[00:10:28] IN: Can you describe how you teach students to do ethnographic research? How do you teach students not to have their own cultural biases influence their research? [00:10:56] RS: I don’t teach ethnography in this department right now, but I do teach an interviewing methods course. My approach to teaching both interviewing and ethnography is to have students do their own projects. Students have to come up with a project quickly at the beginning of the semester, and most of the class time is spent workshopping those projects as students work on them in the field outside of class. We do a fair amount of reading, but mostly the students are figuring out what they want to study, whom they need to talk to, developing their interview questions, finding respondents, talking to those respondents, transcribing and coding and analyzing the interviews, and writing a final paper. Some students have continued to develop and
publish from those projects after the class has ended. It’s very gratifying to me to see when that happens. And basically I just think there’s no other way to learn. Methodological issues are much more appropriately and productively dealt with if you’re actually encountering them in your work, as opposed to reading about hypothetical scenarios. I don’t think it’s possible in qualitative research to be “unbiased.” I’m not even sure that’s really desirable or a useful way of thinking about the enterprise. What we have to think about is how we make choices about who to interview and how our particular demographic characteristics—like race, class, age, gender, and so on—influence what we’re finding in that they influence how people respond to us or how we ask questions and interpret answers. It also matters whether we’re new to the field that we’re researching or whether we’ve been in the field for a long time. That can make a big difference. Any position has positive and negative consequences, and we just need to think about those consequences and make explicit choices around them. That’s my philosophy. [00:13:20] IN: Does your research and teaching take a heterodox approach to sociology? What would you tell prospective students about the sociology department at NSSR? [00:13:45] RS: I think our department has a very distinctive position in American sociology because of our emphasis on qualitative, theoretical, and interpretative work, with a strong emphasis on history and culture. As a department, we have a shared interest in political culture, which faculty look at in many different arenas, including law, social movements and the state, discourse analysis, urban life and culture, art and politics, and civil society, as well as my own research on social class and on work. Students who are interested in theory, as well as politics, culture, and history, and in studying those topics using qualitative methods are a good fit for our department.
69 THE NEW SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH
to other people? Or do we see them as obnoxious, rude, materialistic, and greedy? Culturally, we make these divisions between good and bad rich people. The people that I’ve interviewed are trying to be the good kind. What I’m interested in—and it’s partly these individual people’s conflict, but it’s also the general idea—is that if we as a society differentiate between good rich and bad rich people, that is a way of legitimating inequality. It’s a way of saying, “Yeah, there are bad rich people, but then there are good rich people too,” and that means that it’s OK for those good rich people to be so rich. We don’t have a strong cultural critique of distribution of resources; what we do have is an informal sense of whether people inhabit their privilege appropriately. Of course, that is changing to a certain extent with the emergence of Occupy and the Bernie Sanders campaign, which are articulating strong critiques of unequal distribution. But our ideas about the moral value of wealthy people, I think, remain quite prominent. I think that when this project is finished I’ll probably go back to studying workers and service work in some capacity. I did research on the U.S. labor movement early in my career, and I’m interested in looking again at workers’ movements as well. And I would like to return to doing ethnographic work, because I like it. Interviewing is good too, but I sort of miss that more immersive nature of ethnographic work.
Published on Oct 3, 2017
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