Involved Outsiders – Reflections on the Combination of Ethnography, Biographical Research and Figurational Sociology

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Eva BAHL, University of Goettingen, Germany
Arne WORM, University of Goettingen, Germany
In this presentation, we will discuss how we combine biographical and ethnographic research methods within the framework of the research project “The Social Construction of Border Zones”, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

We will tackle the question of the benefits and challenges of combining participant observation and (biographical) narrative interviews by reflecting on the various figurations that frame (and are framed by) our interactions with members of different groupings. We will show how patterns of interaction, as well as presentations of images of the self, of the we-group and of other groupings represent the complex web of power relations within the research field (including our position as researchers). This includes the different levels and ambivalent dynamics of being an ‘outsider’ or a ‘stranger’ as a researcher while at the same time becoming involved with affairs in the field. For example, in some circumstances, conducting interviews as an ‘outsider’, in the sense of not being part of the local everyday interactions and relations, may turn out to be beneficial in gaining access to certain perspectives, especially when it comes to the members of marginalized groupings. In other cases, we may only gain access by closely participating in everyday interactions.

From our perspective, both methods – which are rooted in similar sociological backgrounds – can benefit a lot from each other if we reconstruct these (unequal) power balances in the field as a part of the research, and reflect on how this relates to a specific methodical approach. We argue that we need to adjust our methods to the circumstances in the field, and that a figurational perspective sensitizes us to the socio-historic genesis of these figurations.