I'm an ethnographer and I didn't even know it!

Ethnography. I've gone from never really hearing the word before to it permeating my weekly readings and discussions. This word has popped up in all four of my classes, it must be important. I come from a humanities background, where personal research was not forgrounded or necessary to get one's degree (in my personal experience). Ethnography was a method reserved for those in anthropology or social sciences, those studying actual people...where as I felt I was just investigating the artifacts or output created by people. Now I see that this was kind of a silly distinction that I made up in my head. I saw studying belief and studying action as divorced from each other. However, as Luker points out, that when belief and action are combined we get 'pratices' and this is what good ethnography studies.

In December of 2006 I began on my own ethnographic study...without even knowing it. Like many fresh graduates from university, I was unsure what to do, so I moved to Asia. I situated myself in a small town named Hualien in Taiwan to be an English teacher. Admittedly, I was very much overwhelmed at first. Reading Luker's explanation of living in a different culture actually made me laugh out loud, because it was so true. Everything was a puzzle, I couldn't read, write, speak or listen. I never ended up getting a bank account, because it was too confusing. I had local friends, but I still lived completely on the periphery and was recognized as an outsider just by how I looked. Obviously, I was not aware that I was doing an ethnographic study so I didn't keep field notes, but I did keep a sketch book and a journal where I recorded my thoughts about my life there. After living there for almost a year, being 'let in' to the culture to a certain degree, I believe that I can say I know a very minute bit about the Taiwanese small-town practices. In retrospect I wish I would have paid closer attention instead of just being in awe. It would have been interesting to study more of the subtle practices, rather then just the big obvious ones. For instance, I was the only foreigner working at my school, it was unclear to me how authority worked there. I was told in a very round-about way if I was doing something incorrectly. Using ethnography to study power structures would have been really neat (and probably have helped me out, as I was confused most of the time).

Using ethnography to study library and information science seems like an odd fit at first glance. But if you look at both libraries and information as the products of practices or entities in which particular practices happen, ethnography seems like a logical method of study to use.

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