at immersion in different relational fields. Instead, this researcher might be confronted by
moments of disorientation, where they become the object of inquiry or curiosity.
Such disorientation, when critically incorporated into the research and subsequent
analysis, radically reimagines normative approaches to ethnography. This reflexive
practice transforms the project by not only revealing the workings of power in
urban ethnography but also by performing a contestation between the positions of
researcher as author and researcher as native informant in a queer world. I call this
performance invading ethnography.

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