Robin James Smith Jonathan Ablitt Patrik Dahl Sylvia Hoyland Patricia Jimenez Zoe John Fiona Long Lucy Sheehan Joseph Williams

Ethnography and the New Normal. Observational studies, analytic orientations, and practical ethics

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This article responds to a number of broad-brush claims and statements pertaining to ethnographic research during the Covid-19 pandemic: namely, that ethnographic (and qualitative) research is impossible; that it is unethical; and that the pandemic represents a breach and has produced a new normal form of interaction order. The article draws from observations in public space and from one author’s ongoing fieldwork. We focus on a) an empirical analytic stance toward interaction in this so called unprecedented context, b) the occasioned and situated character of pandemic actions and members’ uses of existing methods, and, c) a discussion of ethical considerations grounded in a de-reification of the categories observer and observed. In summary, the article makes a strong case for ethnography as being possible, and possibly important, and aims to illustrate the highly contextual character of whether and when and how ethnographic research might continue during, and indeed immediately following, the pandemic.


  • ethnography
  • interaction
  • public space
  • ethics
  • Covid-19


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